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Monday, November 28, 2011

Rodgers' pride in Wales trio

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers praised his Wales contingent after they helped his side to a goalless draw against Aston Villa just hours after the death of national team boss Gary Speed.

Speed was found dead at his home on the outskirts of Chester on Sunday, with the Football Association of Wales confirming his death just over an hour before kick-off at the Liberty Stadium. Wales internationals Neil Taylor, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams all played for the hosts, with their Dragons colleague James Collins lining up for Villa.

Given the overwhelming sense of sadness it was perhaps no surprise that the match was a subdued affair, but Rodgers praised the efforts of his Wales trio. And on the players, he said: "I thought the players' performance level considering that was unbelievable", before adding: "All three are strong characters. How the three of them performed like they did was incredible. It was a sombre day and it was hard to take in."

Of Speed, Rodgers added: "It's just sad. It's hard to take in. It's something that will really affect people because he was a football great. You hear the word legend and it gets bandied about so easily but this was a guy who was a true Welsh and football legend."

In a game of few clear-cut chances substitute Leroy Lita wasted Swansea's best opportunity as he fired wide after doing brilliantly to turn James Collins in the area, while man-of-the-match Gabriel Agbonlahor forced two good saves from Michel Vorm and Chris Herd headed wide from close range at the other end.

The draw was Villa's fifth on the road this season but manager Alex McLeish, who also paid tribute to Speed, was pleased to see his side respond following their poor performance in their defeat at Tottenham.

He said: "We applied ourselves much better than on Monday, they passed well and we tried to stop them passing. They are a good side but the only time they penetrated was in the final 15 minutes when Lita had a couple of chances. With a wee bit more conviction we could have won."

But the former Scotland boss admitted he had been worried over whether Collins and keeper Shay Given would be able to play due to their close links to Speed.

Given, who played with Speed at Newcastle, was particularly affected and was in tears as the game kicked off, and McLeish said: "I was worried about that. There was that minute's silence that turned into applause and I was worried about losing Given. James Collins was white as a sheet and Jermaine Jenas played as his midfield partner at Newcastle so these guys were extremely distraught."

"I never played against Gary but I remember seeing him scoring goals for every club he played for, coming through from midfield and timing his runs to perfection. He played until he was nearly 40, he was a fantastic professional and everyone in the game loved him."

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