Wales ended a turbulent period on a high note as Daniel James’ late goal earned a vital 1-0 win against the Czech Republic in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier.
Manchester United forward James settled a hard-fought clash with a towering header from Gareth Bale’s superb cross nine minutes from full-time at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Both sides finished with 10 men after second half dismissals for Czech striker Patrik Schick and Wales defender Connor Roberts.
After losing 3-1 in Belgium in their opening Group E qualifier last week, Wales are back on track as they chase a place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It was a much-needed tonic for Welsh football after a difficult spell when off-field issues threatened to damage their qualification bid.
Once again, Wales were led by caretaker manager Robert Page while boss Ryan Giggs remains away from the team due to his arrest on suspicion of assaulting a woman last year.
Giggs denies the allegations and has been bailed by Greater Manchester police.
As if that wasn’t enough of a distraction, Wales trio Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts were axed from the squad on Monday for staying up too late and breaking a curfew at the team hotel.
Matondo and team-mate Ben Cabango were also racially abused online following Wales’ friendly win over Mexico on Saturday.
Despite all those issues, Wales dug deep in a display that mirrored the battling performances that carried them to Euro 2020 qualification.
“We found the way to win. We knew we were in for a battle and they were a threat constantly,” Page said.
“They had six up front at times and a massive aerial threat in the box. But I think we had the clear cut chances and thankfully we took one at the end.
“Three points so far is a great return considering the players not here. You bring those players back and there are bigger and better things to come.”
The Czechs have four points from three games and their captain Vladimir Darida said: “We’re sorry we did not repeat the good performance from the previous games. We got off to a slow start and we paid for it.
“But the qualifying campaign will be long and I believe we’ll make up for this.”
Ondrej Kudela started for the Czechs after Slavia Prague had initially prevented him from making the trip.
Kudela was accused of racially abusing Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara during a Europa League tie and Slavia had suggested the player’s safety could not be guaranteed in the UK.
The Czechs were reduced to 10 men three minutes into the second half.
Schick raised his hands to Roberts in a crowded penalty area and the Swansea defender fell to the ground holding his face.
But Roberts was dismissed himself in the 77th minute, receiving a second yellow card after competing for a high ball with West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek.
Soucek went to ground theatrically but Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan felt the offence was worthy of a red card.
Wales ignored that blow to snatch the winner in the 81st minute.
Marking his 90th cap in style, Bale deftly worked a yard of space on the left flank and whipped over a sublime cross.
The diminutive James rose high above the Czech defence to bury his downwards header past Tomas Vaclik from six yards.