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Veteran defender’s catastrophic fall from grace

Not much is going right for the Welsh captain this season

Wales v Republic of Ireland - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It was just over a year ago that Ashley Williams had hit what would be the peak of his career. He’d had a good year manning Swansea City’s backline, guiding the Welsh side to 12th place in the Premier League at the end of the 2015-16 season, tied with Everton who would soon come knocking on the door for him.

There was also the small matter of the 2016 European Championships that summer. It was the first time Wales had qualified for the event with captain Williams providing the bedrock of the house that the Welsh built in qualifying for the competition and they set out to prove they belonged in the upper echelon of European football, eventually to lose in the semi-finals to eventual winners Portugal.

Fast forward to October 2017 and it appears the centerhalf is at the nadir of his career. Everton are off to an abysmal start in a season where it was all supposed to come together, with the veteran playing no small part in the defensive chaos that have reigned in the Blues own half.

And then during this latest international break, with Wales and Republic of Ireland scrapping it out for the runners-up spot in Group D that would secure a playoff spot to the 2018 World Cup, Williams’ lackadaisical giveaway gifted the Irish a goal that sent Wales out of the competition.

Williams was also lucky to have not gotten hurt after he was the unknowing victim of a headbutt attempt by Ireland’s Robbie Brady, soon after the Irish goal. Brady seemed to have taken offense about being unceremoniously dumped on the ground by Williams before trying to drive his head into the defender’s back, who luckily happened to be moving forward and didn’t notice the winger’s head wafting by him.

As of today, reports say that FIFA will be looking into the headbutt by Brady, with the possibility of charging him with violent conduct, which could keep him out of Ireland’s playoff game(s).

Everton fans will only respond with an all-knowing groan after having seen Williams already make similar mistakes a handful of times for the Blues too this season. It’s like the burly defender has simply forgotten how to defend and his legs have gone at the same time.

Even club captain Phil Jagielka has leapfrogged him on the depth chart, despite at 35 being a whole two years older than the Welshman. The only things that have kept Williams part of the Toffees’ matchday squad lately has been Michael Keane’s injury, Ramiro Funes Mori’s long layoff and the fact that Mason Holgate has also appeared to have regressed badly after last season.

The Blues impotency upfront has led to added pressure on the defence this season, as opponents press with impunity as Everton have no one to chase and hold the ball in midfield and attack, while manager Ronald Koeman continues to field three number 10’s and no wingers, not to mention that the Toffees failed to replace Romelu Lukaku with a striker that could bag half his goal total.