Wales ground out a 1-0 home win over the Republic of Ireland to stay top of their Nations League group.
The visitors edged a cagey first half, with chances scarce as these familiar foes looked like they might replicate last month’s insipid goalless draw in Dublin.
Wales eventually came to life midway through the second half, David Brooks nodding in from close range after Gareth Bale’s looping header across goal.
Brooks was denied a second goal by an outstanding save by Darren Randolph before Bale and Kieffer Moore missed further chances for the hosts, who extended their unbeaten run in competitive matches to 10.
Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick was sent off in added time for bringing down Tyler Roberts as he appeared to have a clear run on goal.
A fourth victory from five Nations League matches keeps Wales one point clear of second-place Finland, who won in Bulgaria in Group B4’s other fixture on Sunday.
Wales and Finland meet at Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday. A draw would be enough for Wales to win the group and secure promotion to the top tier of the Nations League.
As for the Republic of Ireland, they remain third and a point in front of bottom side Bulgaria, who they host in Dublin on Wednesday in a match which will decide who is relegated to the third tier.
There was a distinct sense of déjà vu about this fixture, a sixth meeting between the sides since 2017.
This had not been a rivalry to set neutrals’ pulses racing; apart from Wales’ 4-1 thrashing of the Irish in 2018, the other four games had produced just two goals.
That was no wonder as these were two teams who had struggled in attack regardless of opposition.
Wales had scored one goal in their past four matches in all competitions, while Ireland had mustered just a single strike in Stephen Kenny’s first six games in charge.
At least Wales were still eking out results, with three 1-0 wins and a goalless draw – against Ireland, naturally – taking them to the top of Group B4.
But the Irish were without a win of any sort since a friendly victory over New Zealand a year ago.
Despite that disparity in form it was the visitors who started strongest in Cardiff, with Robbie Brady inches from scoring a fine opening goal as his powerful shot whistled just over the bar.
Wales then had their first meaningful effort as a vicious dipping free-kick from Bale brushed the top of the bar, before Ireland threatened again as James McClean’s low shot was saved by Danny Ward.
The first half trundled to its goalless conclusion with little excitement, save for Wales midfielder’s Joe Morrell kick out at Jayson Molumby, for which he was perhaps fortunate only to receive a yellow card.
Wales were too cautious for the first hour, their deep midfielders disconnected from their front three and wing-backs not pushing far enough forward against limited opposition.
However, assistant coach Robert Page – in temporary charge with Ryan Giggs absent – took the initiative by replacing left wing-back Rhys Norrington-Davies with striker Moore.
His introduction gave Wales more direction in attack and, as they lifted the tempo, they conjured the opening goal, Bale’s intelligently weighted header finding Brooks, who powered his into the net.
The home side looked like they might kick on from that moment – with Brooks and Moore denied by Randolph either side of a Bale shot wide – but it mattered little.
Page’s side were unconvincing for large parts of this match but relatively comfortable winners in the end.
They can now look forward to the chance to win promotion to the Nations League’s top level, returning to Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday needing just a draw against Finland.