Steve Cooper’s Swansea City side maintained their unbeaten start to the season but once again had to come from behind, Borja Baston’s smart double turning the tables on Preston to secure victory. The ATFV Swans v Preston match report picks the bones out of a five goal thriller at the Liberty…
Swansea City’s financial dilemma was laid bare for all to see yesterday as the two men they desperately need to offload due to huge wage packets put in performances Preston just couldn’t handle, turning defeat into another win and preserving Steve Cooper’s unbeaten record.
Borja Baston plundered another two goals but also prowled the front line with tough tackling menace whilst Andre Ayew, a 22nd minute sub for the injured Nathan Dyer, dispelled any doubts about his commitment to the cause with a performance full of running, backtracking and sheer attacking quality.
Steve Cooper’s unbeaten run as Swans Head Coach was at serious risk of juddering to a halt after an awful first half that could have seen the visitors four or five up by the break. But a moment of pure quality in first half injury time from Borja saw the sides going into the changing rooms all square and a frenzied six minute spell in the second saw the Spaniard score the winner after George Byers’ sumptuous effort was cancelled out by a Johnson penalty.
And there lies the dilemma for Trevor Birch; with the money from the sale of McBurnie can he now repel interest in Borja and Ayew in the hope that the quality they bring can spearhead a promotion push? Does he look to make them available for four months in the hope that they impress enough to attract transfer fees in the January window, further reducing the financial burden on the club?
Of course the players themselves will play a part in their own futures, especially if there is now interest where there hasn’t been up to this point in the window, but with Borja declaring he’s staying and Ayew running his nuts off for the cause it’s beyond the realms of possibility that they are both happy to stick around and be part of something special.
There’s no doubt that Cooper would give anything to have two players of Borja and Ayew’s quality available to him. With just young loanee Sam Surridge as an alternative up front Borja’s presence is looking more and more crucial. And in terms of ability, Andre Ayew is head and shoulders above almost anything else in this league.
Of course the fans would love both to stay too – Borja in particular is rapidly attaining cult status – but everyone must remember that it’s not just the astronomical wages the pair are on; appearance fees and goal bonuses could take a heavy toll on the purse strings too.
I don’t envy Birch in having to make the decisions should suitors come calling before the transfer window shuts in a couple of weeks. All I will say is that Ayew’s performances yesterday and against Northampton in midweek have been enough to convince me if he’s here he should be involved. His attitude, application and output have all been top class – credit where it is bloody well due!
Those two aside, Cooper must be genuinely delighted at the fight his side shows when behind but genuinely perplexed why his players perform so poorly to end up behind in the first place!
It started poorly yesterday and got worse as the first half wore on. The passing was poor, the tackling soft and the decision making questionable.
There were no surprises in Cooper’s starting XI with the same side that started against Derby the week before taking to the pitch…it meant that Ayew had to settle for a place on the bench despite his two goal heroics in midweek, although he wouldn’t have to wait long for his chance, coming on midway through the first half to replace Dyer who appeared to pull up with a hamstring injury.
By that time Preston were already a goal in front having made the most of a loose clearance by Mike van der Hoorn. With plenty of time to clear his lines properly the Dutch centre half played his clearance straight to makeshift Preston right back Joe Rafferty; the defender took the ball down on this chest before taking a couple of strides forward and taking a punt from 25 yards. The ball surprisingly beat Woodman at his near post but other angles than the single one available on Swans TV apparently show a big deflection. It looked soft though, as soft as the defending that came before it.
Buoyed by their goal continued to aggressively press the home side high up the pitch and two lengthy injury delays did nothing to throw them out of their dominant stride.
First the home side were forced into a change as Dyer went down and then a couple of minutes later Preston lost Louis Moult, the striker stretchered off after falling awkwardly in the box.The resulting stoppage time for those two incidents would prove pivotal.
Preston had plenty of opportunities to stretch their lead as the home side continued to struggle going forward whilst showing vulnerability at the back. Gallagher and Bodin both had shots blocked, Daniel Johnson fluffed his lines with a shot from the edge of the box and Sean Maguire placed a header over the bar from Gallagher’s pinpoint cross.
The away side were punished for their profligacy deep into that first half stoppage time, and what a cute goal it was from Borja!
Neat football saw Fulton pick out Connor Roberts in acres of space out on the right and his cross picked out Borja, the Spaniard having cleverly found space just to the right of the penalty spot. Roberts’ low cross was a little behind Borja but the rejuvenated striker calmly connected and place his shot through the sea of bodies in the box and into the bottom right hand corner.
As Swans fan Paul Thomas tweeted our “get out of jail card” had been played and the first half ended all square on the scoreboard if not on general play. But general play doesn’t win points and there wasn’t a Swans fan in the ground that wouldn’t take the equaliser, me included!!
Just as in the opening game against Hull, Cooper worked a minor miracle during the half time team talk, calmly coaxing a much better performance out of his players but also making a practical change by hooking the ineffective Aldo Kalulu and replacing him with George Byers. This meant a return to wing duties for Bersant Celina. The Kosovan had a poor first period in the middle but improved significantly in the second, seeing a lot more of the ball and linking up effectively with his full back Bidwell.
Within minutes of the restart Celina could have scored, a magnificent ball over the top finding his burst into the box but the finish hit the outside of the side netting rather than the inside of the goal.
Another fine move saw Ayew released in the box but keeper Declan Rudd stood strong and beat the Ghanaian’s effort away.
Preston were suddenly on the ropes but broke out briefly though Maguire, whose run down the left and drive into the box ended with a shot that hit the outside of the post.
The introduction of Byers had made a big difference to proceedings, the cultured midfielder bringing a bit of order to the passing game and getting forward whenever possible. And he did just that when he kicked off a frantic six minutes of scoring that defined the game and turned it in the home side’s favour.
The clock had just hit 53 when Byers picked up the bits from a blocked Borja attempt, pouncing on the loose ball and stroking it emphatically past Rudd.
The euphoria in the Liberty stands didn’t last long though as referee Dean Whitestone – already an unpopular figure given his running of the game – pointed to the penalty spot after Connor Roberts pushed over Maguire in the box. Freddie Woodman almost repeated his penalty stop heroics of the week before against Derby, but Johnson spot kick just crept past the keeper’s right hand.
The see sawed Swansea way once more than as Borja bulleted in the winner with a powerful header that had Rudd beaten all ends up. And it wasn’t just the finish that was quality, the build up was too.
Another purposeful carry by Ayew saw him pick out Celina on the left. The Kosovan drove into the box, drawing his man as Bidwell raced on the overlap outside him. Celina timed the pass perfectly, Tidwell’s pull back was perfection and Borja thumped the header past Rudd who had absolutely no chance.
Confidence was now flooding through the home side and Preston had little answer every time Ayew got on the ball and started conducting proceedings, and van der Hoorn should have extended the lead only to head wastefully wide from a Celina cross.
A fourth goal just wouldn’t come though and the home side could have paid for it in stoppage time, just like the visitors had done in the first half.
It was Maguire again that caused the problems, firstly having a dangerous shot blocked for a corner and then connecting with Gallagher’s resulting flag kick only to see Woodman collect safely and securely before Whitestone whistled to end the game.
Just like the Hull game, it was a tale of two halves for Swansea with a happy ending mostly masking the deficiencies on show. Cooper will be delighted with the win but he’ll be keen to get his players putting in a 90 minute performance before he finds those powers of recovery have their limits.
On the result:
It was a good win, and we have to be happy with the three points, but we made tough work of it, there is no doubt about that.
On turning things around:
We did not rant and rave at half-time – those days are gone – we talked about how we could improve and we did.
On his top scorer:
Borja has got a knack of getting in the right spot to score goals. We saw parts of Borja at his best today, and that is being in the box scoring goals. Let’s hope it continues.
Man of the Match: It can only be Borja Baston, but not just for his two goals. In that first half, when everything around him was going wrong, Borja kept plugging away and doing everything he could to stem the flow of Preston attacks. Several times throughout the game he was forced to make sliding interventions, whether to slow down the opposition or to win and maintain possession after loose home passing. With three goals already to his name and confidence growing week by week, the Spaniard is starting to look a potent force in this division. But…can we keep him? Will we TRY to keep him?
Mare of the Match: You can certainly take your pick, especially on first half performances. Dyer was making a strong bid for the award before injury scuppered his chances, Kalulu had a full half to stake a claim before being hooked and Connor Roberts made a bid for it with a really stupid challenge to concede a penalty. But the award has to go to Joe Rodon for an error ridden game made all the worse by his body language. The youngster needs to learn to keep his head up and his chin out when things are going against him instead of slouching down and dropping his noggin – he looks there for the taking when he does that!
Golden Moment: You could pick out the goals we scored but perhaps the real turning point was Ayew’s return to a Swansea City side in a league contest. His return to the club from West Ham has been a costly unmitigated disaster but that was all put behind him yesterday as the crowd responded favourably and returned the gesture with a performance packed with quality.
Strikes for Samaritans Update: Three goals and three points made it an expensive one for Aaron and me, £6 each from the game doubling the current total and taking it to £24 for the season.