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Page-Turner . . . Has Rob Run Out of Hard Luck Stories?

By Graham Thomas

There are plenty ready to turn the Page on the current Wales Football manager, but appearances can sometimes be deceptive.

At first glance, a goalless draw against Gibraltar is an embarrassing scoreline for any national team that comprises full-time professional players.

Gibraltar are not quite the side of bartenders, fishermen and customs officers they have been portrayed, but a couple of players operating in the Spanish second division, and another playing in the Irish league, should not be keeping a clean sheet against Wales. 

It was no surprise that Page found himself in the firing line from angry supporters on Thursday as Gibraltar – ranked 203 out of the 210 teams in world football – avoided defeat for the first time in 14 games in Portugal.

Yet Page’s recent record with Wales is pretty decent. If you take 90-minute or 120-minute encounters and discount the Euro play-off final penalty shoot-out defeat to Poland, then he’s on an eight-game unbeaten run.

Those results have included a 2-0 away win it Latvia and the 2-1 home victory over Croatia that brought Wales back into automatic Euro qualification contention.

They didn’t make it because they then drew with Armenia and Turkey, although a 4-1 win over Finland in the play-off semi-final was another high mark.

The trouble for Page is twofold. Firstly, expectations have risen on the back of success that began in 2016 and went through to reaching the 2022 World Cup finals.

Secondly, the current side have enough good players to be as strong as most mid-ranking European nations. The likes of Brennan Johnson, Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon and Jordan James should be providing a solid and fairly experienced foundation.

But instead of recognising the demand for more success and more tournament qualification, Page seems to be keener to dampen things down and often still talks about a team in transition.

Is that the reality or self-protection? If it’s the latter then Page would not be the first manager to throw a wet rag on the flaming pan of supporters’ over-optimism.

So, what now for Page?

In the immediate sense, there is the second friendly in this international window – against Slovakia on Sunday.

With no breeze under their wings from the blue skies of the Algarve after that draw, it’s hardly a surprise that DragonBet make Wales underdogs at 12/5.

Slovakia – who, unlike Wales, have qualified for the Euro finals in Germany – are backed as 21/20 favourites, with the draw priced at 9/4.

If you just can’t get enough of those 0-0 draws, then you can back another goalless spectacle at 17/20.

Slovakia also warmed up for this game by taking on a minnow – but in their case they thumped San Marino, 4-0.

They lost home and away to Portugal in their own Euros campaign, but unlike Wales – who crumbled 4-2 at home to Armenia in a costly defeat – Slovakia were able to pick up the wins that mattered against the likes of Bosnia and Iceland.

Should Page lose on Sunday, then it will no doubt increase the volume among those members of the Red Wall who think his time is done.

But with no further matches until September, and the start of a new Nations League campaign, a draw or surprise victory might quieten things for a time.

For that reason, we can expect Page to bring back all of his experienced players to start against the Slovakians. Those would include Ampadu, Johnson, James, Danny Ward, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore.

Page handed out five new caps on Thursday as Tom King, Charlie Crew, Fin Stevens, Jay Dasilva and Lewis Koumas all made their debuts.

Wes Burns, another player likely to add a bit more of a streetwise element, is convinced that Wales can do enough to protect their under-fire manager.

“Sometimes you have to block out the outside noise,” said the Ipswich Town winger.

“He’s done unbelievable things with this group. After you’ve been so successful in years gone by, people assume you’ll always do well.

“There were lots of new faces in the starting XI, it was the first time we’ve played together and lads are still learning each other’s games.

“As a group, we know what we’ve achieved in the past and what we can achieve going forward.

“But we’ve got to be patient and the fans need to work with us on that. We’re a young group and we’re all coming together.”

DragonBet have Robert Page to still be manager on 6th Sept for Wales Vs Turkey at 4/5

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