The world is definitely looking like a better place after this game! 2 goals, a clean sheet, back up to 10th in the Premier League table and 6 points clear of Cardiff, who are bottom! It’s not happy days just yet and there is plenty of hard work still to be done, but this was a great start.
There is no denying it, this was a huge game for us and even the more optimistic amongst us Jacks (I don’t mean that Eames bloke from the Guestbook in case you were wondering!) were a tad worried heading into this one. However, cometh the hour (well 61 minutes to be exact), cometh the man, in the shape of super Jonjo Shelvey.
The Swans went into this game in a poor run of form, having taken just 3 points from the previous 8 league games and sitting 15th in the Premier League table with 21 points on the board. In comparison, Rene Meulensteen’s fellow strugglers Fulham arrived at the Liberty Stadium 2 points and 2 places below us in 17th. They had lost their last 2 in the League against Arsenal away and Sunderland at home.
Looking at the team sheet, it was encouraging to see that our woeful catalogue of injuries was starting to ease and it was great to see Dutch playmaker Jonathan De Guzman, fellow midfielder Jonjo Shelvey and wide man Nathan Dyer return to the fold after their respective absences. Still missing were other key players in Vorm, Monk, Canas and Michu.
The Swans make a solid start to the game, backed by a Liberty Stadium crowd that was in better voice than of late. Jonjo Shelvey had a great chance to put the Swans 1-0 up, following a smart move involving Pablo Hernandez and Angel Rangel on the right flank. He put that one over the bar, but there was more to come from the big man later in the game.
Worringly, as has been the case on too many occasions of late, as the first half went on and we failed to break the deadlock, the mistakes started to creep in, especially as the two full backs pushed up the field and left gaps on the wings. We also again showed our vulnerability from set pieces, both from corners and free kicks.
Brede Hangeland sent Kieran Richardson’s free-kick just over and Ashkan Dejagah contrived to head Alexander Kacaniklic’s cross straight at Swansea goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel. Clint Dempsey also troubled the Swans goalkeeper, with Ashley Williams helping to deny the American. Ash had my arms up in the air and remonstrated with his fellow defenders and it is difficult to deny that some of his colleagues could do more to help him at the back.
Five minutes before the break, the Swans could have been ahead. Hernandez picked out Jonjo Shelvey, who struck the ball beautifully from the edge of the box. With Fulham keeper Stekelenberg well beaten, the ball smashed against the crossbar, leaving it all square at half time. Given both teams’ recent inability to keep a clean sheet of late, it was probably a surprise that there were no goals in the first period to entertain a near full house at the Liberty Stadium.
Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal was called into action again after the restart, clawing away a Chico header before diving left to field a Jonathan De Guzman shot.
After 58 minutes, Laudrup took the decision to replace Hernandez with Nathan Dyer for his first action since being injured in mid December. The game was crying out for Nathan’s introduction as up to that point we had been lacking pace and verve.
The winger had an immediate impact by teeing up Shelvey for the opening goal from 20 yards. The ball took a double deflection off Steve Sidwell and Hangeland, but who cares as we needed a healthy slice of luck!
The Swans could then easily have had a second goal, but Stekelenburg made a flying save to prevent De Guzman doubling Swansea’s lead as the home side continued to dominate. Then, with 15 minutes left on the clock, the Fulham keeper was undone again as Berbatov got the final touch after Chico flicked on De Guzman’s free-kick at the near post.
Rene Meulensteen sent on Marcus Bent for Dejagah in an effort to rescue something for Fulham and the striker did bring a good low save out of Tremmel. However, it was a rare moment of concern for the Swans who are now looking more comfortable in mid-table, while Fulham remained in 17th, one place above the drop zone.
Summing the game up, it was a very important victory against a Fulham side that had plenty of star names but look like they are destined for relegation to the Championship. Fulham, like many other sides that come to the Liberty, packed 11 man behind the ball and left us little space to play. Pace and movement is clearly the key for us, as well as being sharper at the back. So on we go to West Ham on Saturday with things looking a lot better than they did last week.
The teams and player marks (out of 10):
Swansea City: Tremmel 5, Rangel 6, Davies 6, Chico 7, Williams (Captain) 7, Britton 9, De Guzman 7 (Pozeulo NA), Shelvey 7 (Amat 6), Routledge 6, Hernandez 6 (Dyer 7), Bony 7. Unused substitutes: Cornell, Taylor (he’s ours and you’re not having him!), Lamah, Vazquez.
Swans’ man of the match: Leon Britton (by a country mile)
Scorers: Shelvey, Hernandez
Fulham: Stekelenburg 7, Riether 5, Richardson 5, Sidwell 5, Hangeland 6, Burn 6, Dejagah 5 (Bent 5), Parker 6, Dempsey 4 (Duff 5), Kacaniklic 6, Berbatov 4 (Tankovic NA). Unused substitutes: Stockdale, Hughes, Rodellega, Christensen.
Fulham man of the match: Stekelenburg
Possession stats: Swans 62%, Fulham 38%.
The match referee: Michael Oliver 7. Baby faced assassin Oliver (he’s only 28) came into the game with a record of 74 Premier League games, resulting in 9 red and 224 yellow cards. This game saw him add another 2 cards to his tally by dishing out yellows to Wilfried Bony and Kieron Richardson. This was a good alround performance by Oliver.
Attendance: 20,004. I’m not sure if new signing David Ngog was one of them, but a warm welcome if he was! In contrast, Tom Ince probably wasn’t there as he continued his grand tour of the Premier League in a quest to find a new club – come on Tom, get on board, the Mumbles is lovely in February!