Rodgers’ pride in Wales trio

Wales coach 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 paid a glowing tribute to Speed. He said: “I spoke to the lads

before the game and I pulled them in again afterwards. It was hard

for them, of course, to lose someone like that. “They’ve had a

fantastic spell with Gary. He’s done an incredible job. He and I

spoke quite a lot. The style he was looking to bring in was a big

part with our players playing in it. “I thought the players’

performance level considering that was unbelievable. “Ashley

Williams was incredible, immense. It was difficult with little Joe

because he’s a real thinker, he did great but I could see before

the game it affected him. “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. “We applied

ourselves much better than on Monday, they passed well and we tried

to stop them passing,” he said. “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. 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.”