A bright future for youngsters and Joe Ledley's demise are takeaways for Wales manager Ryan Giggs

Matt Jones - Editor 08:21 30/05/2018
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Wales drew 0-0 with Mexico in Pasadena as Juan Carlos Osorio’s World Cup-bound side were frustrated by the excellence of Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and his defence.

Dragons boss Ryan Giggs took charge of his third game since replacing Chris Coleman as manager and opted for offering youth a chance even though he was able to field a talented and largely experienced starting 11 devoid of Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale.

Hennessey performed heroics as El Tricolor were kept at bay. But despite defending for long periods, Giggs will have been impressed by his side’s determination, as well as buoyed by a brimming collection of emerging talent.

Here, we look at three takeaways for Giggs.

A bright future at the back

Chris Mepham, 20, had a fine game against Mexico.

Chris Mepham, 20, had a fine game against Mexico.

With captain and talisman Ashley Williams succumbing to injury after just 21 minutes, Welsh fans might have feared the worst. And that’s probably without knowing that the man who started alongside the skipper, 20-year-old Chris Mepham, had been playing Sunday league football for North Greenford reserves just four years ago.

On came Tom Lockyer, three years Mepham’s senior and slightly more experienced – winning his fourth cap. Together they admirably held Mexico – a team whose 23-man squad being taken to Russia houses 14 players with north of 50 caps – at bay.

Mepham looked assured, and it was the younger man who visibly seemed to calm his elder teammate down after he looked a little all at sea initially entering the fray.

A four-man defence that saw 22-year-old Swansea right-back Connor Roberts added at half-time defended stoutly as Mexico dominated possession and chances, but Wales stood firm.

Cast aside by Chelsea aged 14 and rejected first by Watford and heartbreakingly then his boyhood team Queens Park Rangers, Mepham got a second chance when he was spotted playing against Uxbridge by Brentford scout Shaun O’Connor.

He joined the Bees academy and is now, unbelievably, buzzing around at international level, having resigned himself to becoming a Sunday league footballer at 16.

Joe Ledley’s last dance?

Joe Ledley

From the early throws of Giggs’ tenure it’s clear he’s taking a leaf out of his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s book and giving youth a chance.

It was a gamble, especially against such vastly experienced opponents, but it was also brilliant to see. And from this game and the first two under Giggs’ watch at the China Cup, there’s lots for Welsh fans to be positive about.

Harry Wilson is a welcome addition to Wales’ attack and highly-rated Sheffield United forward David Brooks roamed around with intent and menace when he was introduced at the break.

There were two more debuts too, for Manchester City’s 18-year-old midfielder Matthew Smith and Leicester attacker George Thomas, 21.

Seeing so many bright-eyed boys coming through is encouraging. But it’s also sure to bring about the end for the effervescent Joe Ledley.

The bearded warrior was one of the stars of the show at Euro 2016 but his form has dropped alarmingly in the last two years. He slashed wildly at one clearance and got completely tangled up by lively Mexican winger Jesus Corona in the first half.

The Derby County midfielder is only 31 but his performances at international level have been devoid of the energy his famous dance routines and his Wales displays of the past encapsulated.

Ledley has been a fundamental brick in building this current generation, but with youngsters like Brooks, Wilson and Ben Woodburn coming through, his place must be in jeopardy.

Hennessey and Gunter provide good value

Wayne Hennessey performed heroics.

Wayne Hennessey performed heroics.

Among English friends, trying to talk up Wales can seem a rather unrewarding ploy. Players picked from the Championship and even leagues below hardly strike fear into fans whose squads are furnished with players from only the world’s top leagues.

But this is not new for Welsh fans. Ten or 15 years ago, the majority of a squad might have consisted of League One and Two players.

Players like Chris Gunter and Wayne Hennessey are never going to get much recognition at club level – but their importance to Wales is immeasurable.

Gunter has played only one full season in the Premier League and spent the majority of his 12-year senior career in the second tier with Reading and Nottingham Forest.

Goalkeeper Hennessey has spent the last five years in the top-flight with Crystal Palace but he is hardly considered a jewel of a Premier League goalkeeper.

Yet Gunter, still just 28, is just four caps shy of the all-time appearance record set by goalkeeper Neville Southall and will realistically become the first Welshman to break 100 caps.

Hennessey has long been a precious commodity for Wales and proved his worth with a collection of fine saves against Mexico – saving acrobatically from Corona’s curling effort and Hector Herrera.

This duo aren’t considered elite, but to Wales they’re irreplaceable.

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