The Wales Under 21 team earned a well-merited victory over a tricky Lithuanian side at the BookPeople Stadium in Bangor this afternoon (Friday).
On a cold, windy afternoon in Bangor, Wales took-on Lithuania in the UEFA Under 21 championships. Also in the group are England, Finland, San Marino and Moldova.
Wales U21 team v Lithuania
Lithuania came-into the game in third place in the group, having taken seven points from their first four games (two wins over San Marino and a draw in Finland, with a defeat at home to Finland). Wales had four points from four games - a win at home to Moldova and a point away, but also had defeats to Finland (home) and San Marino (away).
Early exchanges were even on a good pitch that gave both sides the chance to play passing football.
Wales showed four changes from the side that drew 0-0 in Moldova in October: out were Emyr Huws and Rob Ogleby (both suspended), plus Elliott Hewitt and Lloyd Isgrove. The players in were: Josh Pritchard, Ellis Harrison, Billy Bodin and Kieron Freeman.
Tom Lawrence takes a tumble
Wales was awarded a penalty on 20 minutes when Billy Bodin was fouled in the area by Lithuania’s Ovidijus Verbickas. Tom Lawrence cooly stepped-up to send the goalie the wrong way and slot the ball home into the bottom left-hand corner.
A few minutes later, Tom Lawrence was in action again, cutting-in from the left to force the keeper top tip the ball over the bar for a corner. The resulting corner was poor however and easily cleared.
On the half hour Wales’ Morgan Fox was forced to clear off the line after a good break and shot from Lukas Spalvis that had beaten keeper Connor Roberts. Ellis Harrison received a yellow card on 31 minutes after a foul on defender Rytis Pilotas.
The windy conditions were making life difficult for the goalkeepers with their kicks and heading was proving to be difficult to judge.
On 34 minutes, a strong break down the right by Kieron Freeman brought a corner after the keeper did well to palm the ball away. From the corner, goalie missed the ball but Wes Burns’ header went just over the bar.
Tom Lawrence was to score a second goal for Wales from the penalty spot on 40 minutes after he had been fouled on the edge of the penalty area. Once-again he stepped-up and put the ball to the left of the Lithuanian keeper.
Tom Lawrence scores his first
By now, Wales looked well in control of the first half and certainly finished the stronger as the whistle was blown on 45 minutes.
Lithuania made one change at half time, Ernestas Veliulis replacing Arnas Ribokas. On 48 minutes, Lithuania won a free kick some twenty yards out, but the kick floated over everyone in the penalty area. Two minutes later, Wales keeper Roberts, was force3d to make a good low save from a shot from Lukas Spalvis.
Then they forced a corner on 52 minutes in what was their best spell of the game, though the effort came to nothing.
Darius Isoda received a yellow card for Lithuania after stopping a fine run down the right hand side by Wes Burns on 56 minutes. Tom Lawrence took the kick but the Welsh header went wide from Burns.
Wales won a corner after a long cross to the far side found Billy Bodin but once again the corner game to nothing. On the hour, Bodin went close with another chance in the six yard box that was pushed away from danger. Joe Walsh picked-up a booking for Wales on 60 minutes for a foul, meaning he will be suspended for the match with San Marino.
A second substitution came for Lithuania on 65 minutes with Karolis Laukzmis replacing Ovidijus Verbickas. A third Lithuanian was booked on 68 minutes when Tomas Birskys received a yellow.
On 70 minutes, Bodin was thwarted by the keeper once-more as a hard low shot was parried-away after a cross from Lawrence. By now, Lithuania were offering little in the way of attacking threat. They made their final substitution when Daniel Gunevic replaced Markas Beneta on 74 minutes.
Tom Lawrence was at the heart of everything that Wales did well and Ellis Harrison also had a debut that he could be pleased with. Captain Lee Lucas lead by example and the defence held firm with the work of Joe Walsh and George Ray. Goalie Connor Roberts was also in fine form. Wes Burns led the line well and showed a good turn of speed.
On 78 minutes, Wales made their first substitution with Harrison being replaced by Gwion Edwards.
Only a foot stuck-out by the Lithuanian goalie stopped Burns from scoring on 82 minutes from a close-range shot.
Tom Lawrence became the third Welshman in the ref’s book after a foul on 82 minutes. The final few minutes of the game saw little further action and Wales looked to be in a very comfortable position. Though Lithuania did hit the top of the crossbar with a speculative free kick that dipped in the wind in injury time.
The 2-0 result will give the players plenty of heart for Tuesday’s meeting with San Marino, with three more points on offer and a chance to continue to rise-up this very competitive group.
Here are today's teams:
1.Connor Roberts - Cheltenham Town
2.Kieron Freeman - Derby County
3.Morgan Fox - Charlton Athletic
4.Lee Lucas - Swansea City (c)
5.George Ray - Crewe Alexandra
6.Joe Walsh - Crawley Town
7.Billy Bodin - Torquay United
9.Wes Burns - Bristol City
10.Tom Lawrence - Manchester United
11.Ellis Harrison - Bristol Rovers
16.Josh Pritchard - Fulham
12.Danny Ward - Liverpool
8.Lee Evans - Wolverhampton Wanderers
13.Elliott Hewitt - Ipswich Town
14.Tom O’Sullivan - Cardiff City
15.Scott Tancock - Swansea City
17.Bradley Reid - Wolverhampton Wanderers
18.Gwion Edwards - Swansea City
1.Lukas Lidakevi?ius - algiris Vilnius (c)
4.Rytis Pilotas - FK Ekranas
9.Arnas Ribokas - FK Ekranas
10.Darius Isoda - FK S?duva
11.Ovidijus Verbickas - FC Zenit St.P.
14.Edvinas Girdvainis - FK Ekranas
17.Tomas Birškys - FK Šiauliai
18.Lukas Spalvis - Aalborg BK
19.Markas Beneta - FK Atlantas
20.Dovydas Norvilas - FK Ekranas
21.Martynas Dapkus - FC Nazareth Illit
12.Tomas Švedkauskas - Paganese Calcio
2.Povilas Kiselevskis - FK S?duva
5.Gerardas ukauskas - FK Atlantas
6.Daniel Gunevi? - FC Dainava
7.Ernestas Veliulis - FK Atlantas
8.Karolis Laukmis - FK Atlantas
23.Edgaras arskis - FK Atlantas
Wales Under 21 manager, Geraint Williams and players Lee Lucas and Billy Bodin spoke to FAW media officer Ceri Stennett ahead of the UEFA Under 21 qualifier with Lithuania at the BookPeople Stadium, Bangor City FC on Friday 11th October 2013 (Kick off 2pm).
Firstly, Geraint was asked about the Lithuanian match: “It is important that we get a result on Friday as so far the performances have not been that bad so far; we have had plenty of possession, had our chances, but the results have not been good enough.”
“It’s important for this group of players to understand what we are trying to do, the philosophy of the system. These boys have come-into it late - for the younger age groups they are seeing it from the Under 16 side upwards. So often, the last thing you learn is the first thing you forget. But for the belief to be there, they must have the results.”
He was then asked about the bigger picture as the manager of the Under 17, 19 and 21 sides. Geraint said: “The system needs to run through the age groups. From the lads at Victory Shield level upwards.”
“Last week when the Under 17’s were playing in the UEFA qualifiers in Slovenia we were playing Hungary and we were 4-1 down, but the players believed in what they were doing and came-back to draw 5-5, scoring some really good goals. They went-on to qualify for the Elite Group of the competition unbeaten, but that was only because the style and philosophy was ingrained in them and they stuck to it.”
“The point is that all of this takes time, you can’t magic those sixteen and seventeen year olds to become twenty-one year-olds overnight. They need to go through the system, maybe sometimes skipping over the Under 19’s straight to the 21’s, but that is what you hope and work for. They must know the system and trust it.”
Asked about the current crop of injuries for Chris Coleman’s squad Geraint said: “It is a hard time for Chris, and because of that, there are some seven players who could be with the Under 21’s who are now in the senior squad. But it then creates chances for others with our squad.”
Asked if that was good thing for the youngsters to be given such call-up’s Geraint commented: “Yes, but it is important they go-up when they merit it as you have to be able to swim before you are thrown-in. For me, although you want the players to be able to adapt to the different age levels, it is important to me for the Under 17’s to have had a qualifying group together and see that they could win as a group of players.”
After the first few matches in the group not going Wales’ way, the Lithuania game takes on an extra importance as there are still plenty of points to play for in what is a highly competitive group. “We must be positive, but we need a performance and turn that into a result. I know I sound like a stuck record, but in most games we are getting at least 60% of the possession. Even against Finland that was the case, we had mote shots than them but they had five shots on target and scored from all of them. Many teams play on the counter-attack, we are not getting penned-in, but we have to make sure that we don’t keep getting caught.”
“Remarkably, in the three group matches so far, our opponents have had only had seven shots on target in four games, but scored six goals. We are doing OK going forward and having more shots, between box to box we are doing fine, but in both areas, defence and attach we must improve and that needs to start on Friday and take our chances.”
Asked about Shrewsbury Town’s Tom Bradshaw, who withdrew from the squad having initially been selected, Williams said: “Tom has been doing well and has been a squad member for some time. He had a period when he couldn’t find the net, but this year things are going well and he is a great lad.”
“That’s why he was picked and he would have been a strong contender to start the match. Unfortunately, Tom was concerned that if he came away with Wales he might loose his place in his club’s starting line-up. I tried to assure him that that was probably unlikely given then form he has been in, but then I was very disappointed to read on the BBC website that I had given him permission to stay-behind. That was not the case. Tom decided that he would not be available for the fixtures and he would concentrate on playing for Shrewsbury. I told him that he could not pick and choose his squads, but it was totally Tom’e decision to make himself unavailable for Wales.”
“Now Bradley Reid of Wolves has come-in to take his place and looks very bright. He played well last season for the Under 19’s and he steps-up and we can have a look at him to see if he can hold his own at this level.”
Moving to Swansea City’s Lee Lucas, he was asked what sort of match he expected against Lithuania: “I’ve never played against a Lithuanian side, but I am sure they will be hard to break-down, but we have to try and win our home games.”
“We now have two home games on the bounce (San Marino on Tuesday) and maximum points are essential as there are still more tough games to come.”
Last month’s return of one point from the two away games in San Marino and Moldova was disappointing. Could the lads pick themselves-up? “Yes, I think so, we have watched the videos and things improved in Moldova and so we have some confidence back and take that on into these games.”
Midfielder Billy Bodin of Torquay United was asked about the new faces in the squad: “Yes, there are a few, but by-and-large we do know each other but we do need points now. If we can play as we did in Moldova but take our chances that will be the main thing.”
“We had a great support last time at Bangor (over 1,000 fans for a full house) which was great, especially as the senior team was playing on he same night in Cardiff. As this is an afternoon game, I guess it won’t be as many, but if they can get behind us that will be a real boost.”
Asked about some of the squad who had progressed to the senior squad for the matches with Macedonia and Belgium. Billy said: “It’s great for Dan Alfei, Lloyd Isgrove and Johnny Williams has been there for a few games. It’s what you work for from the time you first get called-in to the Under 17’s. That’s your dream and is always at the back of your mind.”
The Wales Under 21 squad has assembled in North Wales ahead of two UEFA qualifying matches, both at Bangor City FC, on Friday 11th October v Lithuania (2pm) and then San Marino on Tuesday 15th October (also 2pm).
There have been several changes to the original squad.
The updated squad is:
Connor Roberts - Cheltenham Town
Danny Ward - Liverpool
Kieron Freeman - Derby County
Lee Evans - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Morgan Fox - Charlton Athletic
Elliott Hewitt - Ipswich Town
George Ray - Crewe Alexandra
Scott Tancock - Swansea City
Joe Walsh - Crawley Town
Billy Bodin - Torquay United
Bradley Reid - Wolverhampton Wanderers
Tom O'Sullivan - Cardiff City
Gwion Edwards - Swansea City ( Loan St Johnstone )
Lee Lucas - Swansea City
Wes Burns - Bristol City
Ellis Harrison - Bristol Rovers
Josh Pritchard - Fulham ( Loan Tromso )
Tom Lawrence - Manchester United
Gwion Edwards has come-in to the squad to replace Lloyd Isgrove of Southampton who has been promoted to the senior squad for the World Cup qualifying matches with Macedonia and Belgium on the same dates as the Under 21's.
Bradley Reid has come-in to the squad to replace Shrewsbury Town's Tom Bradshaw. Bradshaw decide to make himself unavailable for Wales at this time in order to concentrate on Shrewsbury Town. It should be noted that some confusion has surrounded this decision, caused by a report on the BBC Sport website. The FAW confirms that the player was originally selected for the squad and then the player made himself (through his club) unavailable. There was no question of the player being 'allowed' by the Welsh management to be released from the squad to play for his club instead.
Both of the Under 21 games will kick off at 2pm in order not to clash with the senior matches in the evening.
Tom Lawrence takes a tumble
Wales U21 team v Lithuania
Tom Lawrence scores his first
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