Sport Premier League

Saturday 24 March 2018

‘He’s a step up from everything in the Premier League’ - Stephen Ward on facing Gareth Bale this Friday

Gareth Bale (left) and Stephen Ward (right).
Gareth Bale (left) and Stephen Ward (right).

Jack O'Toole

Burnley left-back Stephen Ward says that Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale is a ‘step up from everything’ he’s experienced in the Premier League as Ireland prepare to take on Wales on Friday night at the Aviva Stadium.

Bale enters the game having scored seven goals from his last 10 games with Chris Coleman’s side, including four from four already this campaign, and Ward will most likely be the man charged with stopping the former PFA Player of the Year assuming he lines up on Wales’ right flank.

However, while the former Bohemians defender acknowledges the step up in class that he will be faced with on Friday night, he does insist that Ireland must cope with the prospect of Bale as a collective unit.

“He is probably a step up from everything,” said Ward when asked if playing in the Premier League on a weekly basis could help prepare him to play against a player like Bale.

“He is at one of the biggest clubs in the world and is playing well. As a team, we are going to try and nullify him.

“It’s not going to be easy. It looks as though he has a free role for Wales and they’ll want to get him on the ball as much as possible, so we’ll have to try to stop the service in to him and when he does get it, get as close as we can, because you cannot afford to give a player of that ability too much space and too much time as you know he will hurt you.”

Ireland head into Friday’s game on top of Group D with 10 points from four games.

A win for Ireland against Wales would give Martin O’Neill’s side a massive push towards qualification, with Ward revealing that the former Celtic boss has underlined the need for Ireland to not drop points at home if they wish to push on in their hopes of playing in the 2018 World Cup.

“I think the manager speaks about it a lot, your home form is massive in these campaigns,” added the former Wolves defender.

“It is one of those things that gives you that platform to qualify because if you can win your home games and nick points away from home, it keeps you right up at the top.

“It’s a massive game. We have done some great work on the road off the back of a massive win in Austria, and I think for us to come back now, if we can back that up at home with a big win at the Aviva, it will set us up nicely for another big one in June.”

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