Where now for Wales and Chris Coleman after latest World Cup setback?
MANAGING Wales has not been the dream job Chris Coleman might have envisaged.
As Wales limped to their latest defeat on Tuesday, an abject 3-0 loss to Serbia, the crowd at the Cardiff City Stadium vented their frustrations with cries of "We want Coleman out".
The fans' reaction was understandable — they were watching their country fall to the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group, four days after another galling defeat in Macedonia.
Coleman, forlorn on the touchline, was an easy target. This was not how he would have pictured his ultimate job. Like any young and ambitious manager, Coleman had always aspired to lead his country, but he could hardly have foreseen the role becoming vacant in such tragic circumstances following the death of his predecessor and close friend Gary Speed.
Some 20 months into his reign, Coleman's first qualifying campaign lies in tatters and his future is in question.
The former Swansea defender says he has verbally agreed a new two-year contract with the Football Association of Wales, and he insists no amount of pressure will stop him from signing the deal.
"From the first minute I walked into this job I felt pressure," he said.
"I am the same man as I was last week when it (the contract) was agreed.
"The situation where I got the job was horrendous but it was always a job I wanted to do, but never in those circumstances.
"The pressure is not going to deter me from doing the job — there's always pressure.
"The first 12 months were much harder but I think I'll be better for this experience.
"The first 12 months I didn't like it at all. I'm still not happy with everything but over the last 12 months, I've seen progress." The progress Wales may or may not have made under Coleman is a moot point.
Discounting the first fixture after his appointment — a Speed memorial friendly match against Costa Rica — Coleman has lost eight of his 12 games in charge.
His tenure began in earnest with four successive defeats to Mexico, Bosnia, Belgium and Serbia — the last of which was the infamous 6-1 thrashing in Novi Sad — but that run was followed by a sequence of three wins from four.
There are still two matches left in the current qualifying campaign — at home to Macedonia and away to Belgium — and two of Coleman's former Welsh international colleagues believe contract talks should be put on hold.
"There's no point changing the manager for the last two games of the campaign," said former Swansea City player Andy Legg.
"It's up to the FAW. Chris has to be confident in his own ability and he seems to back himself to do the job.
"The timing of the contract was unfortunate.
"If Wales were winning, it wouldn't have been an issue and everyone would've wanted him to sign it.
"It's just come at a bad time, and it's a delicate situation."
Iwan Roberts, the ex-Wales and Norwich striker, agreed.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the FAW turned around and said 'Listen, let's see what happens in the next couple of games, see where we finish in the group and then we'll get the contract back out again'," he said.
"I think he deserves another chance. He deserves at least one more qualifying campaign."
Some had questioned the wisdom of offering Coleman a new contract before the end of the current campaign, and the doubts have been amplified by Wales's latest defeats.
But in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss to Serbia, the manager was bullish about his future.
"That's short-term, to judge someone on two games," Coleman added.
"I know football is short-term, but we have the same group of players and did not perform.
"I am looking at the whole situation and the game. I will speak with the powers that be but I have not thought about it (the contract)."
Coleman was typically frank after the Serbia defeat.
The 43-year-old is candid and approachable, but an engaging personality will not be enough to convince the doubters.
What has been most disheartening about recent defeats under Coleman is the listless nature of Welsh performances.
Defending in both games against Serbia was disastrous, while Wales have seldom looked threatening going forward in the last 18 months or so.
Coleman has some major shortcomings to address, but he is staying put and resolutely positive about Wales's long-term prospects.
"If we are missing a lot of players next time around it will be difficult," he said.
"Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Gareth Bale — missing players like that will be hard for us.
"We have a population of 3.5 million but, when everyone is fit, we have a good team.
"This is definitely the toughest job I've taken but in the future this team can do quite well."