By Jonathan Twigg
A MAN of the match performance from Captain Wilfried Bony led the charge for Swansea City on Saturday (Dec 9) when his second goal in consecutive games sealed a dour 1-0 victory on a dark and gloomy afternoon over West Bromwich Albion at the Liberty Stadium.
Securing a valuable three points lifted Paul Clements under pressure Swans side off the foot of the Premier League table as Bony’s winner sparked a chorus of ‘Hymns and Arias’ with nine minutes remaining.
Substitute Tammy Abraham’s effort was cleared off the line at the far post from a Ki Sung-Yueng corner before the Ivory Coast strikers’ driven right foot shot which thundered beyond former England goalkeeper Ben Foster.
The Swans started the game at the foot of the table but took solace from the fact they had won five out of six fixtures when they had been in a similar situation previously. Their visitors hadn’t won a game in the Premier League for four months and were on a run of three consecutive defeats in their travels to West Wales.
The green shirted Albion started brightly keeping the ball and moving it around across the floor much unlike teams who play under their new manager Alan Pardew’s banner.
Without creating opportunities apart from a Jake Livermore shot midway through the half to punish the home side, the play meandered precariously towards stalemate at half time, unsurprisingly perhaps as former Bayern Munich Assistant Manager Paul Clements side had netted just eight goals in 15 league games.
Winger Nathan Dyer drew a foul from Claudio Yacob after 18 minutes which earned him yellow card which proved to be a catalyst for the apprehension surrounding Swansea’s play subsiding for the remainder of the first half as they gained superiority in terms of possession and territory.
The closest they came was when midfielder Livermore headed against his own post from a dipping Tom Carroll free kick as the visitors screened the play well through skipper Jonny Evans and his centre back partner Yacob across the 18 yard box.
Bony’s opportunities were restricted despite midfielders Carroll, Ki and Roque Mesa enterprising combinations with Dyer and full back Martin Olsson getting behind the opposition defence through the outside channels, where Sam Field collected a yellow card after 35 minutes as he tried to disrupt the inter play.
Centre half Alfie Mawson squandered a great opportunity to head an opening goal when he found space six yards out with seven minutes remaining before Swansea came out for the second half on the front foot.
Bony managed to break the defensive shackles on him with a strong and direct run but pulled a driven shot wide of the post, which added to the derisory tally of 27 shots on target this season for his side, the worst across any of the major European leagues.
Clement’s introduction of Jordan Ayew after 54 minutes for Wayne Routledge injected more spirit and it created opportunities to test Foster, from which Bony drew heart to become an influential figure on the game as the Baggies eventually wilted under the pressure and conceded the only goal.
Tammy Abraham should have sealed the victory in injury time when he was worked free to stride beyond the covering defenders only to wrench his effort wide when one on one with Foster, an effort which the eighteenth created in the match, but only three were on target.
Mesa picked up a second half yellow card as did Carroll before he was replaced by Luciano Narsingh, with Evans and substitute Chris Brunt for the Albion, alongside Welsh striker Hal Robson Kanu as he berated referee Dean on his way off the field to be replaced just before the goal, by Oliver Burke.
The crowd of 19,590 greeted the final whistle knowing they find themselves a point adrift Alan Pardew’s side who hover one place outside the relegation places; two wins would catapult Swansea to mid-table, which would be a welcome festive tonic as the January transfer window opens, allowing Clement an opportunity to re-inforce his squad which for most of this season has looked short on the quality required for survival in the Premier League.
Their first win since October was certainly scrappy where the immaculately dressed Clements’ initial reaction to Bony’s strike was to dance down the touchline coupled with a huge sigh of relief to go with his elation.
The Swansea roadshow heads to Goodison Park on Saturday (Dec 16) to take on an Everton side themselves on a run of four unbeaten games since former England supremo Sam Allardyce took the reins before fellow relegation rivals Crystal Palace arrive at the Liberty for a key Yuletide fixture on Saturday (Dec 23).
Swansea head on the road after Christmas, firstly again to Merseyside to face Liverpool at Anfield on Boxing Day and Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Dec 30) before hosting Tottenham Hotspur at home on Saturday (Jan 2).
Clement and his side will take confidence from Saturday’s victory which has eased the pressure in the cauldron after Club owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien afforded Clement their ‘public support’.
Swans grab last gasp play-off spot
WAYNE ROUTLEDGE’s last-gasp header saw Swansea City secure a play-off spot with a handsome away victory over 10-man Reading on a dramatic Wednesday night (July 22).
Steve Cooper’s side knew they had to win at the Madejski Stadium to have any hope of a top-six finish, and Rhian Brewster’s 10th goal of the season gave them an ideal start.
The sending off of Yakou Meite then gave the Swans a man advantage, but the Royals equalised before the half through a George Puscas penalty.
The Swans restored their lead through a classy finish from substitute Routledge, before Liam Cullen showed great composure to steer in his first goal for the club.
And when Routledge popped up at the death to complete his brace it put the Swans into the top six as Forest suffered a 4-1 defeat at home to Stoke, meaning Swansea got into the play-offs on goal difference.
The Swans started on the front foot, with centurion Connor Roberts having particular joy down the right-hand flank.
Brewster then nearly threaded Conor Gallagher in on goal after fine work by Andre Ayew, before Roberts hit a strike into the ground and over the bar after Jake Bidwell had made the overlap on the opposite flank.
The hosts responded by having a good spell of possession, probing and asking a few questions of their own.
But the visitors hit the lead in the 16th minute through Brewster. The striker picked the ball up some 30 yards out and got the ball out of his feet before smashing a long-range drive that completely deceived Rafael in the Reading goal.
John Swift curled a free-kick over at the other end, while more good work by Roberts could not quite end with Bidwell getting on the end of a deep cross before Rafael made a hash of dealing with a Gallagher cross.
Swift headed straight at Erwin Mulder from a good counter on the half-hour mark, with Ayew quickly advancing up the field to work Rafael again.
Opportunities were coming at both ends, with Mulder called into action again as Meite took aim from the left side of the area.
Swansea were riding their luck a little and had a let-off when a sliced clearance landed on top of the bar.
Matt Grimes had a free-kick pushed away by Rafael before the home side were reduced to 10 men after Meite had pushed Mike van der Hoorn in the face after a tussle for the ball.
But the hosts made light of the numerical disadvantage by levelling after Bidwell was adjudged to have fouled Andy Rinomhota, with Puscas beating Mulder – who got a hand to the strike – from the spot.
However, the Swans should have led at the break. Ben Cabango’s shot was blocked and fell to Jay Fulton, but the Scot pulled his shot wide of the target.
Rafael pushed away an Ayew drive right on half-time, with Swansea frustrated that referee Stephen Martin did not award them a penalty of their own as Fulton went down under a challenge from Omar Richards.
With Cardiff winning and Nottingham Forest losing, Cooper knew goals were needed and he made two changes at the break.
Yan Dhanda came on for Fulton, while Routledge replaced van der Hoorn, and they were immediately on the front foot.
With Swansea committing so many players forward, Reading looked to sit deep and play on the break and they proved resolute as the visitors battled to find a way through.
Grimes curled a free-kick wide of the target and Gallagher also threatened from distance, but the hour mark came and went without any clear-cut chances to show for their dominance of possession and territory.
However, when they did craft a sight of goal they took the chance clinically. Grimes produced a lovely ball, and Routledge controlled superbly to loft the ball over Rafael and into the net.
Unfortunately for the Swans, that goal went in moments after Forest had equalised against Stoke, which appeared to put a sizeable dent in their playoff aspirations.
Nevertheless, Cooper’s side continued to search for more goals in the hope events in the East Midlands would turn back in their favour.
They so nearly made it 3-1 with 17 minutes to play as lovely link play from Rutledge and Bidwell ended with Ayew steering just wide.
The situation was changing all the time, and Stoke retook the lead at Forest to leave the door ajar for the Swans.
And, when Stoke scored a third at the City Ground and Cullen coolly fired home his first senior goal for the club with six minutes remaining, they suddenly only needed a goal to finish in the play-off places.
Grimes had a deflected shot tipped over but the Swans then got the goal they needed in stoppage time as Routledge popped up to nod in at the far post, with Stoke’s fourth goal putting the matter beyond doubt a few moments later to spark delighted celebrations among Cooper, his players and his staff.
Glamorgan launch new kit
GLAMORGAN Cricket has unveiled its new Vitality Blast playing kit for the 2020 season.
Designed by the Club’s official kit supplier, Masuri, alongside Glamorgan’s management, players and coaches, the brand-new Vitality Blast strip contains a subtle Welsh twist.
Fitting Glamorgan’s traditional colour schemes, the top is dark navy with a tonal dragon across the front – a nod to the old Glamorgan nickname and the Welsh identity – while a sharp yellow trim on the neck and sleeves frames the top.
The famous ‘Daff’ sits on the heart of the shirt, with MiPost’s strong Welsh brand centre-stage. Appearing on the collars are the logos of ‘Official Players Car Partner’, Mon Motors and Welsh company, Philtronics Solutions, with Discover Leeks on the right sleeve and SA Group on the back.
The famous Aston Martin logo features on both side of the Glamorgan T20 cap, as they continue their ongoing support of the club.
Head of Commercial, Huw Warren, said: “We’ve enjoyed working with Masuri throughout the design process and together developed an exciting new kit we’re sure our supporters will love with its strong connections with Wales.
“Our Masuri kits have always been hugely successful with players and fans alike and we look forward to continuing our commercial partnership with them.
“We can’t wait to see our players wearing the new kit when the Blast gets underway later this summer.”
Masuri CEO, Sam Miller, said: ‘’Once again it has been a pleasure working with the team at Glamorgan to bring this year’s kit to life, and we are looking forward to seeing it in use during the much anticipated Vitality Blast this year.’’
Wembley trip for Giggs’ men
CYMRU will travel to Wembley Stadium on Thursday 8 October for a home nations international against England.
Ryan Giggs’ side will return to action this autumn for the first time in 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kicking off with the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League campaign. The match against England will be one of two additional international matches scheduled as triple headers in October and November. In keeping with current Government guidelines, this fixture is scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors.
Since their first encounter in 1879, England are Cymru’s second oldest opponents with 102 matches in total producing 14 wins, 21 draws and 67 defeats. Cymru’s last visit to Wembley Stadium was in 2011 for a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier, with Ashley Cole scoring in a 1-0 defeat.
Ryan Giggs’ side will be using this match to prepare for the rescheduled EURO 2020 finals next summer where they hope to return to Wembley, one of the host stadiums, for the latter stages of the tournament.
Looking ahead to the autumn, Cymru are in Nations League Group B4 alongside Bulgaria, Finland and the Republic of Ireland with fixture dates as follows:
Thursday, 3 September – Finland v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 6 September – Cymru v Bulgaria (2:00pm)
Sunday, 11 October – Republic of Ireland v Cymru (2:00pm)
Wednesday, 14 October – Bulgaria v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 15 November – Cymru v Republic of Ireland (5:00pm)
Wednesday, 18 November – Cymru v Finland (7:45pm)
All fixtures are scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors for the foreseeable future.
The FAW will continue to adhere to relevant Government guidelines and supporters will be notified should arrangements change and tickets become available.
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