The script is a familiar one by now but Wales never tire of the story. With six minutes remaining and their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020 hanging by a thread, Gareth Bale once again delivered for his country, heading home to spare Ryan Giggs and his players the humiliation of drawing at home against a team ranked 109th in the world.
Anxiously looking across at the assistant referee on the far side of the pitch, Giggs looked as relieved as anyone once he realised that the goal had been allowed to stand – there was some uncertainty initially as to whether a flag had been raised – and Wales could celebrate a crucial three points.
It was not until first-half injury-time that Wales registered a shot on target yet, remarkably, they went into the interval ahead. Pavlo Pashayev scored an own goal in the most farcical circumstances – the Azerbaijan right-back was not even looking when the ball hit him on the head – and that slice of good fortune ought to have liberated Wales.
That was the theory but instead they continued to look totally devoid of ideas and pedestrian in possession. The saving grace for Wales was that it was difficult to see Azerbaijan scoring, but that all changed just before the hour mark, when Mahir Emreli equalised after bad mistakes by Neil Taylor and Wayne Hennessey. The way that Wales conceded that goal summed up their display.
Bale, with his 32nd international goal, would later get Wales out of jail but there were few positives here other than the result. For all their possession, Wales had only three shots on target, which was one fewer than Azerbaijan, and it was hard to see what they were trying to do at times.
Nothing seemed much clearer afterwards, when Giggs said his players “were too hasty to get to the goal, too rushed” in one answer and then “did not move the ball quick enough, weren’t patient” in another.
The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that Pashayev’s own goal was an absolute belter and would not have looked out of place on any Sunday morning parks pitch.
Running back towards his own goal and stood about 15 yards out, Azerbaijan’s right-back had no idea that Bale’s deflected shot was looping towards him. By that stage Salahat Agayev, the Azerbaijan goalkeeper, had already started to sprint from his line, and was left horribly wrong-footed on the edge of his six-yard box as the ball rolled past him and into the empty net.
Wales then conceded that poor goal, which started with Taylor carelessly giving the ball away and Emreli, running on to a lovely pass from Ramil Sheydaev, sprinting clean through. Emreli shot weakly at Hennessey but the Wales goalkeeper could only push the ball back to the striker, who tapped in the rebound.
That looked like being that until Maksim Medvedev hacked the ball up into the air in the 84th minute and Bale, stood about six yards out, nodded over the line.