Neil Taylor: Wales' Aston Villa defender's highs and lows

Neil Taylor
Aston Villa's Neil Taylor has also played for Wrexham and Swansea City

On his knees but on top of the world.

As Neil Taylor slid to celebrate his goal in Wales' Euro 2016 win over Russia, his face during his celebrations suggested not even he could quite believe it.

Chris Coleman probably best summed it up when he described his expression as akin to a 'schoolboy who'd stolen something from the sweetshop and got away with it'.

Unsurprising given it had been the full-back's first goal since non-league days with Wrexham just six years earlier, fewer than 300 fans at Grays Athletic to witness it.

In the three years since, Taylor's spent some time on his knees again.

"It has been difficult at times but a lot of people would take that for the euphoria of the Euros," the 30-year-old Taylor says.

"And I'm experienced enough to know that when you go through bad periods, there's a good one around the corner."

In his own words, he's had to bide his time.

Neil Taylor
Neil Taylor's goal against Russia at Euro 2016 was his one and only to date for Wales

Jettisoned out of the club where he'd made his name, he left Swansea City in January 2017 and dropped into the Championship with Aston Villa.

Out of the Premier League, out of form, out of the Wales picture under new manager Ryan Giggs, and in-between there were those headlines for the red card tackle which saw the Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman fracture his leg.

Yet when many thought the slide was irreversible, Taylor is now in touching distance of a second Premier League promotion.

Different direction

Having been not even in the squad when Villa reached - and lost- last year's Championship play-off final, he has been a regular since Dean Smith was appointed in October and appeared in every one of the club record 10-game winning streak that saw them go from mid-table to a fifth-placed finish.

As a result, he's also forced his way back into Wales contention, his start in the March friendly win over Trinidad & Tobago his first in more than a year of Giggs' time as manager.

"When I moved to Villa there was a lot to adjust to," says Taylor, who had spent six-and-a-half seasons with Swansea, joining a year before their top-flight promotion in 2011.

"I needed a new challenge after the Euros and it was the right time to go - the club was going in a different direction and I wasn't going to be a part of it.

"I actually had a good start but injury hampered me and when I came out of the team, they went on an unbeaten run and there's not much you can say about it.

"It was the same with Wales. I wasn't playing so I couldn't argue about it and it was a case of everything happened at the wrong time. The first time I wasn't chosen I half expected it."

Plenty expected it to be the end for Taylor's international chances, but the mischievous smile of Toulouse hides a mental toughness.

Neil Taylor is sent-off against the Republic of Ireland in 2017
Taylor was sent-off for his challenge on the Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman in a World Cup qualifier

Although he puts it down to being simply level headed - as well as four children to keep football to one side at home - he has a habit of comebacks.

Rejected by Manchester City as a schoolboy, he made his way up via Wrexham while also returning from a career-threatening ankle break in 2012 that eventually only cost him a season.

"I started my career at the bottom of the ladder so I know every avenue of football there is to know and I can call on it," says Taylor, capped 42 times since 2010.

"I was lucky enough to have that grounding, the year-to-year contracts so that what happens after is then a bonus. I try to enjoy it and pass it on.

"I feel experienced enough to deal with most emotions game can throw at you - I'm just hoping I get a new one with a massive football club on Monday."

'Guidance and direction'

Taylor has tasted play-off promotion before, though he missed the final with Swansea because of suspension, and while he calls that time "life-changing", he admits success this time could taste all the more sweeter.

"We've put a lot in under this manager who's helped me enjoy my football again," he says.

"And this is a different platform with the magnitude of this club, it's about getting a juggernaut back up into the Premier League - that was the idea when I came here."

Ahead of Euro 2020 qualifiers with Croatia and Hungary, Taylor admits promotion could further his Wales cause but insists the focus is rightly on the younger crop of stars in Giggs' ranks , two of which - Tom Lawrence and Harry Wilson - will line up for Derby on Monday.

"A lot of the older lads, of course we want to play, but we can see this younger generation coming though and perhaps needing some guidance and direction.

"And we want to give them that because we were all young coming through once hoping to do something special. Plus we know what it's like and we want it again."

Given his ability to get back up off his knees, he might be worth listening to.