Jonny Williams brought Wales’s goal drought to an end with his first international goal five minutes from time to give his side a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria in Sofia.
The Charlton midfielder, who came off the bench with 18 minutes left, connected superbly with Neco Williams’s cross from the right to smash the ball high into the net, giving goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov no chance. The pair had combined the other way round for a last-gasp winner against Bulgaria in early September. Ryan Giggs’s side, who failed to score in their previous two outings, now top Group B4 following three wins and a draw from their four matches.
Giggs said: “I’m so proud of the players, it was a great performance. The players have got to keep believing in the way we play and that’s not easy. These young players have not experienced it before, but they kept their concentration and players off the bench made an impact.
Jonny Williams told Sky Sports: “It was an amazing moment for me. The gaffer put me on in a false nine position. First time I’ve played there and I’ve repaid him with a goal. I wondered if I would ever get my first goal but here I am.
Substitute Stuart Dallas’s own goal means Northern Ireland remain well off the pace in Group B1 despite a creditable display against Norway in Oslo.
Ian Baraclough’s side were pressed into early panic mode, clearing an Erling Braut Haaland shot off the line within two minutes, but they held out for 66 more, threatening on the counter without being able to make a breakthrough.
Dallas, who had been on the pitch for only eight minutes, had his view obscured by a teammate’s vain attempt to clear a Martin Ødegaard corner and helpless as the ball struck him to firmly to deflect past Trevor Carson. Motherwell goalkeeper Carson had been a short-notice starter after Bailey Peacock-Farrell was injured during the warm-up.
In Group A1, Italy drew 1-1 with the Netherlands in Bergamo. Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini opened the scoring after 16 minutes, latching on to Nicolò Barella’s superb arcing ball from the right that took out two defenders and allowed the midfielder to beat Jasper Cillessen in the visitors’ goal. The lead lasted only nine minutes, as Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek helped himself to his first for his country smashed in on the turn from close range.
Both sides trail Poland in the group, who eased to a 3-0 home victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina – the visitors played for 75 minutes with 10 men after Anel Ahmedhodzic’s early red card.