WALES' hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup suffered another setback as they were denied late on by Serbia in an enthralling 1-1 draw in Cardiff.

Having taken five points from their opening three Group D matches, Chris Coleman's side knew they couldn't slip up here against a fellow qualification rival, having blown leads against both Austria and Georgia last month.

Gareth Bale's 26th international goal, taking him to within two of record holder Ian Rush, gave Wales a vital lead on 30 minutes and they held out until the 86th minute, when Newcastle striker Alexander Mitrovic's powerful header crept in off the post to breach the Welsh rearguard. 

Serbia looked threatening in the early exchanges of this crucial Group D encounter and Branislav Ivanovic saw his free header from close range cleared off the line by Neil Taylor.

It was Bale who fired Wales into the lead on 30 minutes, Hal Robson-Kanu doing brilliantly to rob Matija Nastasic of the ball in a dangerous area and laying it on for the Real Madrid star, who fired a snap shot in from 20 yards past Vladimir Stojkovic into the net. 

Wales were the stronger team for the rest of the first-half but couldn't add to their lead, Robson-Kanu's header drifting wide on 34 minutes. 

Bale's 49th minute free-kick was palmed away by Stojkovic but a Serbia leveller loomed large as the clock ticked on.

However, this display was much for like it from Wales, who were well-drilled defensively and kept their shape having switched to a back four in the absence of Ben Davies through injury. 

Joe Allen and Joe Ledley were cautioned for cynical fouls, Bale struck the post with a right footed effort, but just as it looked like Wales would cling on for the victory, Mitrovic levelled to silence the home fans.