Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Swansea City v Liverpool, Match report, PL

An American Trilogy 

As it happens, my favourite Elvis Presley song has always been "Jailhouse Rock", with a leaning too for "Blue Suede Shoes", coming, as they both do, from early period King, with the raw energy that he had in those days, but I've also always had a fond regard for the Hawaii period, with it's genre defining concert topped by the American Trilogy.

We Swans had gone into this game in high spirits, on the back of our estimable Manager Brendan Rodgers' semi-jocular suggestion that the JackArmy might turn up in Elvis Presley garb, the better to celebrate our seldom predicted by the critics survival in this unkindest of all Leagues.

Of course, as is the way with us Jacks, we had taken the suggestion in good faith, and it was truly spectacular to see the numbers of Home fans prepared to join in the fun.

Fancy Dress shops down West had been reporting a huge boost in trade in the preceding week in a demand for Elvis Costumes, so much so that an assault on the "collective Elvis's" world record in one place has still to be confirmed or denied. That's the first part of the Trilogy there then.

Secondly, the Club had only this very week announced that part of its plans for pre-season in our A.P.+2 year in the PL would see us travel to Denver and California to take on the MLS sides the Colorado Rapids and the San Jose Earthquakes, in a move that reflects our ever advancing status. American link 2.

Thirdly, it shouldn't be forgotten that our opponents on this very day were that North Western off-shoot of the Boston Red Sox franchise, the Liverpool "Reds", owned as they are by the Fenway Sports Group. Three American links?

That's a trilogy, to me.

Whatever, as I arrived at the stadium, it was genuinely buzzing outside with a whole host of Swans Elvises mingling and mixing joyously pre-game, and the atmosphere was honestly life affirming and feel good. A real pleasure to be present and to enjoy.

Despite the lightness of mood of we fans, BR had admirably pointed out as we've said before, that in this league, points mean prizes, so it was imperative that we not only enjoy the confirmation of our status, but win the game.

This would indeed confirm our serious intentions to be around at this level for as long as possible, with practical and long term developments dependent on how well we do year on year. Our admirable Manager, Brendan Rodgers, has always indicated that it is important the Club develops in many aspects, and, if you haven't seen it, spent some time this week with The Guardian to talk about his methods, including a trip to the Spanish National Team's Training Camp at the invite of Vicente Del Bosque.

Here's a link to the photos I took on the day.

As it turned, the game itself reflected the Swans desire, and they were justly rewarded. The Teams lined up like this......

Swansea City

01 Vorm, 02 Williams Booked, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer (Routledge - 79' ), 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson (Gower - 88' ), 10 Graham

Substitutes
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 16 Monk, 15 Routledge, 27 Gower, 39 Gwion Edwards, 19 Moore

Liverpool

32 Doni, 02 Johnson, 05 Agger, 23 Carragher, 34 Kelly, 11 Maxi (Kuyt - 73' ), 14 Henderson, 19 Downing (Bellamy - 60' ), 33 Shelvey, 07 Suarez, 09 Carroll Booked

Substitutes
01 Jones, 03 Jose Enrique, 16 Coates, 20 Spearing, 31 Sterling, 18 Kuyt, 39 Bellamy

Ref: Halsey
Att: 20,605

Swansea went with their first choice XI, the only concession being the admirable promotion of young Gwion Edwards, the flyer, to the Subs bench. One for the future. For the 'Pool, Pepe Reina and Steven Gerrard were unfit, replaced by Doni and Maxi Rodriguez. Martin Skrtel sat out too.

Despite the party atmosphere induced by the thousands of Elvises (Elvii?) in another record sold-out Liberty, it was obvious the game was not going to be any sort of exhibition, as both sides started apace, with Swansea particularly winning the early plaudits and the bulk of possession from the high fast press that let no Liverpool player settle without some competition for the ball.

And then, having won it back, the silky Swans were content to retain it and build patiently, gradually imposing more and more pressure, almost an increasing stranglehold on any Liverpool out.

The first real threat came from a familiar route. A cool Rangel chip beyond Glen Johnson put Dyer free on the right, but he slightly hesitated with the cross, and the ball ran out behind just before it reached the closing Danny Graham at the near post.

An even better opportunity came along shortly after, and it was a direct result of that fast high press already cited. Swansea, as BR has hinted, tend to hunt in packs when applying this tactic, and Jon Jo Shelvey, some 30yds from his own goal, was robbed by Joe Allen in much the same place as his recent goal against Wolves.

Again, his snatching of the ball let him run free, if only a little wider right than that Wolves game , and his fierce cross cum shot had just too much pace for Danny Graham, who had eluded Carragher at the far post, and slid agonisingly a yard wide of the far post with him, Graham, unable to get a touch to turn it in. Doni had been well beaten, and Liverpool had been warned.

The next opportunity came from an unusual source.

Pressed again hard, Henderson sent a back-pass over Carragher's head to run all the way to the keeper, Doni, with Danny Graham in dangerous pursuit. The Brazilian custodian made the mistake of picking it up, in conflagration of the back pass rule, to concede an Indirect free kick just 12 yds from goal.

I've often thought that the Indirect/Direct contrast should be abolished, principally because what happened now does not reward the attacking team, and mitigates the punishment on the transgressors.

With a free kick that close, we all know that the defending team does not, ever, go the full 10m back. They also break early, so by the time the ball has been tapped to a second player, the charger is often no more than 2/3m from the ball. It happened here.

Sigurdsson touched it sideways, with a full and part charging wall ahead, and Sinclair's shot was easily deflected for a corner by a player no more than 3m from him. A corner. So, so, unfair. It should, and could, have been the opening goal.

Swansea continued to dominate, and apart from the odd scare - Britton unusually, gave the ball away and Carroll drove weakly wide, and the odd occasion when sloppy passing allowed Liverpool forward, Swansea continued to dominate.

Another free kick allowed City their first chance to get a Sigurdsson shot on target. From about 20m out, his clever direct hit was heading low and in only to see Doni plunge to his right and push the ball out for a corner.

A weak Carroll header from a cross was Liverpool's only reply.

There were 2 major incidents before the break.

From a clever Swansea move and sharp passing, Sigurdsson put Nathan Dyer clear, some 12m out, but his low drive/shot was parried again by the excellent Doni, when perhaps he should have done better.

Almost on H/T, Ash Williams closed down Andy Carroll on the half way line, and from the ensuing tackle, Carroll leaped up and grappled Williams to the ground, the sort of thing that put you in mind of Joey Barton. Williams had been robust, but not dirty.

Mark Halsey is one of the PL's better Referees, but in this instance he was mistaken, choosing to draw the 2 supposed miscreants toward him and booking them both, despite the howls of derision for Carroll to go, and my gut feel remains that a sending off for Carroll would have been the justified outcome.

Given Liverpool's investment in their playing staff, this had been a half to be proud of. One, moreover, where we'd shown yet again that when you come to the Liberty as an Away team, bet your life on a difficult game.

No matter- he blew up soon, and the teams went off to have a break with Swansea justifiably the better side. 0-0, and Liverpool had been fortunate.

It was unsurprising really when on the restart the visitors were immediately far more lively - one assumes that Dalglish, as a Fergie Era Manager, is not averse to the hair-dryer treatment, and his team responded by taking the game to the Swans.

Immediately, Henderson burst free to hit straight at Vorm, who gathered comfortably.

There was a period now where Liverpool were the team on the up, and for 15-20m they put increasing pressure on Swansea, culminating in a spectacular attempt from Andy Carrol.

The big man had taken a deserved ragging from the Home crowd, but from a long throw on the right, managed to flick up a ball with his back to goal, and execute a wonderful bicycle kick which forced Vorm into a superb flat out save, where his strong right hand pushed the ball wide and clear of danger.

A fantastic passage of play that we see more often in this division than has been the case in the past, and, moreover, something we've come to enjoy.

To think that we signed Michel Vorm from Utrecht for £1.5m and he was regularly denying the £35m Andy Carroll was pleasant in the extreme - as the JackArmy was wont to remind the Scousers. 'Doncha just love it?

To be fair to Liverpool, this was a period in the game when they put on a significant degree of pressure, and if they were going to get anything it was now.

By now, Craig Bellamy, that beloved Welshman (not) had replaced the very disappointing Stuart Downing on the hour, but when he drove a shot across goal and wide, it attracted nothing other than deserved derision from us Swans. Eat your heart out Bellers!

As Swansea defended with verve and spirit, Neil Taylor, who had a fine game, snaffled out another Suarez to Bellamy ball, clearing for a throw, and from a ball provided by the oncoming Dirk Kuyt, a clear cut Andy Carroll chance was half hit, and gathered comfortably on the stretch by the solid Vorm.

Swansea rode the storm, and as the clock ticked deeper, began to exert their own influence on the game.

More and more, when Swansea cleared, it was often to Sinclair, and his ball retention and deep runs into the heart of the 'Pool began to ease the pressure. Similarly, from either Vorm's cute kicks, or a tactic defying longer ball up front, Danny Graham time and again proved to be the perfect out ball, consistently winning, getting and using control.

Ultimately this was what won the game.

From severe pressure the Swans cleared, and worked the ball out to Sinclair, on the left, yet again. He made a clever run both forward and across the middle of the field and swept out a fine ball to Angel Rangel, once again marauding free on the right, but this time with time to spare.

Given the advantage of no immediate and current challenge, Rangel did what fine footballers do - he advanced and picked out his pass from the right and across the box.

Danny Graham had cleverly held his run, and as the cross came in was a half yard ahead of the desperate Carragher's sliding tackle and swept the ball first time in at the near post to confirm his 100th career goal. Boom, 1-0, and an absolute cracker.

The demented Liberty exploded just as we've seen it do against Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea - check the names out - it really was that good.

The fact that we'd now got to the 86th minute was an absolute Godsend. I looked at the Liverpool team as Danny Graham and comrades wandered of to the South West corner to celebrate - and at least half the team had either head in hands or heads down to the floor. I think I knew at that moment that we'd win!

With such a short time to the final whistle, there was scarcely time for Liverpool to come back, and although they tore at the Swans the only real chance came from a Daniel Agger header from a corner, which, for once, saw Vorm beaten by Agger's intervention, and his early header just skim wide of the crossbar/post divide.

Phew.

Mark Halsey blew for full time, and the delighted Liberty Stadium took another major test of its foundations as we Homesters jigged, bounced and sang our hearts out in support of our delightful team. The over-riding emotion was one of pride - pride, joy, delight, for the fantastic season, and performance, that this switched-on team has and had given us.

The Managers takes are here.

I intend to write in the next few weeks a review of our season. In the meantime, let's have a brief look at this particular game.

The overall possession stats were, I think, slightly unkind to us. Coming out at 54% to 46% they reflect our overall superiority, but not perhaps our overall better chances.

The game was identifiable for being ours, without a doubt, in the first half, and for being far closer in the second. However, even when under intense pressure, I never felt today that we were likely to crack.

I've considered the possibility that given the party atmosphere of a "no consequence" win or lose we may have been unduly affected, but I feel that's being unfair to us.

Don't forget, please, that this was a game against Liverpool FC. This isn't some "second-rater" with no history - it's a club that demands a winning ethos - and, just as at the Arsenal and Man City fixtures, our performance was not only admirable, but winning. That, my friends, is how far we've come.

Our team deserves a big up and will get one.

Vorm, as we've seen, is a candidate for "signing of the season". Rangel was excellent, Taylor even better. Ash Williams and Caulker were what they are - both absolute rocks.

Our middle 3 has an argument to be amongst the best in the League. Allen and Britton are legend - and I'd give a body part to sign Sigurdsson permanently.

We have 2 wide men who are again, I echo, amongst the best in the League, and if there is a better front man in a 3 than Danny Graham, or one who works harder, I've yet to see him.

All these players are covered by the rest of our estimable squad.

I look forward to another fantastic year in this fantastic division - where the quality of our play is matched by the quality of the opposition - what Football should be about.

I thank them all, hand on heart, for a fantastic and proud first season in the PL. And then there's the Staff, Board, Manager, and above all you fellow fans, the JackArmy.

What a Club to part of, what a Club to be proud of.

Onward, to next year.

Onward, Swansea City.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another excellent contribution Monsieur.....Roll on next season.

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