Wales succumbed to a late defeat in Hungary that could prove to be a severe blow to their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.
Roared on by a vociferous home crowd, Hungary threatened from set-pieces in a goalless first half during which Wales showed fleeting signs of their attacking potential but also left themselves defensively exposed.
Ryan Giggs’ side had a glorious chance to take the lead after an hour, as David Brooks and Tom Lawrence combined to tee up Gareth Bale – but the Real Madrid forward horribly miscued his close-range effort into the hands of goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
That was to prove costly as Wales failed to deal with a long ball to Hungarian striker Adam Szalai, who held off a weak challenge from James Lawrence and laid the ball on to Mate Patkai, who finished confidently to spark riotous celebrations in Budapest.
Despite starting this campaign as fourth seeds, a third successive victory takes Hungary to the top of Group E on nine points, three ahead of Slovakia and Croatia in second and third and six in front of Wales, who are now fourth.
Giggs’ men still have five games to revive their qualification prospects but to find themselves so far off the pace so early in this campaign is a cause for major concern.
Unhappy with his side’s errant finishing and sloppy defending during Saturday’s defeat in Croatia, Wales manager Giggs responded by making five changes as he named a far more attacking line-up.
While Brooks and Lawrence were brought in to add to the team’s goal threat, Chelsea teenager Ethan Ampadu was the recalled player who initially impressed as he combined with Joe Allen at the base of midfield to help Wales play with a composure they lacked against Croatia.
Despite signs of improvement, Giggs’ men looked vulnerable whenever they lost the ball; susceptible to Hungarian counter-attacks which added fuel to the fire of a cacophonous home crowd.
The hosts also looked dangerous from set-pieces, with centre-back Wili Orban – who scored twice in Saturday’s win over Azerbaijan – heading into the side netting from one corner.
This was a finely poised encounter, tension increasing with every minute that passed without a goal.
The electric pace of Daniel James seemed Wales’ likeliest source of making a breakthrough, with one of his forays down the left leading to a chance for Lawrence, whose low shot was saved.
That was a relatively difficult opportunity but there was no excusing Bale’s miss.
Wales’ record goalscorer looked destined to add to his tally when Lawrence laid on a low cross to him inside the six-yard box but Bale got his right-footed shot all wrong, spooning it harmlessly into Gulacsi’s arms.
With 10 minutes left, Hungary showed no such mercy in front of goal as Lawrence was easily beaten in his tangle with Szalai, giving Patkai the opportunity to seal a victory which the home players savoured with their fans for a long time after the final whistle.
Following the success of Euro 2016 and having started this campaign as second seeds behind World Cup finalists Croatia, Wales have seldom had such high expectations.
An opening win over Slovakia showed promise and, although there was no disgrace in losing to a Croatia side unbeaten at home since 2013, strong starts from Hungary and Slovakia meant Wales were playing catch-up after just two matches.
Now they have a mountain to climb.
Hungary had already demonstrated their ability to beat loftier opposition with a win over Croatia here in March but, at the very least, Wales had been hoping to earn a draw.
Instead, they return home from their Eastern European double-header with nothing.
This was a seventh defeat from Giggs’ 13 matches in charge, and the repetitive manner in which Wales have been beaten is arguably as much a worry as the results themselves.
Giggs’ appointment in January 2018 was met with a lukewarm reaction from Wales fans, and there is little to suggest their opinion of the former captain will have improved after a first 17 months in charge which can be described as mixed at best.
Wales still have time to catch up on their group rivals – they have a game in hand and there are two automatic qualification places – but their poor start to the campaign raises serious doubts their Euro 2020 credentials and those of their manager.