My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
A second half hat-trick from Helen Ward kept Wales’ hopes alive of qualifying for the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euros as they beat Kazakhstan 4-0. Despite the result, though, Wales will need to cut out the defensive lapses and develop a ruthlessness in front of goal. On another day, it could have ended in a Kazak win.
In the first half, Wales’ main chances fell to Nia Jones, most notably a one-on-one which she put wide. And these missed opportunities could have cost them dear if Natasha Harding, the forward who played at left-back, was not there to head clear off the line.
However, despite this chance, the Welsh defence managed to cope with the Kazakh attack which apart from their captain Begaim Kirgizbaeva lacked the creative skill to open Wales up. The Welsh defence included 16-year-old Amelia Ritchie who was making her senior international debut and looked composed and calm.
But the combination of the introduction of Ward at half-time and the pushing forward of Jess Fishlock led to a more attacking and positive Welsh display in the second half, and it didn’t take long as Harding headed a corner in from close range.
In three second-half minutes, Ward scored twice with both her finishes showing the composure that Wales had missed in the first half. She completed her hat-trick late on in the second half with a brave finish ahead of the keeper.
It had been Kazakhstan who had started stronger with Kirgizbaeva looking a menace down the left. Her cross was cleared, and the Welsh clearance fell to Saule Karibayeva who shot straight at the Welsh keeper Alice Evans.
Despite the bobbly pitch, Wales slowly gained a foothold in the game, and soon created some threatening chances and had it not have been for an offside flag would have taken the lead when Jones’ header beat the keeper.
Jones, who normally plays as a defender, once again had a golden opportunity as she was played in behind the defence by Melissa Fletcher, but despite this time beating the offside trap, she skewed her shot wide.
But the home side started to ease up, slowly allowing Kazakhstan back into the tie. A long ball was poorly cleared by the Welsh keeper outside her box, and with her off her line, Karibayeva’s lob was going in except Harding was in the right place to head the ball clear.
And another Welsh mistake nearly cost them a goal. Angharad James’ weak pass back put the Alice Evans in trouble, and the keeper cleared straight to Yekaterina Pyatkina who luckily shot over.
On the stroke of half-time, Wales once again missed a golden opportunity when Jones crossed to Melissa Fletcher, but from six yards out, she headed over.
At half-time, the Welsh manager Jayne Ludlow replaced Jones with Helen Ward – and this change brought an immediate impact with Ward’s direct play winning a corner, from which Wales scored. The Kazakh keeper Oksana Zheleznyak came and failed to claim Helen Bleazard’s delivery, and a game of head tennis ensued until Harding headed the ball over the line.
Ward nearly created the second as Zheleznyak once again failed to claim a dangerous cross, and Jess Fishlock saw her effort cleared off the line.
The win was secured over three minutes around the hour mark as Ward scored twice: blasting her first past the keeper whilst her second saw her slide the ball under the challenging keeper. Both finishes displayed the composure that Wales lacked in the first half.
It could have been a five-minute hat-trick if Ward had gotten a better connection on her volley from James’ cross.
Late on, there were signs of more of the carelessness in the Welsh defending that could have cost them dear if Svetlana Bortnikova had closed down quicker after Alice Evans tried to be clever in possession.
Eventually, Ward did get her hat-trick. Fishlock had space to shoot but instead opted on passing to Rachel Rowe who played Ward into the box as the bravely slid the ball under the keeper.
Up next, Wales have an away trip on Tuesday to Israel in another must-win match if Wales have any chance of qualifying.
Wales: (4-1-4-1): Alice Evans, Angharad James, Amelia Ritchie (Kayleigh Green 89), Rhiannon Roberts, Natasha Harding, Sophie Ingle, Rachel Rowe (Charlotte Estcourt 85), Melissa Fletcher, Jess Fishlock, Helen Bleazard, Nia Jones (Helen Ward HT).
Subs not Used: Joanne Price (GK), Alys Hinchcliffe, Chloe Chivers, Nadia Lawrence.
Goals: Harding 48; Ward 60, 62, 83.
Kazakhstan (4-4-2): Oksana Zheleznyak, Yekaterina Babshuk, Yekaterina Krasyukova, Aigerim Aitymova, Yulia Myasnikova, Saule Karibayeva (Svetlana Bortnikova 63), Madina Zhanatayeva, Adilya Vyldanova (Kamila Kulmagambetova 68), Begaim Kirgizbaeva, Yekaterina Pyatkina (Ksenia Khairulina 86), Mariya Yalova.
Subs not Used: Alexandra Grebenyuk (GK), Agata Sattarova, Mariya Demidova, Karina Zhumabaikyzy.
The Editor of Tartan Kicks, the magazine dedicated to Scottish Women's Football