Wayne Hennessey: Wales number one keeper spot ‘up for grabs’

Goalkeepers Danny Ward, Wayne Hennessey, goalkeeping coach Anthony Roberts and goalkeeper Adam Davies
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Wayne Hennessey says the role of Wales’ first-choice goalkeeper is “up for grabs” despite appearing to be in pole position to start in Monday’s World Cup opener against the United States.

The 106-cap Hennessey has played only two cup games for Nottingham Forest this season but has been preferred to Danny Ward and Adam Davies for Wales.

Ward is pushing for a recall having kept six clean sheets in his past eight Premier League matches for Leicester.

“We’re in good form,” said Hennessey.

“That number one shirt is up for grabs.

“It’s a healthy decision, a good decision to have from the manager’s point of view. We’ll see.”

Hennessey and Ward – backed up by Sheffield United’s Davies – have developed a strong but friendly rivalry in the battle to be Wales’ starting keeper.

Hennessey was the unquestionable first choice for more than a decade before getting injured against Bulgaria in October 2020.

Ward replaced him on that occasion and kept his starting place for last year’s coronavirus-delayed Euro 2020.

When Ward missed the World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria through injury in March, Hennessey stepped in and kept his place for the play-off final win over Ukraine three months later, in which he produced a stunning man-of-the-match display.

Asked if that performance – and subsequent regular starts for Wales – makes him the favourite to face the United States on Monday, Hennessey said: “Not really. I haven’t been playing much at the moment. I had the one cup game last Wednesday.

“It’s up for grabs. The two guys next to me here are training really well and looking sharp, so it’s a big decision.”

Like his club side Leicester, Ward has enjoyed a remarkable transformation in fortunes this season.

He conceded 22 goals in his first seven league appearances of the campaign but, in his eight games since then, has kept six clean sheets and shipped only three goals.

“It’s just a confidence thing,” said Ward. “We had a tough transfer window which everyone seemed to be talking about and sometimes that was difficult to deal with in the changing room.

“But we knew all along, you look through the squad of players we have and the characters as well as the quality of players, we knew it would be a matter of time until we built our confidence levels and got back to the standard we’d set in recent years.

“Thankfully we’ve gone some way to getting back there.”

Ward, Hennessey and Davies all appeared together in the same news conference in Doha on Friday, where they were joined by goalkeeping coach Tony Roberts.

Roberts, who is also Wolves’ goalkeeping coach, won two caps for Wales during a long playing career where international opportunities were limited by the fact he spent much of that time in competition with the great Neville Southall.

“Nev was obviously at the time one of the best goalkeepers in the world, so I carried his bags all over the place for years,” Roberts joked.

“I know what it’s like to fight in every training session, every camp. You’ve just got to keep going and work hard, and that’s what these boys do.

“I can’t fault them. They’re all different individuals and they’ve all got high standards.

“We’ll sit down as a staff and go through the situation and pick the team for the USA.

“I’ll have an input but it’s not just myself, it will be all the staff having a chat about it.”

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