Whilst the failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup will be forever remembered for England’s disastrous results against Poland, this result in reality was the result that cost the Three Lions their place in the finals.
Sir Alf Ramsey named an unchanged line up from the return fixture in Cardiff. Ray Clemence was retained in goal, with Peter Storey continuing to fill in at right back. England’s midfield seemed to lack a creative force, relying on hard work and grit from Hunter, Bell and Ball with Kevin Keegan supposedly providing the link to the front two of Chivers and Marsh.
Coverage was provided by the BBC, with the highlights being the centrepiece of that night’s Sportsnight. David Coleman provided the commentary, the footage being used by ESPN Classic as part of their Dead Good Match series.
England immediately looked laborious going forward, whilst Wales with a young Leighton James impressing were immediately on the front foot. James tested Clemence early on, picking up on a loose pass from Roy McFarland to run at the England defence. Lacking support James tried his luck from the edge of the box, forcing Clemence to shovel the ball uncomfortably behind for a corner.
James continued to pose a threat and put the cat truly amongst the pigeons by creating the opening goal for John Toshack. The winger was cleverly played in by Brian Evans and with Emlyn Hughes hopelessly appealing for offside, got to the bye line before pulling back to the edge of the 6 yard box for John Toshack to tap into the empty net. “That spells real trouble now for England” said Coleman in the box, and he was right.
Wales seemed more than happy to hold what they had and defended manfully as England began to press forward, but more in hope than expectation. Keegan was anonymous and Marsh and Chivers only sparking fitfully. Alan Ball also seemed missing in action and it appeared that England were relying on Norman Hunter to provide the go forward momentum. Then just before half-time Colin Bell decided to get in on the action, taking a leaf out of the book of Leighton James.
Twice in quick succession the Manchester City man drove low crosses into the box. The first bobbled kindly into the path of Chivers, only for the Tottenham man to be denied by a fine block by Gary Sprake in the Welsh goal. Then just before half time another Bell cross was only half cleared, the ball falling to Hunter 25 yards out. The Leeds man met it sweetly and struck an unstoppable shot past his club colleague in the Welsh goal. “Sprake was left cold” said Coleman. “Sprake knows all about Hunter but he knew nothing about that. Hunter with that lethal left foot really tore onto it and the ball screamed past Sprake. You can’t blame goalkeepers for that, you just congratulate scorers”
England had 45 minutes to earn the second point on offer, something they would dearly have loved before the double header against the Poles which were to come. However they created just a couple of chances in the second half. Rodney Marsh headed against the bar, with Chivers putting the rebound wide, and then the Spurs man again being denied by a good save by Sprake.
The remainder of the half saw England huff and puff, but create nothing but frustration; the final whistle greeted by boos. “Listen to this” said Coleman before offering his final thoughts that “they now have to do exceptionally well against Poland. A draw against Wales is simply not good enough for a team of England’s standards.” What those standards had fallen to would be revealed in the summer. Until then it would be domestic matters which would dominate the remainder of the season.