Sunday, February 14, 2010

Swans 1 - 1 Ugly Ducklings

Swansea City 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Not pretty - but not pointless either. That, basically, sums up yesterday's trip to south Wales, as we managed to emerge from the Liberty Stadium with a draw thanks to a late headed equaliser from Bigger Lad.

Paying the price for Tuesday's horror show at Pride Park were recent arrivals Leon Best and Mike Williamson, both benched in favour of Peter Lovenkrands and the fit-again Fabricio Coloccini. Alan Smith, also allegedly back to fitness (I say "allegedly" with the benefit of hindsight...), returned to anchor the midfield, with Danny Guthrie shunted out to the left in place of the injured Spiderman. Meanwhile Big Lad didn't travel, having picked up a knock in training.

Swansea began by forcing a succession of corners, but we responded with a quick break which saw a low cross from the overlapping Patrick van Aanholt put behind. The young Dutchman was soon made mindful of his defensive duties, though, with the Swans' Nathan Dyer suggesting he'd be a tricky customer.

As the first half developed, a leaden-footed Newcastle side was continually denied possession by a confident home side. The contrast between the two teams was most pronounced in midfield, where, despite fielding three to our four, the Swans were fluid and dynamic. Darren Pratley in particular was excellent, regularly bursting forwards in support of his three forwards and showing why Forest were so keen on signing him on deadline day - and why Swansea were so keen to keep him.

By contrast Kevin Nolan, our nominal creator in central midfield, continued to look as out-of-sorts and off the pace as he has in recent weeks. Equally disappointing was the way our most dangerous attacker Wayne Routledge was starved of service, given that since Federico Bassone's fourth-minute injury he'd been up against a right-footed stand-in left-back in the form of Alan Tate.

And yet our opponents also demonstrated why they're amongst the league's lowest scorers. For all their possession and control of the game, their only real efforts came in the form of two Andrea Orlandi free-kicks. Faced with the Swans' negligible threat, the returning Coloccini looked assured - one daft challenge that earned him a needless booking aside.

For our part, against the Championship's meanest defence, we saw Nolan nod past the post from a clever dinked cross from Coloccini, Lovenkrands create a chance for himself that went harmlessly wide and, with the referee's whistle between his lips, Swans 'keeper Dorian de Vries smother a Bigger Lad header on the line.

Chris Hughton presumably took the opportunity at half-time to remind the players that you can't do anything without the ball, but it was Swansea who made by far the strongest start to the second period. Dyer and Pratley had already both fired wide and comically fudged another reasonable opening through miscommunication, but they were soon on the same wavelength, to our cost. Pratley's low cross was dummied by Dyer, giving David Cotterill time to step inside the challenge and blast home from the edge of the area with Steve Harper rooted to the spot.

Just as in the first half, our midfield was still being comprehensively outplayed and overrun, with Routledge only being given rare opportunities to trouble Tate. On the other flank we wondered whether it might have been wise to gamble on replacing Guthrie - who was having a shocker - with Kadar so van Aanholt could be pushed further forwards. In the wake of Ashley Cole's injury, the Dutchman is set to be recalled at the "earliest opportunity" as soon as his month's loan ends, so we need to make sure we get the most out of him. Certainly Spiderman's absence was proving a huge blow.

The one change Chris Hughton did make, replacing the ineffective Lovenkrands with Best, looked as though it might reap rewards as we belatedly started to gain a foothold in the game, with the Swans seemingly confident that their well-marshalled back line could hold out for an 18th clean sheet of the season. Thankfully that complacency was costly as, with three minutes remaining, the lively Best swinging over a great cross from the right for Bigger Lad to thump a header past de Vries. Not the first time he's played a get-out-of-jail-free card for us - I wonder whether he might need another one up his sleeve? (The BBC report, incidentally, claims that he could have been red-carded for an elbow on Garry Monk shortly before the goal - the truth is that while it was an overly robust challenge, he had his eyes on the ball the whole time and there was no malicious intent, so it was deserving of the yellow he got.)

Once level, we - and Routledge in particular - stepped up the pace for a winner that would, on the balance of play, have been thoroughly undeserved. That said, Swans manager Paulo Sousa's post-match assessment - "We were much better than them in everything, we deserved to win by miles" - was laughably wide of the mark given the relative lack of actual goal threat his side posed.

With West Brom in FA Cup action, the point was enough to return us to the top of the table, and the result took on an even healthier look with news that Forest's floundering had continued at Doncaster. We now welcome Coventry to St James' on Wednesday, having secured a fairly comfortable win at the Ricoh in early December to make it seven successive wins. Since then, though, Chris Coleman's rejuvenated side have been one of the outfits to inflict a helpful defeat on Forest, so we'll need to be on our game to win.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


Post a Comment

<< Home