Sunday, 15 April 2012

Swansea City v Blackburn Rovers, PL, Match report

Back on track at the Liberty.

Now's not perhaps the time to reflect on the remarkable progress of our season so far, that can come at a later date and is genuinely something I'm looking forward to doing at season's end, but I think it's fair to say that a good many of us JackArmy adherents were just a tad nervous before this game, if for no other reason that we'd never been "here" before, or at least not quite in this way.

It had come about, of course, because we'd gone longer without a win (or even a draw), than we'd done previously at this level.

We'd been nervous particularly after Wednesday's loss at Loftus Rd., principally because even though we'd lost the 3 previous games on our worst run in this punishing division, the level of performance at QPR had been very disappointing to say the least.

The side has performed admirably in it's first season in the PL, and even the games lost or drawn before had seen us compete as equals, so when we slumped out of London with our tails between our legs midweek, it just didn't feel right.

Thus, today's performance was key - get this right and we could genuinely begin to relax - get it wrong and we'd face a nervous couple of weeks.

Incidentally, the Team felt the same, as confirmed in this Tweet from the excellent Danny Graham early on Saturday night........ "That result was for the fans we owed u after Wednesday night 3 great points ..have my boys down tonight should be a good one #enjoyeveryone ".

See, they really do care, and this is both the performance and result that confirmed it.

Blackburn, just like us, had lost their previous 4 fixtures, and despite Manager Steve Kean-out's prediction that Swansea had been "found out" by the PL of late, I'm delighted to report that that seemed somewhat wide of the mark by the end of the game.

Kean-out had selected a side that showed only slight change from their previous fixture v the Pool, with Lowe retaining his place at Martin Olsson's expense, who went to the bench, and Morten Gamst Pedersen starting.

For Swansea, Brendan Rodgers kept faith with all but Wayne Routledge from the QPR night, and he was replaced by the electric Nathan Dyer.

So the sides looked like this........

Swansea City

01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel (Monk - 89' ), 07 Britton (Gower - 69' ), 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Lita - 85' )
25 Tremmel, 16 Monk, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Blackburn Rovers

01 Robinson, 16 Dann, 18 Orr, 31 Hanley (Formica - 46' Booked ), 08 Dunn, 12 Pedersen, 15 Nzonzi, 21 Ms Olsson, 35 Lowe, 23 Hoilett Booked (Modeste - 55' ), 24 Yakubu (Goodwillie - 61' )
34 Kean, 03 Mn Olsson, 10 Formica, 14 Petrovic, 09 Modeste, 20 Rochina, 25 Goodwillie

Ref: Clattenburg
Att: 18,985

Perhaps the ultimate proof that Blackburn were in deep deep trouble was the sight of their travelling support in the North Stand. Not only were they conspicuous by their absence - if there was more than a couple of hundred of them they must have been wearing Hogwarts Invisibility Cloaks - but they were subdued and virtually silent throughout, not even mustering enough noise and energy to repeat their disgraceful lambasting of their own Manager which we've seen regularly at Ewood Park this season. We witnessed it when we visited and it's also been seen on several other occasions.

I thought back to the Newcastle game just 2 weeks before and the vibrancy and numbers of both Home and Away supporters milling around outside the ground pre game, and it was a remarkable contrast to the limited numbers pre game today, even though the weather was no competition to the sunshine on show then.

The numbers were confirmed by the official attendance, at 18,985 a good 1300 or 1400 below where it can be if the Away end sells out. At home, I'm proud to say, we still do.

So, when the game kicked off, the JackArmy was immediately in good voice, giving a rousing "Hymns n Arias" as the Swans began their patient probing.

Looking back on the game it's easy to tell you what happened, a little more difficult to tell you how it felt, but please be assured that the nervousness we saw from City on the pitch, with several mis-placed passes and easy concession of possession matching the twitchiness and general mumbling evident in the crowd around me, and I had the dreaded "butterflies in the stomach", at least until we began to settle down with some extended possession and attacking from about 10m onward. Thank goodness for that.

Early advance was made down the right primarily, from both Dyer and Rangel, Sigurdsson too, allowing several key balls to be played in and beyond Marcus Olsson at LB, this leading to a procession of dangerous crosses into the box.

The tempo was excellent, speeding and slowing at will, and it was noticeable too that City were prepared to play balls over the top and into the channels, thus varying the steady beat of pass and move with testing effect. Blackburn fell further and further back, and were happy and only able to concede numerous corners.

Some interesting points of difference from our previous outing I think were showing clearly.

Dyer, compared to Routledge, comes far deeper to receive the ball and thus allows Rangel the opportunity of space far better, coupled, of course, with an increase into channel runs for more players. It also stretches the game, and often drags the opposing full back further forward.

There were very many half chances in this game, the bulk of which fell to us Swans thank goodness, and the early ones were a little different in that they came from that tactical change. The increased number of crosses saw a Taylor run frustrated, and Rangel drove in several too, and also forced a couple of corners.

After the initial nervy period of some 15m, it was now clear that Swansea were on top, and Sigurdsson shot over the bar.

Another excellent deep cross from the right by Rangel saw Sinclair run in from the left to meet it with a header some 8yds out but Hanley's challenge saw the good move frustrated by the concession of another corner.

Blackburn's only offering was to rely on the long ball from the back with a hope to force throw ins particularly around the Swans box, getting Pedersen's ability to throw long being their main threat, but Swansea coped admirably.

A good right sided attack again saw a cross fed in and Sigurdsson this time had a claim for a penalty as he moved in to shape and shoot but was brought down by Dann's sliding challenge. Mr Clattenburg disagreed, and he did seem at this point to be leaning leniently toward the visitors.

Rangel was unlucky from a further corner when Siggi's delivery got to him almost blind by the missed jumps of players in front of him, and the ball hit his head and ran safe behind.

No matter, the next passage of play presaged the opening goal, when, from a wonderful hit from Sigurdsson 30 yds out the ball dipped, swerved and zipped in the air and forced Robinson into a stretching dive to punch the ball clear for a corner.

Siggi took it, and the ball cleared all and ran out toward the left touch line, to be very well retrieved by Scott Sinclair before it ran out for a throw, and he, in turn, fed Joe Allen inside on the left. Allen had noticed Sigurdsson coming in from taking the right sided corner, and his chipped pass was immediately cushioned dead by the Icelander with his right foot.

Faced by N'Zonzi, he cleverly shifted the ball inside to his left, and chipped/drove a fantastic curving shot up and over Robinson's despairing dive to to ripple neatly into the top right hand side of the net.

A truly terrific goal from a truly terrific player at the top of his game, and the Liberty crowd correspondingly roared with a joyous explosion of sound at the opening goal. 1-0, and there was a touch of catharsis about the release of emotion, as if the goal purged any worries we may have hiding.

Sigurdsson was mobbed by elated team mates as the east Stand serenaded him , deservedly so.

The Swans were now playing with that figurative load lifted from their shoulders, and the pass and move was at it's most fluid, as we know it can pleasingly be.

Allied with this , the high fast press and close down of the Middle 3 and 2 wingers particularly was often thieving the ball back from Blackburn, and the aggression almost bore fruit when Dann's loose ball inside at the back was picked off by Scott Sinclair, who immediately put clear Danny Graham, some 15yds out toward the left.

The striker curled a delicious instep hit which had Robinson full stretch diving left to just palm the ball behind for yet another corner.

Blackburn were rocking under the pressure, and with the first goal having taken 37m, the second arrived six minutes later, and crucially just before half time on 43m.

Sinclair on the left set Neil Taylor running free and from his classic low cross into the box, Blackburn's Scott Dann, stretching to intercept, could only guide the ball back to the advancing Sinclair, now only 15yds out. He immediately transferred inside and central, where Danny Graham, rather than shoot, put in one further pass to his right, to the free Nathan Dyer.

I thought at first it may have been one touch too many, because we all know, just like Arsenal sometimes we seem to want to score the "perfect goal".

I was mistaken, as Dyer to his eternal credit dispatched it first time and beyond Robinson's left hand to that wonderful sight of a shimmering, rippling net. 2-0, and it really was the perfect time for a second excellent goal.

The Lib rocked, yet again, even us old geezers in the West jigging and bouncing off our walking sticks.What's that bit in the Bible about Lazarus? I was, indeed, feeling like a man reborn.

It only remained for further Swans pressure to cause Hanley to injure himself as he gave away a foul in extra minutes trying to stop Sigurdsson again. Swansea's MF'er took the kick himself, driving his inswinging shot from the left straight at the goal dangerously, but as Robinson punched clear again, Mr Clattenburg blew for H/T on a rewarding Home performance, and we Swans glowed at the level of performance, and equally as important, the reward of a 2 goal lead.

Hanley would not re-appear for Blackburn in the second, with Kean switching to 3 at the back centrally, with the play maker Formica coming on in replacement.

Throughout the half you could visibly see the Homesters grow in confidence, and the quality of play toward the close of the half had been openly thrilling. My little circle celebrated with a fresh packet of Trebor Extra Strong mints, after all, it had been earned.

When the Second Half resumed, it was immediately noticeable that Blackburn were struggling, and the 3 at the back with Wing Backs lasted all of 10mins, and the team switched back to a 4-1-4-1 after some squabbling and arguing between N'Zonzi and David Dunn particularly, and it seemed to me that Dunn had been complaining that the South African had not been "putting in a shift", as befits someone (he, Dunn) who looked as if he'd had a Bevin-Boy haircut from the 50's (look it up), but was, indeed, grafting a great deal harder than the more supposedly illustrious players.

Indeed, although the Yak and Hoilett have been lauded this season for their goal threat, both seemed disinterested yesterday, and Kean's decision to replace both during the course of this half - Modeste for Hoilett on 55nm, Goodwillie for Yakubu on 61m - drew both derision from their small body of fans, and a noticeable further decrease in goal threat from their team.

The Swans meantime were more than comfortable in their own skins - content now to play patient, passing, retentive football, as the play book dictates that it's sensible to do against a demoralised and struggling opponent.

They continued to carve out regular half chances, with examples being several runs and shots from Sinclair, and an engaging toe-poked attempt from Rangel after a one two with Dyer that set him free and sent the ball narrowly over the bar.

Dunn, to be fair to him, was offering Blackburn's only threat, and he was unlucky a couple of times.

From a knock down corner, he just mis-timed his shot and Vorm gathered comfortably, and again he created good space on the edge of the box, and sent in a shot that rattled Vorm's left hand post with the keeper beaten.

My distinct impression from this period of the game was that we were watching two sides that not only realise their respective likely fates, but were playing like it too. Swansea were lively, bright and enthused, whereas Blackburn sometimes appeared to be going through the motions by rote only, such was the level of dominance.

This level of pressure was almost bound to bear fruit, and in the 63rd m the final nail was hammered into the Blackburn coffin when Swansea scored their third goal.

It was very noticeable now, as I've hinted, that there was no doubling up on Scott Sinclair, and his restored confidence at this maybe led him to put in more and more of those threatening runs that we all know he's so very good at.

He'd already threatened several times when Neil Taylor again put him in possession one on one with Bradley Orr some 30 yds out on the left, an encouraging position he wasn't about to waste.

He proceeded to turn Orr inside out as he retreated and skimmed past him and two others all the while getting nearer to the by-line and goal.

As he beat the last man and reached the goal just 5 yds wide of the post he laid a delicious ball inside that the ghosting Gylfi Sigurdsson met on his perfectly timed run and turned goal ward. The ball struck the right hand post and immediately bounced back to both him and Scott Dann to rebound into the net.

3-0, was it a Gylfi goal? Was it a Dann OG ? I don't think the crowd really cared as another impressive Swansea move finished with the ball in the Blackburn net and the crowd again voiced it's significant approval. A heart warming sound, and Siggi high fived the jubilant Sinclair to acknowledge his part in the goal's creation.

In seeing the game out Swansea created several other chances to further increase their goals-for position.

Sinclair saw a dazzling shot streak just over the bar, and Robinson parry another close run and shot at the near post.

Meanwhile, Leroy Lita, who had replaced the perennially running Danny Graham, cleverly turned the CB's and got off a stinger only just parried and stopped by the impressive Robinson, who also scrambled to the rebound to keep out Sigurdsson again.

Other substitutions for Swansea saw Mark Gower give Leon Britton a breather ( who departed to his now familiar Leon, Leon Chant), and Gary Monk come on for Angel Rangel, he going central, and Steven Caulker coming over to make the biggest RB I've ever seen, as he rampaged forward in support of Dyer.

A nice touch too from Ash Williams, who, when the Club skipper came on, passed the captain's armband to Gary Monk, despite initial protestations of no need from Gary. Class act from a class player.

Swansea comfortably saw the game off for an ultimately rewarding and deserved 3-0 win, and the other encouraging sight was after the final whistle.

As the crowd stood to both applaud and serenade the victorious (cue Levellers), absolutely ALL the Swans, technical staff, subs, players, manager, coaches met in the centre circle for a collective group huddle, addressed by several leaders. A genuinely "warms the cockles of your heart moment" that, I would suggest, tells you a lot about the unity of this fantastic group that we hang our hats on.

Wow. It was a genuine pleasure to be at this game. I can honestly say that this is the first time I've relaxed in the past 4 or 5 weeks, and it's the first time I can say with confidence, "that now you've got to believe us, The Jacks are staying up".

Moreover, we've done it with some style.

The contrasting Managers responses can be found here, and it was particularly heartening to see a proud Brendan Rodgers rightly praise his troops for their efforts.

Yesterday was an enervating return to the varying (principally high) tempo, press pass and move that suits us best. It was also an example to those doubters who suggest we don't have a Plan B - there was remarkable evidence to the contrary on show.

From the clever way that the side engineered channel space, from Dyer and Sinclair's effective use of space, from a tenacious and balanced "defend to attack" philosophy, from long balls (yes,from us) that count because of their surprise, from a Middle 3 of complementary talents (Adventure, Creativity, Tenacity) and
a great deal else.

I could go on, and for the rest of this season, and many more to come hopefully, I certainly intend to.

There will, of course, be a great deal more rational and tactical analysis from all of our technical staff in the week to come. Don't let's forget that our next game is likely to be a real dog-fight at Bolton, before we welcome the Wolves to the Liberty. It'll be good to say hello to two past players in Darren Pratley and Dorus de Vries, before we go our separate ways.

I can't wait for the next game - bring it on !

Onward, Swansea City.

Analysis - Guy Mowbray BBC Match of the Day commentator
Blackburn really needed something today. The only thing they got was an absolute hiding. Blackburn are in a whole lot of trouble. While it was Swansea's day, Blackburn's days as a Premier League team may be coming to an end. Four games to go - you have to think they'll need to win them all.

1 comment:

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