Sunday, 25 March 2012

Swansea City v Everton, Premier League, Match report

Experience prevails.

It does one well to have a slap, really, (metaphoric, of course) because when you get even a hint ahead of yourself, and as a correspondent reminded me recently, chill, and don't relax, lest you find yourself having to consume a hefty portion of humble pie.

I'm talking about modern day football, of course.

Occasionally, still, I have to pinch myself.

There are only eight games left in our inaugural PL season, 4 more to come here at the Lib. To say that the previous 14 at Home have been anything other than sensational, with equal appeal Away from home would be curmudgeonly in the extreme. And downright wrong, too.

So when we lined up against a top division stalwart in Everton this Saturday last for the 15th, the very least we could expect was a continuation of that season-so-far excitement. We were not left short of thrills and spills, but came out of the game disappointed, having been turned over by a long term PL resident who know how to win "clever" Away from their own patch.

I wrote last week about hearing for the first time this season (to my joy) the chant of "The Jacks are staying up", and, Karma aside, it's only fair to remark that this was a game where there was perhaps not quite so much tension as pervaded several other of this weekend's top flight games.

That would be both rude and inappropriate to both of these fine teams, and the result was a hard fought competition throughout, even if it turned toward the Merseysiders at the end of the day.

It's aways struck me that there are, after all, limited numbers of out-and-out prizes on offer.It's a question of sharing it out, I suppose.

It still surprises me even, that in our Championship days, when we were a "wannabee" participant in this Division, how much the necessarily limited prizes on offer are almost determined "as of right" by the watchers, some fans and pundits particularly. Even when the limited availability of prizes almost guarantees that most of us are going to be disappointed, at least on that front.

Ultimately, there's always going to be just one PL Champion, usually chased home by one other, an FA Cup winner, a Carling Cup Champion, and differing season on season European Challenge competitors of limited number. A smallish prize chased by an increasingly slavering pack, all driven by both honour and money.

And that doesn't even begin to take in the Football League - the Divisions below are, after all, where we've spent the bulk of our time, to lesser but no more engrossing witness.

So, when you consider these limited prizes on offer, is it really surprising that so many teams "fail", at least to their sometimes one-eyed fans? Not at all, even when competing for the lesser ones.

And after all, this was one of those games, as I've said above, where there was "not really that much at stake"; as suggested by some pundits. Hey, try telling that to hardcore Swansea City or Everton fans - I guarantee they won't even give you the time of day. And nor should they.

The match that unfolded at another sold-out Liberty Stadium was again a compelling chapter in the evolution of Swansea City, and Everton for their part will be more than satisfied with the result.

Both lines-up showed little change, with Swansea just replacing Gary Monk with the fit-again Ash Williams,(or was he some asked), and DM rotating the Everton squad such that one couldn't really argue that it was not his first choice XI. The teams were these...............

Swansea City
01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair (McEachran - 72' ), 15 Routledge (Lita - 71' ), 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Moore - 71' )
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 16 Monk, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

24 Howard, 02 Hibbert, 03 Baines, 06 Jagielka, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 04 Gibson (Heitinga - 84' ), 17 Cahill (Fellaini - 58' ), 21 Osman, 22 Pienaar, 07 Jelavic (Stracqualursi - 81' )
01 Mucha, 05 Heitinga, 25 Fellaini, 11 Stracqualursi, 14 McFadden, 19 Gueye, 28 Anichebe

Ref: Swarbrick
Att: 20,509

I'd been a little unsure about today's game and Jim, my compadre and I agreed eventually that a Home draw wouldn't be that bad a result given that David Moyes's Everton are always a hard team to beat - he doesn't do "switched off" - but little did we realise it would turn out to be a painful lesson.

The first thing to say is that right from the kick off they had a tactical plan and shape that immediately made the game a little more difficult than some. With both Leon Osman and Stephen Pienaar pressing up tight wide, and both Tim Cahill and Jelavic doing the same centrally to deal even with Leon Britton dropping deep, they made it difficult for Vorm to set play in motion by giving short.

When this has happened with previous teams, we have been able to deal with it both by Vorm's three quarter distribution to the wider and more forward Full Backs, and patient if risky one touch construction.

However yesterday Everton even countered this by pushing markers forward to press here too, and it almost forced our Keeper to kick longer and more frequently than for a long time, and this, coupled with the Dutchman's unusual lack of accuracy put too many balls into 50/50 challenges, and Everton are forceful enough to win their fair share.

Consequently the game was disturbingly equal and the Merseysiders did their share of attacking as well, transitioning from defence to attack with a smoothness that would have pleased a Mourhino type manager, who has made this into his trademark style.

I shouldn't really be surprised by this, and I should offer too that to mention "the Special One" does nothing other than praise the Everton Manager, because David Moyes has been doing this type of adapted tactical innovation for 10yrs beside the banks of the Mersey.

Hey Roman, take a look, you might be surprised. I guarantee you there'd be no more talk of "player power" forcing the Manager out!

Swansea made the best of it though, and even wrested the dominance of possession, and the game morphed into a football version of a Chess game, with move replied to by counter-move, several of which led to half chances, with some better than others.

Swansea's first came early, when an excellent pass from Rangel put Graham ahead in the inside right channel, but with Jagielka almost keeping pace at his shoulder, it forced a shot early from him with Howard comfortably able to gather. Incidentally one could see then that Scott Sinclair had made rapid progress across the area to the left, and if Graham had seen him early enough, a pass might have borne better fruit.

Ah, ifs, buts, know the rest.

Jagielka had also been key in cutting out a Sigurdsson cross with Danny Graham in great position to tap in, and from the corner conceded, the ball, cleared to Joe Allen, saw the Swans MF'er drive a decent shot just a yard wide at knee height.

Despite the Everton press, Swansea now had the general control and Sigurdsson turning from back to goal and driving forward saw him put in a shot dragged just wide from the slightest of miss hits.

Rangel too was combining with Routledge, and an excellent cross was diverted behind by the Everton rearguard. They, for their part, had seen Jelavic put a header off target, but as the half approached the break, they were getting better hold of both ball and game, and there was a concerted period where they put together several threatening attacks without quite getting a clear sight of goal.

You know that thing that's said in Football about "quietening" the crowd when Away from Home?

Well, it can't be said that they silenced us, but the strength of resistance and threat certainly caused the JackArmy to turn down the volume slightly - from a raucous and full 10 on the dial we had gone to about 8.5 I would estimate - no mean feat at the bouncing Liberty, and I was happy to get to half time with the scoreline at 0-0, even though we'd overall had the better of the period.

The debate around me at half time concerned the way that Everton had both competed attritionally, with another example some felt of the "leave the foot in" display that relies on a weak Referee, and more worryingly the way that toward the break they had grown into the game and looked particularly dangerous.

I think we were all guilty of forgetting that these Everton players are not just grafters and workers but ally that quality with fine football skills. Pienaar, Baines, Jagielka et al are all fine technical proponents as well, and their skillful contributions were putting pressure on the Swans in this half.

They got an excellent opportunity when Jelavic put an open chance high and wide when from a ball running though to Vorm , Ash Williams's tardy clearance led to the ball rolling free to the striker only to see him induce a groan from their fans for his muddled attempt.

Swansea's attacks were more stilted now, and from a break down in Swansea play the Toffees drove forward to see Darron Gibson unleash a terrific left foot drive from 30 yds that was flying into the top corner only for Vorm acrobatically and full length turn it aside with a very good save.

David Moyes introduced Fellaini for Cahill early on 58m, and almost immediately, the enforcer's presence was complemented by a spectacular goal that broke Swansea hearts.

The England FB Leighton Baines put in a fine driving run toward the penalty box drifting from wide left to the inside right, and just 20 yds out drew a late challenge from Ash Williams as he nicked the ball past him. An undoubted free kick and in a very dangerous area, just outside the box and just right of central.

A collective groan went up from our little enclave, since one of us at least had pointed out that we didn't want to concede a pot-shot from there since Baines is very very able to take advantage of just such a chance. Uh, oh - we did, and he was.

The wall lined up perfectly, and from the replay, if you watch, held their shape and even jumped in exemplary fashion to try and block. Trouble is Baines is really a master at this distance being one of the few players able to get the ball over, up and down to unerring accuracy.

He took it with his educated (sic) left foot and curved it up, over and in where it rippled the net in that little postage stamp corner where crossbar meets post, at a pace guaranteed to beat even Vorm's acrobatic and despairing dive.

1-0, and a quality goal from a quality player, right in front of the jubilant Scoucers, who burst into joyous celebration.

The Swans frustrations were evident from the next pocket of play, which saw their increasing desperation lead to them looking decisively ragged - no shame in that, after all they were genuinely trying - but it also meant that this cute Everton team were looking more and more dangerous in breaking in counter-atack, with Pienaar often leading the charge from the left and Fellaini muscling people off the ball, his rangy and athletic physical presence a boost to their swift counter strikes.

A word for their Club Captain too - Phil (@fizzer18) Neville had done a good job in negating the dangerous Gylfi Sigurdsson and Swansea's best chance came from a clipped and narrow Wayne Routledge cross, which Danny Graham got to before the advancing Tim Howard and the competing defence to see his skimmed header drift just over the bar.

Brendan Rodgers bravely tried to change the momentum, making a triple substitution on 71m, bringing on Lita, McEachran and Moore for Routledge , Sinclair and Graham, but before the Swansea new narrowness of attack could settle, Everton filched a second goal.

Pienaar had again driven forward from the left and on cutting in his attempt ran wide out to the LB slot near the byline. No matter- Fellaini, he of the Shock-Peter hair, literally bullied aside Ash Williams and cut in to lay back a tap-in for Nikica Jelavic.

2-0, cue shock from us Swans, delirium in the Mersey section of the North Stand.

On 81m Straqualarsi replaced the tiring Jelavic, and on 84m Heitinga came on for Gibson, as Moyes went to squeeze the game out and the Swans owe Vorm a further debt of gratitude as he saved well from the Argentinian, who missed another opportunity as well.

The game played to its end, with the experienced PL side happy to deny us "newbies" a real clear cut opportunity, and we'd been handed a harsh lesson.

Both David Moyes , and our own Brendan Rodgers were honest and gracious enough to offer a realistic assessment in their after match interviews, but that's no surprise since they are two of the PL's more enlightened citizens I like to think. Never mind the "Mind Games " nonsense, we'd rather hear about the real game - as we did.

As I've said before, David Moyes is a seriously scary dude (said in admiration) and one would not want to get into a fight with him. Unfortunately, yesterday we did. And we lost.

Still and all, as that BR interview confirms, it was indeed a harsh lesson and we will learn from it. Again, in the PL it doesn't do to get ahead of oneself, as there's always someone along the way to remind you why.

I'm not one who believes that we must have what I've heard called a "plan B". What we must have rather is a way to modify our perceived "plan A"- that is, a more effective way of getting round and beyond teams that set out as Everton did with a high press allied to vigorous MF competition by continuing to play pass and move, ground based, possession football.

The best teams can do it - think Arsenal at their peak, watch Barcelona now. Hell, even take a glance at the Manchester clubs.

I am in no way comparing our Swansea City to any of those giants - what I am suggesting is that when a Manager such as our says he'll learn, I believe him. And that, by the way, is why it's so so satisfying to be in this League - even after a truly gutting defeat like yesterday.

Believe you me, there's nobody more down than me when we suffer a painful loss - and I guess most of us Swans are exactly the same. I had to force myself to watch the highlights on MoTD, Football First and Goals on Sunday.

It's another reason why I'll watch us again on MoTD2 this evening. It's why we pay our Season Tickets, it's why we travel Away - because we love the Club. We're hooked, and proud of it.

As I've said in previous witterings I won't entirely relax until we get over the 40pt mark. I know we're only 1pt away from that target, but beside the reassurances of even opposing PL fans, I'm naturally of the mordant ilk.

I do have a genuine belief though that with our remaining opponents being Tottenham (and I'll be there), QPR, Bolton and Man Utd Away from the Lib, and Newcastle , Blackburn, Wolves and Liverpool still to come to us, we can certainly get there.

And that, my friends, will give us another season in this wonderful league supporting our wonderful team, and it'll allow us to say......

Onward, Swansea City.

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