A gutsy performance at Pride Park secured a precious point for Swansea City but it needed a sensational penalty stop by new ‘keeper Freddie Woodman to keep Steve Cooper’s unbeaten start as Swans boss intact – much to Derby manager Phillip Cocu’s frustration.
The new Rams manager will be lamenting a number of missed opportunities by experienced striker Martyn Waghorn, including that penalty, although on reflection Cocu will also be slightly relieved that the Swans were equally wasteful with their own chances in what was a fairly even contest until the last twenty minutes or so.
With a couple of new signings arriving in the week Cooper had plenty of options to juggle his starting side around but in the main he kept to the side that started last week against Hull. There were just two changes, one positional, as Aldo Kalulu came in for his debut on the left wing allowing Bersant Celina to move back into his preferred attacking midfield role. George Byers was the one to make way, relegated to a bench that included new striker Sam Surridge.
Derby kept with the side that beat Huddersfield last Monday night, Cocu confining his own new recruits, the attacking midfielder Jamie Paterson and goalkeeper Ben Hamer to the home bench.
Last week’s Hull game saw new boss Cooper and debutant ‘keeper Woodman get off to the worst possible start with the opposition scoring within three minutes and there was almost a disastrous repeat here as Derby striker Waghorn charged down Woodman’s opening clearance. Fortunately for the Swans’ stopper the ball was deflected out for a throw in rather than bouncing off Waghorn and straight into the net.
The Swans put that scare straight behind them though and gave Derby a fright of their own as Baston advanced menacingly towards the penalty box, forcing home skipper Richard Keogh to bring down the rejuvenated Spanish striker at the cost of a yellow card. Dead ball specialist Matt Grimes lined up the resulting free kick but could only send his effort sailing over the crossbar.
After that frantic opening few minutes the game settled down into a more sedate pattern with the Swans seeing plenty of the ball in the final third and Derby happy to soak up the pressure and break with purpose. This policy saw Keiron Dowell set up both Jozefzoon and Bogle for efforts on the Swansea goal but on both occasions the defence held firm and the shots were blocked before they could trouble Woodman.
The Swans returned fire with a good chance of their own, Grimes setting up Celina but the Kosovan dragged his shot wide of Roos’s goal.
Midway through the first period the Swans engineered an even better chance, this time Celina the provider as his corner was met by Mike van der Hoorn. A scorer with head against Hull last week, the big defender will be disappointed that he directed his effort this week wide.
The home side looked to step up the pressure after that let off and the Fulton/Grimes partnership in midfield were forced to work double time to break up swift Derby raids. Bogle though circumnavigated the defensive duo and provided a tantalising cross for Waghorn to meet but the big striker lashed his effort wide.
Raiding right back Bogle was causing plenty of problems for the Swans whilst on the same side Aldo Kalulu was enjoying an encouraging debut, examples of his pace and strength enough to whet the appetite of the travelling Jack Army.
The sides continued to trade blows as the half wore on but with just four minutes of the period left the Rams squandered the chance to land a knockout punch with a penalty awarded by Australian referee Jarrett Gillett. The whistleblower penalised Jake Bidwell as he tried to deal with Bogle in the box; up stepped Waghorn to take the spot kick but his effort was undone by an element of predictability, Woodman reacting brilliantly with the hindsight of homework on previous Waghorn efforts to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Energised by that escape the Swans flooded forward and finished the half on the front foot, Celina, Roberts, Grimes and Borja all having chances to break the deadlock but the contest remained goalless at the interval.
There was just one change to the personnel at the start of the second half, Cocu bringing on Paterson for his debut in place of George Evans. Cooper resisted any urge to make alterations, no doubt happy with how his boys had performed in the first half.
A surface made ever slicker due to the lashing rain, coupled with early season rustiness, meant that plenty of passes were going astray but that didn’t stop the sides trying to get on the front foot.
More string pulling from Celina saw Connor Roberts let fly from outside the box, forcing Rams ‘keeper Roos to palm the effort away.
At the other end Woodman covered himself in more glory with a stunning double save, denying first Jozefzoon and then scrambling to keep out Scott Malone’s follow up
In-between the two goalies distinguishing themselves there was a lengthy delay for an injury to the influential Bogle and although the right back tried to soldier on hew was replaced by Max Lowe a few minutes after the game restarted.
More chances were created and spurned as the contest wore on, Dyer finding himself thwarted on a couple of occasions before the finding himself leaving the field on the hour mark to be replaced by Kristoffer Patterson.
Both teams then traded yellow cards with Grimes and Lawrence entering the referee’s pocketbook, the former for stopping a Derby counterattack and the latter for bleating about it.
Injury brought Kalulu’s encouraging debut to a premature end. Cooper sent on Yan Dhanda to replace the French winger and also took the opportunity to blood Sam Surridge who came on for a tiring Borja.
It marked a change in the game as the home side got a grip on proceedings…whether the substitutions played a part in that or whether the home side simply stepped up a gear in order to push for the win is open to debate. The net result though was an increase in Derby possession and pressure but no change to the scoreline as the Swans defence held firm in front of Woodman.
Half chances came and went for the Rams but nothing really set the alarm bells ringing. At the other end Surridge had first sniff as a Swans striker but he fired wide after being set up by Celina.
With a couple of time consuming injuries during the second period the Swans were forced to endure seven minutes of added time and Derby did their best to grab a winner but Waghorn’s afternoon of misery was compounded with three missed chances.
No doubt those misses drove his manager cuckoo but the Swans had earned their point over 97 minutes and the draw was the fair result.
On his disappointment at only getting a point:
We wanted to win the game, we expected to win the game and our game plan gave us opportunities to do that,” he said. “We thought we could create chances and we got into positions to do so, but the final ball let us down
Looking on the brighter side of the result and performance:
It’s a decent point.We were good off the ball at times. We were good with the high press and forced them into areas where we wanted them to go and nicked the ball, and that’s where we felt we could exploit them.
On the penalty:
It was not a bad penalty but Freddie has guessed that Waghorn would back himself to put it there again in their first match at home and he’s made a really good save. It was justice really for what was a pretty average decision to give it in the first place
The ATFV Verdict
Derby were unlucky to miss out on promotion last season, falling at the Play Off Final hurdle, and even though they’ve lost Lampard as manager and a couple of stand out players in Wilson and Mount they’ll remain a tough prospect at Pride Park. Given last season’s struggles on the road and the changes to a squad still coming to terms with Premier League relegation and all the financial and squad carnage that has wreaked, a point away at one of the divisional favourites is a real positive. A clean sheet, a gritty performance and a number of good chances created must surely make everyone satisfied…character is every bit as important as ability in this division and the Swans showed plenty of it yesterday. With Woodman making a difference in goal and the back four looking settled and strong, Cooper’s main task now is to forge the forward line into a functioning and clinical unit. the raw materials are there, it will just need some time…time I hope the fans will give all concerned.
Man of the Match: It was good to see Celina back in the pocket pulling the strings but Woodman walks off with the award after a confident, competent showing that was epitomised and not defined by his penalty save.
Mare of the Match: A quiet game for Nathan Dyer, especially after his two assists the week before against Hull. The veteran winger will be looking over his shoulder with fellow veteran Wayne Routledge available again and the twin threat of new boys Patterson and Kalulu to contend with.
Golden Moment: Woodman guessing the right way and keeping out Waghorn’s spot kick was a key event. More than that, it gave the Jack Army a feel good moment involving a Swans ‘keeper – something that’s been conspicuous by its absence since the Fabianski days.
Strikes for Samaritans Update: No goals and a single point means just the one pound added from me and the same from Aaron. That takes the total so far to £12 for the Swansea branch of the Samaritans.