Thank you for travelling 348 miles read the poster inside the Liberty Stadium, and Swansea could say thank you for the three points as we failed to continue our recent good form and allowed the home side to nullify any creativity on our part and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Starting, as you do on such occasions, at daft o’clock, Rob’s taxi got us checked in to the overnight accommodation not long after eleven. A quick change of duds, a game of pool, and we were into town to join the rest of the sold-out away fans in the Bank Statement. A slow bus-ride to the ground, and we were ready to go. Justifiably confident after recent performances, both by our forwards and the Swans’ defence, Moyesy replaced the injured Watmore with Seb named Borini amongst the subs, and we lined up:
Jones Papy Kone PVA
Seb Pienaar Ndong
Kicking away from our fans, we struggled to come to terms with those awful pink and purple shirts and consequently didn’t get as much service to Defoe and Big Vic as we have in the last month – mostly because Swansea closed us down in midfield. Papy and Kone continued to look like a promising partnership as they got in vital challenges and won equally vital headers as the home side pushed forward. They were coping with the wet surface better than us, and consequently produced little bits of decent football in the understandably nervy opening few minutes. At five past three, there was applause for Bradley Lowery, with Swansea showing a picture of the lad on the big screen and the home fans joining in.
Despite Swansea handling the wet better, there wasn’t a great deal of quality about until one of Pickford’s passes (they’re not clearances) fizzed its way into the Swansea half and straight to Big Vic on the right. Nice control, nice ball to Defoe, who dropped his shoulder and got into the box – but the shot zipped just over the top. Nearly, but not quite. While we largely dealt with Swansea’s attacking play, we did concede a couple of dangerous free kicks and corners, but they were put over the bar without giving Pickford any trouble. Ndong got himself booked for a challenge that was so silly, late, and far from anywhere that Swansea might have posed a threat that we didn’t even grumble about the yellow card. We posed no more attacking threat before the break, and headed for the dry and a half-time chat probably satisfied that we were very much still in with a chance of winning the game.
We wondered, over our half-time pies, whether Borini would be a better bet than Pienaar, as we were certainly missing the direct running and pace of Watmore – I know he has his critics, but the very fact that he doesn’t look up very often means defenders have no idea what he intends to to apart from run straight at them.
No sign of Fab, so with no changes for the second half, we expected more of the same, but with a bit more creativity from our midfield. We hadn’t had time to produce very much when, in the 50th minute, Swansea went down the right and Denayer attempted to block the cross – but his hand was up, the ball hit it, and the ref gave a penalty. I don’t believe for a second he intended to use his hand, but had it been at the other end we’d have screamed “handball” and the ref’s are almost always going to give them these days. (unless he’s called Andre and it’s a Sunderland game). Sigurdsson thumped it straight in, and you could almost see our players’ body language change – and not in the right way. Shoulders seemed to droop, and what spring there had been in our step had less boing in it.
And it got worse only a few minutes later when Barrow ran into the box and hit a tremendous shot that seemed to have “GOAL” written all over it, but Pickford produced another of his tremendous saves to put it wide for a corner. In it came from the right, and Llorente got to a low drive before Kone at the front post and passed the ball into the net. Aw, bugger. Poor defending, Lads.
Pickford was called into action several more times as we decided that it was a good idea to give away free-kicks from which Swansea could cause us problems, and we roared for something to change. Moyes responded by taking of first Larsson, then a couple of minutes later Ndong, and bringing on Januzaj and Kirchhoff. This meant that Denayer could move a bit further forward, so we thought that with half an hour still to play, some of his ball-carrying talents, prompted by Kirchhoff, could cause Swansea problems, and that Januzaj could show some of the talent we know he’s got to help out the front two.
It didn’t really happen, though. Two goals up, Swansea did what any sensible side would do (are you taking notes, Herr Klopp?) and took no risks. Although we didn’t really look like we had the two or three goals in us to spoil their day, they just did the simple things and kept the ball away from us. When we did get hold of it, there seemed to be a lack of urgency – look, I know it was wet and horrible, but you’ll keep an awful lot warmer if you run about more and those conditions were perfect for a few clattering sliding tackles. We still gave good vocal backing, but with a sense of inevitability about the outcome, and that sense of foreboding was proved justified with ten minutes left when Montero, who’d only replaced Barrow a couple of minutes earlier, was allowed the time and space to put in a perfect cross which took out our central defence and left Llorente with the easiest of headers. No chance for Pickford, 0-3.
Despite the game being effectively over, Pienaar (ran out of steam) was replaced by Manquillo rather than Borini, who would at least have raised our spirits by just being on the field. We did, however, somehow managed to create a couple chances which fell to Defoe and Papy, but Fabianski in the home goal brought off a cracking save to deny Papy his first Sunderland goal. Our players scowled and waved their arms (not in a nice way, either) at each other as they vented their frustrations at their lacklustre efforts, and Swansea were more than happy to play out the last few minutes in relaxed style.
A bad day at the office? Certainly, but we have to hope that it was just a one-off and not a more permanent return to the dismal form of earlier in the season.
Man of the Match? Well, probably Pickford for a couple of outstanding saves. I really wish I could give it to an outfield player, as that would mean that we’d played well and might even have won. But we didn’t.
Keep the Faith.
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