Swansea City’s super start to the season continued last night with a thrilling win over Queens Park Rangers that not only keeps Steve Cooper’s unbeaten record intact but takes his side to second in the Championship table. It’s early days of course but the Swans showed all the signs here of a side built for a promotion push, displaying plenty of guts and character to go with a clinical ability in the final third. The ATFV QPR v Swans Match Report delves deeper into last night’s triumph…
Bersant Celina’s first of the season and Sam Surridge’s first in a Swans shirt sandwiched an emphatic penalty from Borja Baston and the three goal salvo was more than enough to see off a spirited Queens Park Rangers on their home soil.
The Rs had responded magnificently to a 0-1 deficit at half time, a period of incessant pressure after the break inevitably leading to Jordan Hugill cancelling out Bersant Celina’s first half strike.
But once again Cooper’s Swans showed they have resilience in abundance and an impudent piece of skill from debutant Jordon Garrick led to a penalty successfully converted by Borja to restore the lead before Sam Surridge made sure of things with the third late on.
It was all a far cry from the corresponding fixture back in April where the Swans found themselves two down in five minutes before finishing that game with a 4-0 thumping!
As expected Cooper handed a first start of the season to Andre Ayew who, like fellow highly paid outcast Borja, has been restored, re-integrated and rejuvenated as a Swan.
The decision to start with Ayew was made easier by the absence of both Nathan Dyer and Aldo Kalulu through injury. But in truth with all thoughts of wage packet implications set aside for the moment, Ayew is always going to start in front of those two as he’s head and shoulders more effective. Especially at this lower level.
Cooper sprang a surprise by handing Garrick a place on the bench, reward for the way he burst onto the scene with a match turning cameo in the Carabao Cup against Northampton…no doubt his similar impact here will have Dyer and Kalulu looking nervously over their shoulders!
For Rangers there was no place in the match day squad for influential defender Angel Rangel. The former Swan got himself embroiled in an unseemly war of words with Swans fans via Twitter in the aftermath of that 4-0 win back in April, reacting badly to pre-game predictions that Dan James would “tear him a new one” – a gesture on the pitch that he had the youngster in his pocket was pretty tasteless too. His pockets would remain empty during this fixture though as Todd Kane took his place.
Perhaps young Kane would have preferred the senior señor to have the right back shirt as he faced a torrid evening from Bidwell and Celina working in tandem up and down his flank as the Swans set about giving every bit as good as they got, although he did get in the first shot of the evening which was duly blocked by Rodon, as was Bright-Samuels’ follow up effort.
Those early exchanges were full of attacking intent from both sides but too often play would break down.
Bright Osayi-Samuel was proving a thorn in Connor Roberts’ side with some dazzling skills and Eberechi Eze was doing the same to Bidwell on the other side of the field; it wasn’t a one way thing though as both Swans full backs were spending far more time bombing forward than retreating into their own box.
Rangers though were creating the chances and Hugill was a little unlucky to fire just over while Barbet should have done much better with a left foot effort in the six yard box. In between those attempts Woodman was forced into a tremendous save, the Swans keeper finger-tipping Eze’s effort around the post for another in the growing collection of Rangers’ corners.
Not to be outdone, Rangers keeper Lumley pulled off an almost indentical save at the other end to defy Celina.
Flag kicks were an Achilles heel for the Swans throughout last season but not only did they expertly defend each one they faced here, they also turned the tables on their opponents by opening the scoring from Rangers’ own corner!
Admittedly the delivery was an awful one, ballooning over everyone in the box, but when the ball came at Ayew on the edge of the Swans area he had to complete a terrific piece of skill to bring it down and under his control. Quick as a flash he launched the counter, picked his moment to play in Celina who promptly thundered forward from the halfway line before slipping the ball calmly under Lumley in the QPR goal.
Lo and behold, joy of joys, the Swans actually found themselves scoring the first goal in a game! Hallelujah!!
Now though they had to defend that lead.
Joe Rodon did just that, throwing his head or his body, somethimes both, at anything that remotely threatened the Swans goal. The recipient of social media stick after the Preston match was putting in a performance that fully justified his manager’s faith in him, repelling all boarders as QPR tried to mount a revival.
He picked up a silly yellow card for blocking a qick free kick after he’d committed a foul but that didn’t hamper his performance one iota and his efforts helped the Swans see out the half with their one goal lead intact.
Whatever Warburton said to his players at the interval it had a positive effect. So too did his tactical change, taking off the solid but unspectacular Geoff Cameron and replacing him with the more attacking Ilias Chair (insert your own joke about him being not so much exciting as electric – Ed.)
The home side tore at the Swans in an effort to claw back the deficit and the momentum built steadily, leaving the Swans more and more on the back foot.
Dominant with the ball though they were, QPR couldn’t find a route through to goal, either thwarted by solid defending or the linesman’s flag.
On the hour mark though the chances started to flow; Scowen flashed one just wide after a set piece, Chair missed a sitter (sorry, I couldn’t resist – Ed.) and then had another effort well blocked whilst Eze pulled another good chance wide.
The biggest let off though came when Todd Kane’s cross skidded along the top of the crossbar and bounced harmlessly back in field.
Cooper felt he had to do something to change the flow of the game and so he looked to make his first change…and it was a brave one. It came as no surprise that Byers was the man to depart as he’d had a fairly quiet evening, but it was a big call to throw on novice winger Jordon Garrick for his debut. And within four minutes it looked as if Cooper’s Garrick gamble had badly backfired as QPR drew level.
It was easy for Chair (alright no more Chair puns – Ed.) to deliver a telling cross into the box for Hugill to head home past the exposed Woodman.
It could have gone badly for Cooper from there, having gambled in bringing on an untried attacking young player and almost immediately losing a lead away from home. Instead the change was made to look an inspired one as Garrick played a pivotal role in restoring that lead.
It took a huge effort of collective will for the Swans to turn the tide; having got back on level terms, momentum now firmly in their favour, and the majority of the 13,000 crowd feverishly behind them Rangers boss Warburton would have been expecting his side to go on and win the game. Instead, much to his disgust, his side fell behind again just four minutes after equalising and Garrick was at the heart of it.
Another scything counterattack by the Swans – a real feature of the whole evening – saw Garrick collect the ball and run straight at the experienced Barbet. Garrick’s audacious drop of the shoulder and shimmy was enough to seduce Barbet into a stupid challenge in the box and as Garrick went down referee Tierney pointed to the penalty spot.
Last season’s nominated penalty taker Matt Grimes gave right of way to striker Borja and the Spaniard confidently slammed the spot kick into the back of the net for his fourth goal in four games.
It was the last meaningful contribution for Borja as Cooper replaced the tiring front man with Sam Surridge in the 77th minute. It didn’t take long for the Bournemouth loanee to make an impact too. Three minutes to be precise as he plundered the goal that finally broke QPR’s stubborn resistance. And what a goal it was too!
Yet another rapier like counter attack saw the ball worked out to Bidwell wide on the left. Back at his old stamping ground you could have forgiven former Ranger Bidwell for trying to storm forward himself, instead he had the presence of mind to spot Ayew making the run in behind the defender and then the composure to lift a pass over his man for Ayew to run on to.
With that much time and space to play with there was little doubt that Ayew would deliver some quality and that’s exactly what he did, picking out Surridge on the penalty spot. The big striker needed no second invitation and he headed emphatically past Lumley for his first goal in a Swans shirt and his side’s third score of the night.
The Hoops huffed and puffed for the final ten minutes plus stoppage time but the threat they posed had been well and trully neutralised.
The Swans were able to comfortably see out the game and record just their third away win of 2019 but crucially their third win out of four this season.
On the result:
It’s a great result, no doubt about that. It was a really good game, two teams trying to play with the ball and I thought we played some super stuff
On a tough but fruitful second period:
Tactically we had to be excellent second half and we were – particularly out of possession we defended the box really well – but we tried to stay on the ball when we could and we scored two excellent goals
On a promotion push:
We’re taking it one game at a time
The ATFV Verdict
I doubt anybody would have predicted Steve Cooper would have such a strong start to life as Head Coach of Swansea City, not even the man himself. He remains unbeaten, his side is second in the table, scoring goals and winning matches. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing with some difficult bordering on outright poor patches in matches, the loss of his main striker on the eve of the season and continuing specualtion around the presence of his two best remaining players, Borja and Ayew. This performance and result encapsulated all that – it showed his side’s ability to score and play on the front foot, it’s resilience when things go wrong and how much of a difference Borja and Ayew can make in the team rather than outside the camp. Cooper was prepared to make some big calls too and, by hook or by crook, they’ve paid off again. There will come a point when they don’t come off and results go against us – but Cooper is building plenty of credit in the bank and credibility with his fans to take that inevitable bad patch in his stride. For now, he will enjoy last night’s terrific win and reflect on a very satisfying start to the season. And as fans we should all do the same.
Man of the Match: So many potential candidates; Celina caused problems all night and took his goal well, Bidwell was solid and got himself another key contribution to a goal whilst Andre Ayew helped himself to another two assists. Then you have Freddie Woodman who is proving what a difference a top goalkeeper can make with a couple of huge saves. Alas for all of them, my stand out player just has to be Joe Rodon. The young centre half was my Mare of the Match last time out and felt compelled to delete his Twitter account as the criticism got nasty. But he answered his critics (me included) in emphatic fashion here with any number of telling and brave interventions in a solid and commanding performance. Good for you, young man!
Mare of the Match: Only one winner here and it is Oli McBurnie, who totally failed to get on the scoresheet. Ok, he doesn’t actually play for the Swans any more and he was in the stands and not on the pitch, but his was the worst performance of any Jack on the night. Sorry Oli – none of the boys on the pitch deserve to be labelled the Mare of the Match so you have to take one last one for the team. Big shoutout to ya though fella for being there with the away fans. You Jack Bast*rd!!
Golden Moment: There’s a few to choose from again, such as Celina’s opener, Bidwell’s ball over his defender to instigate the move for the third or Woodman’s fingertip save in the first half. However, Jordon Garrick’s arrival on the scene followed by his impudent drop of the shoulder to draw in the foul for the penalty – for a fan base still disappointed to have lost the pace, trickery and joy of supporting an U23 starlet bursting through when Dan James was sold, Garrick’s faster than light appearance on the first team scene is pure gold in itself.
Strikes for Samaritans Update: Just like Saturday it’s a £6 haul with three goals and three points. It’s all match funded by Aaron O’shea of course and that means a further £12 is added to a pot that now boasts an impressive £36 for the Swansea branch of the Samaritans after just four games of the season!