Wales’ hopes of World Cup qualification look increasingly remote following a goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland, whose captain Seamus Coleman suffered a broken leg after a wild tackle that led to Neil Taylor being sent off.
The hosts seemed content to play for a draw as their deep-lying and stubborn defence shackled Wales – and the visitors’ lack of creativity and incision contributed to an underwhelming encounter.
Gareth Bale twice went close for Wales, but their task became a daunting one after 69 minutes as Taylor was shown a straight red card for his lunge on Coleman, who was carried off on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
That incident lit the fuse for a tempestuous atmosphere that appeared to inspire the Republic, but despite their push for a late winner, Martin O’Neill’s side had to settle for a point and second place in Group D.
They lost top spot after Serbia’s victory in Georgia earlier on Friday but remain four points ahead of Wales.
For Chris Coleman’s side, a fourth successive draw of the campaign is another setback in their stuttering bid to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Wales’ qualifying hopes take another hit
Wales boss Coleman had been careful to avoid using the phrase “must win” for this fixture but, with the Republic four points in front, the visitors could ill afford anything other than three points from Dublin.
Rather than emphasise the importance of this result, Coleman had said he and his side were driven by a “desperation” to replicate last summer’s run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, a hunger to qualify for a second successive major tournament after an absence of 58 years.
The enormity of the occasion made for a tense and disjointed start to the match, with all 11 home players regularly in their own half as they sought to contain their opponents.
Wales’ inability to unlock the dogged defence before them was a familiar failing, as they had struggled similarly in their home draws with Georgia and Serbia, as well as their last-16 triumph over Northern Ireland at the European Championship.
Bale and Aaron Ramsey, usually their most potent attacking weapons, looked off the pace having both returned from injury relatively recently.
Bale sprung into action early in the second half with a dipping free-kick straight at keeper Darren Randolph and a swerving shot that went narrowly wide – but his frustrating evening was capped by a yellow card, meaning he will be suspended for June’s trip to Serbia.
Taylor sees red
The match was played with a ferocity most would expect from relatively local rivals and two teams comprised of several Premier League club-mates.
But the physicality spilled over after 69 minutes. With the ball running loose, Wales left-back Taylor lunged recklessly at Coleman, who was clearly in great pain as he was taken off the field on a stretcher.
Roared on by a vociferous home crowd, the Republic sought to exploit their one-man advantage with a frantic late push forward – but they were thwarted by some stubborn Wales defending.
The hosts were also arguably paying for their earlier pragmatism and unwillingness to attack.
Where as Wales had some catching up to do with their group rivals, the Republic could afford to sit back and wait for their opportunity to pounce – even though they had been overtaken at the top of the table following Serbia’s victory.
With a home encounter against the group leaders to come later in the campaign, O’Neill’s side seemed to consider this fixture a chance to consolidate, rather than significantly improve, their position.