Church's intervention helps Coleman's case to keep his job
CHRIS Coleman bolstered his case to stay on as national team manager as Wales recorded a morale-boosting victory against Macedonia at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Simon Church grabbed the only goal of the game after 67 minutes, finishing off a well-worked move orchestrated by the hugely impressive Aaron Ramsey.
The result lifts Wales up to fourth in World Cup qualification group A ahead of a daunting final match against unbeaten pool winners Belgium on Tuesday.
Belgium had earlier beaten Croatia to ensure they automatically qualify for Brazil next summer.
Coleman’s future is set to become clear after that clash, with the Football Association of Wales revealing they will wait until then before deciding whether to offer the two-year contract extension that previously appeared to have been on the table.
But Coleman has said he might not even sign any deal if he is being judged on these final two games.
An injury-ravaged Wales showed heart last night and deserved their victory.
It brought some consolation after a campaign in which every other game apart from the two won against Scotland has ended in defeat.
And it provided Craig Bellamy with a winning send-off in his final international match at home, though the miniscule crowd in attendance reflected plunging interest levels among the Welsh public.
With a raft of players missing from Coleman’s squad, he was forced to select a patched-up side. Captain Ashley Williams, star man Gareth Bale and Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen were the highest profile of the 11 players the former Fulham boss was without.
That meant Neil Taylor was deployed in an unorthodox right-back role, with 18-year-old Cardiff City defender Declan John making his debut on the left.
Chris Gunter shifted to central defence, partnering James Collins after the West Ham man made peace with Coleman in the week.
In Williams’s absence, Ramsey skippered the side from central midfield, with Church providing a spearhead in place of Sam Vokes, whose Thursday withdrawal was the latest in a long line.
Ben Davies was another of the missing men, but two other Swansea City defenders were on the bench, Jazz Richards sitting alongside Daniel Alfei, selected in a squad for the first time.
Also among the substitutes was 16-year-old Liverpool academy winger Harry Wilson.
In a subdued start, neither side were able to take control of the game though it was Wales who appeared marginally stronger.
Hal Robson-Kanu saw weak appeals for a penalty waved away after he tumbled in the box and John sent over an inviting cross that narrowly evaded Simon Church.
Neil Taylor then had a curling shot saved by Tome Pacovski midway through the first period, but that came immediately after Macedonia went close.
Mirko Ivanovski tricked his way into the area before chipping an effort over the bar.
Wales continued to probe without putting their hosts under serious pressure.
Ezgjan Alioski was forced to clear Andy King’s clever side-foot volley off the line and the lively John sent in a fizzing cross that Church headed wide of the near post.
It was not one way traffic though as Macedonia also threatened.
Nikolce Noveski sprung a flimsy Wales offside trap and had the goal at his mercy when he was found following a free-kick.
But the centre-back finished clumsily, screwing his volley into the stand.
As the game came to life, Bellamy tried his luck with a long shot that stung Pacovski’s fingers and a moment later Pandev tested Hennessey.
There were two further Wales chances in the first period. Ramsey fed Church whose deflected shot looped onto the roof of the net before the captain’s glancing effort forced a save.
Wales went even closer in the second period, David Vaughan jinking into the penalty area and sending a shot against the bar.
And John struck the woodwork again with a deep cross just past the hour.
The breakthrough final came in the 67th minute and it was sculpted by Ramsey.
Carrying on his sensational club form, the Arsenal midfielder threaded an inch-perfect ball through to Bellamy, he picked out Church and the striker finished high into the net.
Macedonia nearly hit back with 18 minutes remaining when the otherwise excellent John misjudged a header and Agim Ibraimi picked out Pandev.
The striker twisted and turned in the area before sending in a shot that Hennessey batted away.
Wales could have made the game safe with five minutes left as Bellamy found Ramsey who was brought down in the area by Noveski.
Ramsey himself took the penalty but blasted down the middle and Pacovski stopped it.