Rewind five months and Wales were in utter shock having lost back-to-back Euro Qualifiers against Armenia and Turkey. Any hopes of reaching Germany for Euro 2024 looked to be in tatters.
The Armenia defeat hurt the most and left deep wounds. How could Wales lose 4-2 at home to Armenia? How could Wales produce a performance like that?
Wales took the lead in that game as well, it didn’t make sense, but the reality of the group table showed Wales were in serious trouble.
However, since then there have been a number of significant moments that have completely transformed Wales’ prospects of qualifying for Euro 2024.
First was Rob Page’s assessment of the basics. Defend well and any team always has a chance. Wales have for a number of years been solid at the back so Page, a wholehearted defender himself was far from happy with Wales’ defending in the June Internationals.
He got the players back on the training pitches and drilled them again and again. Come September, Wales had a defensive solidity that brings and breeds confidence.
The psychological side of football has also been evident over the past few months. Wales went into their September games – a friendly against South Korea and a Euro Qualifier away against Latvia – with a feeling of siege mentality surrounding them.
Clearly the June results hurt, but so did the criticism from media and supporters alike. Wales used that to create a ‘backs to the wall’ environment.
Then came the huge game against Croatia, the World Cup semi-finalists yet 24 hours out from the game no-one was talking about how Wales would overcome Modric and co.
It was all about a report that suggested the FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney had wanted to replace Rob Page as manager during the summer.
Again a siege mentality ensued, two of Page’s senior backroom staff turned out at a press conference in a show of support and solidarity. Then captain Ben Davies left no one in any doubt that the players were 100 per cent with their manager and that the chief executive’s alleged actions were not helpful.
Years and years ago when Sir Dave Brailsford, perhaps soon to be a trusted lieutenant for Sir Jim Ratcliffe at Manchester United was the guru at British Cycling, he spoke to me endlessly about the effect of the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ – the accumulation of the ‘one-per-centers’!
And I see a parallel of sorts with Wales over the past few months. They’ve worked on a few small things on the pitch and they’ve taken the mental side of things and used any negative to provide a positive.
Classic Sir Dave! It’s worked for Wales though. Confidence was rising after their 2-0 away victory over Latvia, the energy from the fans who travelled to Riga provided more. Then came Croatia and a performance and result as good as any under Page.
So Wales come to Yerevan to face Armenia in a completely different place from when they played them in Cardiff in June.
Whatever Page, Davies or any player says, there will be a tiny part of them wanting to avenge their defeat by the Armenians. They also know the job isn’t done yet so the jeopardy keeps the senses alive and I think Wales are the better for it.
How will Wales set up in Yerevan?
In terms of who does the job for Wales against Armenia, the defence picks itself. A back three of Chris Mepham, Joe Rodon and Davies with Neco Williams and Connor Roberts as wingbacks.
Jordan James has in a very short space of time made himself un-droppable while Ethan Ampadu who is thriving at Leeds United is probably playing his best football in a Wales shirt.
Leeds United has also revitalised Dan James, while Harry Wilson is another player getting plenty of game time at Fulham and he looks a player in form.
The only selection dilemma for me is how and where to play Brennan Johnson and Kieffer Moore, which one starts, which one comes on from the bench?
Wales squad to face Armenia and Turkey
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessy (Nottingham Forest), Danny Ward (Leicester City), Adam Davies (Sheffield United)
Defenders: Joe Rodon (Rennes, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Ben Cabango (Swansea), Chris Mepham (Bournemouth), Joe Low (Bristol City), Connor Roberts (Burnley), Morgan Fox (unattached), Neco Williams (Nottingham Forest), Ben Davies (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Ethan Ampadu (Spezia, on loan from Chelsea), Joe Morrell (Portsmouth), Jordan James (Birmingham), Dan James (Fulham, on loan from Leeds), Nathan Broadhead (Ipswich), Aaron Ramsey (captain, Nice)
Forwards: Harry Wilson (Fulham), Ollie Cooper (Swansea), Luke Harris (Fulham), Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest), David Brooks (Bournemouth), Liam Cullen (Swansea), Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth), Tom Bradshaw (Millwall)