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Cymru’s dismal defeat in Slovakia piles pressure on manager Rob Page

CYMRU suffered a demoralising friendly defeat in Slovakia, intensifying the pressure on manager Rob Page. Page had been booed by Cymru fans after Thursday’s humiliating goalless draw with Gibraltar and faced further chants in Trnava on Sunday calling for his dismissal.

Cymru’s heaviest defeat in three years marked a dismal end to a disappointing season, with the failure to qualify for Euro 2024 already prompting criticism of Page. In contrast, Slovakia – 19 places below Cymru in the world rankings – enjoyed a final send-off before travelling to Germany to start their campaign against Belgium next Monday.

The hosts had already seen David Hancko’s header ruled out when Juraj Kucka fired them in front shortly before half-time. Robert Bozenik doubled Slovakia’s advantage with a near-post finish from Hancko’s cross after the break, and four minutes later, Cymru’s captain for the night, Ethan Ampadu, deflected Lukas Haraslin’s acrobatic effort into his own net. Laszlo Benes struck Slovakia’s fourth in added time, prompting another wave of boos from Cymru’s strong contingent of travelling supporters.

The flurry of second-half Slovakian goals soured the atmosphere as Cymru fans sarcastically chanted “in transition” in reference to Page’s appeals for patience as his team continue life without Gareth Bale and others from the recent golden generation who have retired. However, fans have grown tired of Page’s talk of a “bigger picture” after a 12-month period that has seen an embarrassing home defeat by Armenia and a frustrating draw away to the same opponents, contributing to missing out on the European Championship for the first time since 2012.

Page’s stock has fallen considerably since becoming the first manager to lead Cymru to a World Cup in 64 years. Though Slovakia and Gibraltar were only friendlies, the nature of the performances will invite further scrutiny.

Page’s changes fail to inspire

When Cymru arranged this friendly earlier this year, they hoped it would form part of their preparations for this summer’s Euros, only to lose their play-off final to Poland on penalties in March. Cymru returned to action three days ago against Gibraltar in Portugal. It was expected to be a straightforward opportunity to field several debutants against lowly opposition they had beaten 4-0 only last October. However, an embarrassing draw against a team largely comprised of part-time players – the first time Gibraltar had avoided defeat since 2022 – changed the mood in the Cymru camp for this trip to Slovakia.

Page made seven changes from the Gibraltar debacle, reverting to a more familiar line-up in Trnava, though still missing senior players such as Ben Davies, Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham, Connor Roberts, Neco Williams, Harry Wilson, David Brooks, and Aaron Ramsey. With the entire first-choice defence missing, Ampadu moved from midfield to centre-back, where he excelled for Leeds United in the Championship this season.

The 23-year-old guided his less experienced defensive colleagues through the early stages of the game, but Cymru’s makeshift backline eventually started to creak, and they were fortunate not to fall behind when Hancko’s well-taken header was disallowed for offside. At the other end of the pitch, the visitors had fleeting opportunities to counter-attack but were undone by sloppy passing and a strange reluctance to shoot.

They did create one clear chance before the break as Josh Sheehan’s inswinging free-kick was smartly headed towards the top corner by Kieffer Moore, only for Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to athletically tip the ball over the bar. Just as Cymru looked to be getting a grip, they fell behind when Kucka’s low shot left a seemingly unsighted Ward standing still as the ball passed him into the net.

It was an unfortunate ending to a first half in which Cymru had shown signs of encouragement – but after the interval, they simply sank without trace. The defending was passive as Bozenik snuck past Ampadu to score Slovakia’s second, and the Cymru captain was unfortunate when his deflection made it three. Cymru’s fans had already made their feelings known at that point and, although they demonstrated some gallows humour at points, their boos after conceding a fourth were born out of pure anger.

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The 1,000 or so members of the Red Wall cheered their players when they made their way over to their corner of the ground at the final whistle. But when Page, who initially waited behind his squad, offered his applause to the supporters, he was roundly booed. In case there was any doubt, Cymru’s fans have turned on their manager.

Rob Page says he felt “Low” after facing more boos from Cymru fans

Page was given a hostile reception by Cymru’s 1,000 supporters in Trnava, having been subjected to chants calling for his sacking last Thursday after a humiliating goalless friendly draw with minnows Gibraltar in Portugal. The 49-year-old is contracted until 2026 but admits his future is out of his hands, with these results raising fresh doubts after a disappointing season in which Cymru failed to qualify for Euro 2024.

“They [fans] want me out. I completely understand. I’ve got to stay true to myself and focused on the job in hand. Everything else is out of my control,” Page told BBC Sport Cymru after the 4-0 loss. “I clapped them with the players, and when the players walked, I made a point of going over to the supporters and saying ‘it’s on me’. I get the frustration. [I feel] low, disappointed, of course. I’m human at the end of the day, and nobody wants to fail.”

Asked if these results could have a bearing on his future, Page added: “I’m the wrong person to be asking. Only the board, the chief executive, the president, the technical director – that’s a question for them. After camp, we have a conversation with Dave Adams [Football Association of Wales technical director], Steve [Williams, FAW president], and Noel [Mooney, FAW chief executive]. Of course, we’ll have those conversations. One way or the other, we will decide on what’s right for Cymru and move forward.”

Senior figures at the FAW have yet to comment on Page’s position but said they “review each camp and reflect properly” as they do after any international window. However, there was an air of resignation to Page as he conducted his post-match interviews in Trnava. Although friendly matches would not usually determine a manager’s future, these results followed a 12-month period which included an embarrassing home defeat by Armenia and subsequent failure to qualify for Euro 2024, prompting criticism for Page.

If he is to stay in post, Cymru’s next game will be in the Nations League in September at home to Turkey, one of the teams who pipped them to Euros qualification. “The form coming into it has been all right, but when you draw against Gibraltar and you get beaten with the goals we have tonight, questions are going to be asked. I completely understand that,” said Page. “I’m just focused on what I need to do. This camp served its purpose – to play a different formation – and we plan now for September.”

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