Home rivals see red and share spoils

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Wales and Northern Ireland served up a footballing flashback in Cardiff with a blood and thunder home international in which they shared three sendings off, four goals and a draw that did little for either side's World Cup qualification hopes.

But even that disappointing outcome looked unlikely for Wales after a crazed 20 first minutes in which each side had a player sent off, and Northern Ireland took an astonishing two-goal lead through Jeff Whitley and David Healy.

Irish joy quickly turned to recrimination as Healy was deemed by the Italian referee to have exaggerated his celebrations and then to have made an obscene gesture, and he became the third player to disappear into a crowded tunnel.

The game's febrile tone was set by the national anthems as the Welsh crowd booed "God Save the Queen". The players took their cue and on 10 minutes Michael Hughes pole-axed Robbie Savage from behind, prompting the Birmingham City firebrand to respond with a punch, which earned him a first red card in a feisty career as the referee sent both men off.

Northern Ireland readjusted quicker and 10 minutes later Healy chased a long ball into the box, Wales defender James Collins slipped, allowing him to chip the ball over Paul Jones before nodding home.

But as Irish numbers fell to nine there was little they could do but fall back while Wales were free to attack in numbers. Much of it though was frenetic and directionless, and only when Craig Bellamy drifted deep to prompt those around him did they look dangerous and on the half-hour mark his clever passing opened the Irish defence for John Hartson to nod home.

More goals looked inevitable but Wales lacked ideas, and as time passed it was Northern Ireland that carved out the better chances as man of the match Tony Capaldi provided an energetic solo outlet.

The more desperate Wales became the more ragged their football was until with 15 minutes to go, John Oster finally found substitute Robert Earnshaw in a good position to head home.

Wales will be disappointed to come away from the opening salvos of this qualification group with two points that should have been six, but if nothing else this hard-fought match will remind England that they will have to battle for every point in this half-British group.

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