Bulgaria 0 – 1 Wales
A dogged display in Sofia saw Wales return to winning ways and remain unbeaten so far in this Nations League campaign, with substitute Jonny Williams tucking home the decisive strike on the 85th minute.
Wales, who looked to return to the top of group B4 after Finland’s 1-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland, were still without Gareth Bale and now Aaron Ramsey, who only returned to the side against the Republic of Ireland after he was injured in training, with Cardiff City striker Kieffer Moore and Bristol City midfielder Joe Morrell both suspended for the return game in Bulgaria.
The game at the Vasil Levski National Stadium was very similar to the one in Cardiff with Wales seeing much of the ball but troubling to create any meaningful chances in the final third, with Bulgaria defending deep and looking to counter quickly through wing backs Neuciano Gusmao and Anton Nedyalkov, and creative midfielder Kiril Despedov finding space to trouble the Welsh defence.
There were five changes made to the Bulgaria side, with goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov being their fourth different keeper in as many games.
It was a change in the system tonight for Wales with manager Ryan Giggs opting to play three at the back, with Ben Davies dropping into the left centre back role and Chris Mepham and Tyler Roberts returning after being dropped for the game on Sunday against the Republic of Ireland.
There was also a debut for Rhys Norrington-Davies at left wing back with the Sheffield United man on loan at Luton town being the 19th player Giggs has given a debut to, with Neco Williams on the other side being given his first start for his country.
And it was the Liverpool man who set up the winner, returning the favour to Jonny Williams who had assisted him in their first game against Bulgaria, after great build up play out of defence to set free Williams down the right who had been lively throughout the game, who crossed brilliantly for the other Williams to finish superbly and to get his first goal in 25 appearances for Wales.
The right back started the game like he had finished by creating the first real chance after putting in an excellent cross for Roberts, with the Leeds man unable to place any power into his header.
Nedyalkov did provide something for the Liverpool fullback to think about defensively however and was a constant threat for Bulgaria, and in the 10th minute put a great ball into the Welsh box with Wayne Hennessey coming off his line quickly to punch away.
Wales saw much of the ball for the first half but any time they tried to break away they were fouled by the home side, with Kristian Malinov being the usual culprit as he looked to take control of the midfield battle.
The starting front three of Roberts, Harry Wilson and Daniel James did give the Bulgarian defence some trouble and were very fluid in attack, with the pace of James and creativity of Wilson being positive signs for Wales early on in the game.
Georgi Yomov was a bright spark for Bulgaria though, who manged to beat the welsh players far too often for their liking, but in the 40th minute after putting the ball through the legs of Mepham, the Bournemouth centre back managed to win the ball back and set free James, who’s deflected effort sailed just past the post to almost give the Welsh side the lead before the break.
The second half started lively after great play from Roberts and Williams down the right which sees the ball end up at debutant Norrington-Davies feet who can’t direct his effort on target.
Tackles also started flying in with James and Wilson both receiving bookings for challenges on Gusmao, refereed to as Cicinho, with the latter missing the next game against the Republic of Ireland.
Schalke winger Rabbi Matondo replaced James on the 52nd minute and after impressing in the defeat against England, showed promising signs once again showing his dribbling skills to provide a new threat for the Bulgarian defence to deal with.
And Matondo was involved in most of the game’s big moments from then on, first picking out Wilson making a great run, but excellent defending from Kristian Dimitrov saw the winger’s effort blocked.
Wales produced their best chance of the game so far in the 73rd minute after a fantastic ball from Roberts saw Matondo this time finish poorly and see his effort sail over.
The second half played out much the same as the first with Wales seeing much of the ball once again, but were letting themselves down in the final third and maybe with their star man Bale and target man Moore, the game could have been much different heading into the final 10 minutes.
A strange moment for Wales after a poor back pass to Hennessey saw the Crystal Palace man look to retrieve the ball but ending up injuring himself, with the Welsh ever present making his 94th cap being replaced by Adam Davies, making only his second.
Bulgaria went looking for a goal during the latter stages of the game with Kiril Despedov trying to create something, but the welsh defence held out with Spurs target Joe Rodon making some impressive blocks.
And it was the Welsh who took home all the spoils after Jonny Williams, who had replaced Wilson popped up with the winner to see Wales get their fifth win in six competitive games and to extend their unbeaten run to eight. Wales are now sitting top of their group with 10 points heading into their next Nations League game against the Republic of Ireland as Ryan Giggs young side look to gain promotion to the top tier of the competition.