Confidence breeds Class, leading to success.
It’s quite difficult for us non participants to value the influence of a good result on the team – but in this instance maybe it’s a little clearer.
After the feel good factor of a positively decent Home draw against the class-act that is Tottenham Hotspur only two days previously, Swansea City’s first Premier League away win at Villa Park led one believe that it must be somewhat beneficial to go into a game with both dander and ability so recently proved against one of the League’s best.
It’s a given that Aston Villa had also won a testing Away fixture at Chelsea on the same day that we’d drawn with Tottenham, however, with their recent struggles at Home in mind, and the respective ambivalence with regard to the situation of the Clubs ( Villa fans are genuinely disenchanted, us Swans are conversely perky) , it was a match where lots of us felt that we may do rather well. Perhaps we might even improve on a share of the points and go on to win.
We were not mistaken.
It turned out too to provide another peek at what some of the amply rewarded pundits (in the Broadcast Media mainly) seem to consider to be Swansea’s “exotic and unusual animals” provide enlightenment to those who don’t see us regularly.
It’s generally considered that part of the reason for the unusual nature of the Fauna of Australia is it’s geographic location i.e. it has creatures such as the Duck-Billed Platypus, the Kangaroo and the Koala that are unique to the Island Continent.
I sometimes feel that way because those very same pundits progressively and rightly increase and voice their admiration for our stylish performances, oohing and aahing (nicely,mainly) about us.
This is , of course, a pleasurable thing. It brings a nice feeling of pride that more and more people are seeing what we at Liberty see regularly – our cast of fine first time Premier League performers playing their hearts out for us, Home and Away.
Brendan Rodgers has shown that he’s not averse to utilizing the whole range of our squad – after all, he had made six successful changes for our previous fixture. This time he made seven, and if you were of the opinion that he doesn’t know the value of his own players, I’d suggest you need a re-think, illustrated hugely by the inclusion of the oft criticized Andrea Orlandi in MF, along with a host of other alterations. Alex McLeish had been less altering for Villa , and the sides lined up as follows……..
22 Guzan,03 Warnock,05 Dunne,06 Collins,21 Clark (Bannan 85),24 Cuellar (Hutton 55),07 Ireland (Albrighton 68),10 N’Zogbia,19 Petrov,09 Bent,11 Agbonlahor
33 Marshall,02 Hutton,12 Albrighton,25 Bannan,38 Gardner,18 Heskey,26 Weimann
01 Vorm, 02 Williams,03 Taylor,04 Caulker,22 Rangel,07 Britton,08 Orlandi (Allen 58),12 Dyer (Sinclair 78),15 Routledge,26 Agustien,10 Graham
25 Tremmel,16 Monk,11 Sinclair,24 Allen,29 Richards,18 Lita,19 Moore
From the very start things were lively. Villa park is well known not only for it’s decent Match day atmosphere – you feel as if you’re at a REAL football ground – but it has a significantly wide pitch. Woo Hoo, that suits if you’re a Duck-Billed Platypus. Swansea pressed hard from the off, and after a lively first couple of minutes, the game pinged into life.
The Swans fronted and harassed such that when Stephen Warnock got possession some 40yds from goal in his own half, he saw no significant advantage in passing forward, and played off a short ball backward to Richard Dunne, without looking almost, and the ball ran free.
Nathan Dyer, who had been pushing up at him, raced onto it and drove at the heart of the Villa defence. Dunne backed off as Dyer advanced, but with Danny Graham’s cross run throwing confusion into the mix, Dyer, from just outside the area, shot low, right footedly, and the ball skimmed through Dunne and on to beat Brad Guzan’s despairing dive to nestle into the corner of the Villa net.
The JackArmy exploded as the players congratulated Dyer. 1-0 and a fantastic start.
It’s often said that to score so early can be a weight hung about a team’s neck if only because there’s such a long way to go. I’ve never believed it myself – 1-0 beats 0-0 for me, whatever the stage of the game.
The explosive start was simply the forerunner of the better things to come.
Swansea continued to be lively in their passing, effective in their pressing, with Nathan Dyer, our very own “Tasmanian Devil” as it were (small, but extremely fierce) commencing to take Stephen Warnock on a journey of pain by repeatedly running him ragged time and again.
Apart from the goal, Dyer also produced a cross shot from the right corner of the box that slicked just wide of Guzan’s right hand post with the keeper beaten, and a fantastically skillful trap and move that bamboozled Warnock leaving him in a heap on the ground before crossing to Danny Graham, whose left foot nudge was only kept out by Guzan because Collins had got a half-block on the attempt.
The control and confidence from the Swans was excellent.
Orlandi strode forward in the inside left channel to unleash a left footed shot from outside the box that skimmed just wide of the post again, and an admirable run and cross from the left byline that Danny Graham, tricking free by coming away from goal, unluckily played just wide again. He appealed for a corner, but was denied.
Swansea’s pass and move dominance was such that Villa were reduced to half chances at most, mainly from set piece free kicks and corners, none of which though turned out to be a real threat, much to the disappointment of the Home crowd , who were noisily grumbling and burbling.
The contrast to the JackArmy, who were bellowing loudly and proudly was stark.Not only were Villa being outplayed on the field, they were equally being out-sung off it, and it was a pleasure to watch.
Dyer and Routledge, wide, were a constant threat. Danny Graham was proving yet again that he’s fast becoming not only a worrying test to CB’s of all opposition clubs, but a clever link to passages of play.
Kemy Agustien was showing that he has added the mobility and muscle power that breaks down the opposition and builds up our own momentum.
I’ve seen some descriptions from posters that have rightly and pertinently pointed out that Orlandi seemed to be playing in his suitable role, that of support striker/attacking MF and I think they’re spot on. Stephen Dobbie had done it against Tottenham, half-decently I thought even if he tired eventually, but here at Villa Park, Orlandi’s physical prowess was relevant.
I think we sometimes forget that because he’s a ball playing , skillful, talented individual who can drift in and out of games, this limits his effectiveness. Have another look, please. He’s also a decent athlete. Physically he can be powerfully insistent when he wants and he heads the ball well, too.He did yesterday.
Okay, he may not be for everytime use, similarly Dobbie. It’s horses for courses, which is what our Manager is showing us. Trust him, I do.
And, of course, making yesterday’s MF unit tick, there was Leon Britton. Brilliantly described today by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay as “……the ball-hog Leon Britton patrolling the centre like a South Wales Xavi.”
So the Swans closed out the half comfortably and while I went and made a cup of tea, the Villa players, poor Warnock particularly, trooped downtrodden to be no doubt tongue-lashed by Big ‘Eck.
I surmise that England’s World Cup reserve left back may have needed a couple of tranquilizers to calm him down, and maybe even a consultation with the club doctor for a posterior problem, since Nathan Dyer had effectively ripped him a new arsehole in the first half.
There was to be no mercy for the second half, either.
Just as had happened at the start, the beginning of the second period was equally explosive. Early, and effective pressing again bore fruitful reward.
James Collins, in possession for Villa just inside his own half, found his path to a forward or even sideways pass blocked, such was the accuracy of the Swans cover. With no outlet immediately available he turned and rolled a 30yd backpass to Guzan so that he could bomb it via Route 1 into City’s half.
The pass though was just slightly light and whilst Guzan took an extra touch to steady before putting boot through ball, Danny Graham fast closed him down.
The Yank’s subsequent clearance was something of a shank, and reached Neil Taylor just over the halfway on the left, who immediately sent it down the line to Wayne Routledge, one on one with Cuellar, a CB playing at RB.
Routledge did what talented wingers do. He skinned Cuellar and immediately cut in toward the Villa goal. Danny Graham, meanwhile, had cleverly got himself back on side from his closing down effort and was on hand 6 yds out to meet Routledge’s good ball first time and direct it toward goal. A defender got a touch and the ball hit the post, bouncing back to Routledge who hit an immediate left foot shot into the far corner.
2-0, cue “Hymns ‘n Arias”, “You’ve only come to watch the Swans”, etc…….
It felt great. It felt deserved, too.
That much quoted stat of this being Wayne Routledge’s 116th PL appearance and his first goal made it’s inevitable appearance and I guess he’ll be pleased to get that monkey off his back. He deserves to be, because he’s got progressively better for us and is another example of Brendan’s ability to get the best out of his players.
For the next 20mins or so the game settled into a familiar rhythm – Villa had had the stuffing knocked out of them and the Swans were content to play keep-ball as the clock moved inexorably on.
There were set piece efforts again, with Ireland, Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia, talented players all, trying but failing to get Villa a toehold.
Having bigged up our players in their attacking efforts it would be unfair of me not to mention the boys at the back end of the Team.
Michel Vorm wasn’t seriously tested- a Dunne header,a couple of half hit shots about the limit, but you just know he’d have been up to it. He really is a rock. And, his distribution continues to advance the case for the modern keeper being an invaluable passing member of the group.
Rangel and Taylor were both first class, both getting forward regularly, both defending stoutly and comfortably.
Finally, our Centre Backs. Stephen Caulker fitted seamlessly back into the team after his enforced absence, and Ash Williams had another game where a MoM award wouldn’t have been a surprise – he is THAT good for us on a regular basis.
The clearest chance of the half for us came late on, when Joe Allen, on in replacement for Orlandi, almost got on the end of a quick break through ball, but was denied by Guzan bravely plunging at his feet to deny him, and earning a knock to a bloodied face for his pains.
Scott Sinclair had eventually replaced the MoM Nathan Dyer, and he played his part in the keep-ball control at the heart of the win.
At the very end, well into injury time and almost as a last kick of the game, Charles N’Zogbia reached a knock down in the box and got off a rocket left foot shot which struck the woodwork and thudded clear. It had been Villa’s only clear cut chance, and our “exotic creatures” were home and dry.
The value of the win is, of course, a precious 3pts that takes us to a healthy 23. The psychological value of our first win away from home in the PL is equally precious.
BR was always confident it would come, but then he would say that because he’s our consistently excellent Manager, and it’s his job to encourage our Team in advancing their self-belief.
Villa were frustrated because they had been outpassed and outplayed in a performance of disappointment for them. When you see hundreds of Home fans streaming out before the end you know as an Away supporter it’s been a good day.
There had been a chorus of boos too when Albrighton replaced Ireland for them. The camera had shown a very much down in the mouth Sir Doug Ellis, Villa’s venerable Honorary President Emeritus, sitting glumly. Deadly Doug indeed.
There was also a crescendo of abuse as Villa went off and in the post match interviews, the contrast between the respective Managers, Brendan Rodgers and Alex McLeish, was stark.
It had been an excellent day and the JackArmy will have travelled home in excellent heart, celebrating a HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Onward, Swansea City.
# This weekend, the Swans go to Barnsley for a difficult FA Cup tie.Let’s hope that we can travel and see BR make further use of our decent squad to good advantage. I’m not one who advances the idea that the FA Cup isn’t important. I’d like to see us keep up a winning habit.
Also, a warm welcome to Gylfi Sigurdsson, a top class addition to our Club.
This article was written by Peter Thomas