Monday, 6 February 2012

WBA v Swansea City, Barclays Premier League, The Hawthorns,4/2/12

Classy, confident Swansea pass the test.

The travel journey to the Midlands for the JackArmy was one of the easier we'll get to make this season, although those returning to South Wales were hampered somewhat by the inclement weather.

We won't mind so much though, because the Team's journey was another step confirmed toward the season's target, as a result of a terrific winning performance in the rapidly deteriorating and snow-filled afternoon.

That it took me over 3 hrs to get from central Birmingham to the 6m distant M5 was tempered by the genuinely pleasing performance from the Swans classy and confident display, and never mind the poor editing on MoTD, those there (live and Net-sters), and Sky's Football First choice, will tell you that the first half control, and the second half competence, well deserved to bring us out on top.

West Brom had made just 2 changes from their Fulham fixture, Roy Hodgson preferring Stephen Reid at RB, with Jerome Thomas replacing Simon Cox. For the Swans, BR had obviously been very satisfied with the Chelsea game's outcome, and thus the Swans were unchanged from then.

The teams were these.....

West Bromwich Albion
01 Foster, 03 Olsson, 12 Reid, 20 Shorey, 23 McAuley, 07 Morrison, 14 Thomas (Tchoyi - 72' ), 17 Dorrans (Cox - 71' ), 21 Mulumbu
(Scharner - 64' ), 24 Odemwingie, 32 Fortune
13 Fulop,06 Ridgewell,28 Jones,05 Tchoyi,08 Andrews,33 Scharner,31 Cox

Swansea City
01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham, 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer (Routledge - 88' )
25 Tremmel, 16 Monk, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 26 Agustien, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Ref: Moss
Att: 24,274

What was apparent from the outset, and was confirmed throughout the half particularly, and the game eventually, was Swansea's technical ability, both on the ball with patient but appropriate tempo, and instant control in timing and effectiveness of movement - giving all of their players an option and outlet, and moreover, dragging WBA into increasingly desperate shape.

The skiddy surface, affected worseningly by the ever descending snow, was made for an aid toward this style, since players of greater technique will always thrive ahead of those less gifted on tricky surfaces.

The dominance was, at first, just that, but as the half progressed it led to City creating greater pressure, and, consequently, chances to get on the score sheet to give their superiority some concrete reward.

From a Joe Allen corner that we've seen before from Gower, the near post feed was turned goalward by Gylfi Sigurdsson, and whilst that was blocked, Rangel's follow up was narrowly turned wide. And from a familiar high and early press, Allen intercepted Mulumbu's ball, but was unable to better dragging his shot just wide.

Then Sigurdsson was brought down by James Morrison, and he took the free kick himself, only to shoot just past the post.

You know the feeling you get when you're watching your team in a close match? A sort of constant "butterflies-in-the-stomach" type thing where your optimism is always restrained by your fear of conceding? Well, let me tell you that, throughout this game, for the first time this season, I never had that. Instead, I had a warm glow from the glut of possession we were enjoying, but also from our more lively and threatening look going forward.

I purport that the whole side seemed to have realized that we have GENUINELY arrived. I could well be mistaken of course, but I can only tell you how I felt.

WBA's first break came from McCauley heading wide from a Nicky Shorey cross, and this attempt was the one where later TV footage seemed to show Ash Williams arm in contact with the ball as he scrambled to get a block on. For all the Home appeals, Mr Moss declined.

On 30m Danny Graham got free from McCauley from a Britton free kick, but he put a decent chance wide.

Toward the end of the half, WBA forced a series of corners, and from a Jonas Olsson header, Sigurdsson headed the best chance off the line, and Taylor blocked the follow up.Vorm had also caught an Olsson header on the line, one from a Dorrans' free kick, awarded after Britton had been booked for bringing down Morrison on a rare Albion break.

When the half time "extra minutes" were shown, Swansea not only kept control, but went forward to see a decent move end with Scott Sinclair hampered just as he went on to shoot, and from my view (at the other end confessedly), we Swans jumped in unison in claim of a penalty.

Mr Moss again declined. So that's even then.

The half finished with City on top, and whilst Joe Allen and Sigurdsson had generally been in control of the middle, and Graham particularly had proved a constant threat, the whole side had given a display that served notice to Albion that their Home record, which is disappointing, was again under severe threat.

The sides went off at 0-0.

The second half opened to much the same pattern, and for we Jacks it was encouraging to see them playing toward our massed supporters goal.

It was then, a surprise, that from a break, WBA took the lead.

From an attack on the left they won a corner and Dorrans' inswinging ball was flicked on by Olsson at the near post to find Fortune, outside the far. He took one touch to control it with one foot, and then smashed with the other a knee high drive that found the corner of the net at the far corner.The Home crowd erupted and the Swans were behind. 1-0.

The frustration and disappointment from Swansea was heartfelt, but didn't last long, because within a minute, they were level.

From another sweeping passing move, the Swans moved it eventually left to Scott Sinclair, and from his in-cutting run, he put the overlapping Neil Taylor free toward the by-line, and from his neat cut back across goal, Gylfi Sigurdsson had timed his run perfectly. He let it run across his body and opened up to side foot a right footed finish into the corner of the net. 1-1, and we danced and sang in support of Siggi's ecstatic celebration right in front of us.

Things got even better, because 4m later, the Swans took the lead.

This goal was even better than the first, because the preceding move had started and continued through Michel Vorm and this one again, a move that swept across both sides of the pitch, was pure quality.

The key pass saw Ash Williams putting Sigurdsson free in the inside right channel, and he turned and drove toward the box. He looked up to see Danny Graham make a run to the near post, and his inch perfect cross was turned in by the Swansea striker on the half volley to complete an ecstatic move. 2-1, and it was no more than the visitors deserved.

Interestingly, this classic team goal of more than 20 passes again was nominated by talkSport's Andy Gray as the 2nd best goal of the PL weekend, beaten only by Juan Mata's sumptuous volley v Man Utd yesterday.Both classics of their kind I thought.

In the steadfastly worsening snow fall and flurries, for the rest of the game our side gave a real demonstration of confident dependability, exchanging end to end attack and defence against an increasingly and understandable opposite assault from a WBA side desperate to get back in the game.

The risk taking from both teams was refreshing and reflected both teams' determination to come out on top.

The Albion's best opportunity came from a Dorrans mis-hit shot, from the right, which squirmed through to Odemwingie eight yards out and clear just to the left, but his side footed attempt went wastefully over.

Sharner too, on as a sub, scuffed a shot wide from Tchoyi's pass, and the muscular Cameroonian, also introduced along with Cox, showed Hodgson's desperation to get something late. He was certainly a threat, but the vigilant Williams and Caulker dealt well with the extra forwards.

Swansea, meantime, were creating too. Both Dyer and Graham threatened further, and a Sigurdsson shot was blocked by Olsson.

In Fergie-time at the end of the game, Vorm once again and finally proved his invaluability.

From an Ash Williams sliced clearance, Fortune got free just six yards out on the right, and his fierce cross shot was heading in, but the keeper marvellously got down low and with his right arm deflected the shot inwards to trickle just wide of the post and dead.

WBA were indeed, and Mr Moss blew for time to let we Swans at the far end to celebrate noisily and joyously, and the team to acknowledge these celebrations collectively with returned applause and greetings.

City's 2nd away PL win was also the second in the West Midlands, and the first in the Tangerine strip, almost made for the snowy conditions.

In this second half I had, as I've suggested earlier, been able to watch without that constant dread that sometimes engulfs when we're under the cosh, and it came, I'd suggest, from a performance where Swansea had always looked the better and stronger team.

Sigurdsson was in all probability my MoM, as he confirmed in his playmaking role the reason why Hoffenheim payed some 8m Euros for his services. I would dearly hope we can at a later stage retain him. He is a player well worth that sort of money.

Britton and Allen had given us the central control, and both Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair had again worked incredibly hard in both attack and defence, consistently tracking back and forth as needs be.

Danny Graham just keeps getting better and better, and when you think that Jay Bothroyd made an England squad last year, it is not fanciful to suggest that if he continues in this vein, Fabio Capello, who has looked at us in a recent Home performance, will be back again.

The defensive shield had been excellent too.

Ash Williams has become Mr Dependability, we mustn't take him for granted. Like his now ageing (as a footballer) mentor and friend Rio Ferdinand in his earlier career, he is one quality CB. Steven Caulker is a truly dominant aerial competitor, but what's even more exciting is to see this 19yr old develop so capably and constructively as he is doing where we play our football- on the ground.

The distribution from him, and both FB's, initially in defense, and progressively forward, makes us a more complete and rounded team. Both Neil Taylor and Angel Rangel had worked hard in tandem with the wide men, to create constant problems for Albion.

Lastly, in this report, we have in goal the talented, massively important Michel Vorm. We get to see this top notch, International Class future Dutch No 1 every week. We are very, very privileged.

I feel the team deserves the write up I've given them - and please don't think I forget about the remainder of the squad and their importance in both this win, and the future development and progress of our season - it's just that I've run out of time and space to include it today. It's undoubtedly something I'll happily come back to this season. Big up to them, too.

Finally, a word that I guess most all of us Swans would proffer to our excellent Board and prudent Chairman particularly - can we please, please, please confirm the signature of the most important man at the club, our Manager Brendan Rodgers, to a secure and rewarding Contract as soon as is practically possible?

He, and his supportive staff deserve no less.

It allows all of us to have an optimistic outlook on both our present and future, and allows us to say proudly....

Onward, Swansea City.

Took my own advice, and had a lovely Lunch and pint at The Old Contemptibles. However, took from 5.45pm till 8.10pm to get the six miles from central Birmingham to the M5 because the snow had caused gridlock on the up and down dual carriageway to the Motorway junction. Big cars and vans sliding (into ditches etc) and off the road until the Council sent out scores of Employees to physically shovel grit onto the roads. Frustrating as hell for us small car drivers - my Mini was without problem, like a little limpet on the tricky surface.

Ah well, at least I got home safely by 10.20pm to enjoy the truncated highlights on MoTD, but a fuller reflection on Football First. It was bloody good, again.

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