Steve Cooper’s competitive debut as Swansea City manager ended in victory but it needed a cajoling team talk at half time to turn things around, Borja Baston and Mike van der Hoorn sensationally scoring within seconds of each other to overturn Hull’s 3rd minute opener from Kamil Grosicki.
Behind the beaming smiles it hasn’t been easy for Cooper taking over from Graham Potter as the cost cutting at the club has continued, the loss of speed merchant Dan James before he arrived a blow compounded by the departure of top (and seemingly only) goalscorer Oli McBurnie just a couple of days before this opening game of the season.
The one thing Cooper really needed was to get off to a good start, not only to keep the fragile feeling of cautious optimism running through fans alive, but also to dispel doubts about his own ability to manage a senior team at any level, much less the ultra competitive Championship. His career as Swans boss got off to that good start in the end, but only after a calamitous start to his opening game as Kamil Grosicki took advantage of loose defending to fire the visitors in front after just 150 seconds.
It wasn’t the ideal start for another new Swan, goalkeeper Freddie Woodman conceding in less than three minutes of his debut, although in truth there was little that he could do about the goal as he was both unsighted and possibly beaten by a slight deflection too.
Woodman’s inclusion was not the only surprise on the team sheet as Cooper decided to move Bersant Celina out of his preferred No.10 role and over to the left wing in order to accommodate both Jay Fulton and George Byers in midfield. Like Woodman, Jake Bidwell was handed his debut but two other new signings, Ben Wilmot and Kristoffer Peterson, had to settle for places on the bench.
With the resurgent Wayne Routledge not risked after the slight injury that kept him out of the Atalanta friendly the week before, fellow veteran Nathan Dyer lined up on the right wing.
With last season’s top scorer McBurnie now a blade rather than a Swan it was forgotten man Borja handed the burden of getting goals; it’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Spaniard branded a flop after spending two of his three seasons at Swansea City out on loan and scoring just once since his £15m arrival. Whether it’s his attitude towards staying or a lack of interest from suitors it looks as if the efforts to shift him off the wage bill have been put on hold. It’s probably a bit of both factors…he certainly seemed up for the fight when surprisingly brought into the pre season plans a couple of weeks ago and the McBurnie cash means that we can live with his pay packet for the time being.
Hull had their own new manager in the dug out and Grant McCann had plenty to ponder over his starting line up. New signings Tom Eaves, Matt Ingram, Josh Bowler and Ryan Tafazolli all started life as Tigers on the bench whilst a former captain, Markus Henriksen, was left out entirely due to McCann doubting his dedication to the cause after heavy transfer speculation. Two other high profile Hull transfer targets – goal machine Jarrod Bowen and the tricky Kamil Grisicki – have both taken speculation over their futures in their stride and so were trusted to start.
And it was Grosicki that had an immediate impact, putting the visitors ahead with less than three minutes on the clock – although the strike may yet be attributed to Dan Batty who appeared to get a faint touch.
Grosicki had already tested new boy Woodman with a shot from distance after a quick Hull counterattack. Seconds later he got the better of the goalkeeper after another purposeful move left him with acres of space on the left hand side of the box. Grosicki pulled the trigger from the left hand side of the box and an unsighted Woodman could do nothing as the ball curled into the right hand corner of the net, possibly thanks to a deft touch from Batty.
The Liberty crowd was left stunned but encouragingly there were chants of “Swansea Oh Swansea” as the fans tried to help their side shrug off the early blow. And it worked…to an extent!
The home side went on to dominate the first half in terms of possession, but there was little cutting edge, too much sloppiness and nowhere near enough tempo.
Much of the play went through the Swansea right where Nathan Dyer and Connor Roberts had plenty of chances to put in a good delivery but failed to do so every time. On the other side of the field Bersant Celina was a virtual passenger, starved of service by Bidwell and too casual to try and force his way into proceedings. Indeed, Celina’s only real contribution was a booking in the 11th minute for tangling with a Hull runner off the ball as the away side looked for another quick counter attack.
That yellow card seemed to stir the Swans to life a little and straight after it Borja had a shot blocked for a corner by defender de Wijs. From the resulting flag kick Hull keeper was forced to make a stunning double save, first keeping out Borja’s close range header and then denying Jay Fulton’s follow up shot.
The spark didn’t last long and everything became laboured once more for the home side. By the half hour mark the Swans had 74% possession…but had failed to make any use of it due to the ponderous nature of the passing and the sloppiness of any final delivery.
By contrast, Hull were living off scraps but when they did have the chance to attack – usually through Poland international Grosicki – they troubled the home side with the speed at which they surged forward and the numbers that they threw at it. Woodman had to make saves from de Wijs and Jarrod Bowen, albeit routine saves, whilst irvine and Bowen again saw efforts fly harmlessly off target.
The Swans’ struggles in the final third were summed up in the 40th minute as Connor Roberts swung wildly at one from outside the box, hoofing the ball high, wide and not very handsome!
Jarred Bowen, Swans nemesis last season with three goals in two games, had the last word in the half but again Woodman was equal to the weak effort from outside the box and shortly after the Swans trooped off to the dressing room with plenty to ponder over. Hull, in contrast, trotted off happy to be a goal in front and comfortable in their defence of that lead.
Disappointingly there’d been a smattering of boos as the home side left the field at the end of the first half. It was only from a handful of people but there all the same. Mercifully though that sparse smattering of boos instantly turned into universal cheers as the Swans turned the game entirely on its head within minutes of the restart.
People were still digesting the fact that Cooper had resisted the urge to make changes – and Celina moving into his favoured position seemed compulsory – when the Swans drew level, just three minutes into the second period.
And what a goal it was from the fast rehabilitating Borja!
A flowing move led to the ball arriving yet again at Dyer’s feet and his low cross into the box was flicked into the air by a Fulton back heel and Hull defenders could only watch as Borja’s flick header looped over the ‘keeper. At first glance it looked like a fortuitous effort but replays show just what a good finish it was, Borja instinctively adjusting and flicking his header over the keeper heavy-breathing right in front of him!
The cheers had hardly died down when Mike van der Hoorn gave his own take on the headed flick to put the home side in front, just a hundred seconds elapsing between the two goals.
Another flowing move saw Bidwell burst into the box on the left hand side; it looked as if he’d over-run the ball but he managed to get a cross in before it went out for a goal kick, his attempted centre catching everyone off guard when it hit the bar and bounced back in to play. Once again it was Dyer crossing and once again he didn’t make the best job of it, hitting it into the floor. Fortunately though, van der Hoorn was alert enough to stoop and direct the ball all of five yards to beat the despairing Long at his near post.
Confidence surged through the home side; where in the first half they were timid and pedestrian at the start of this second half they were aggressive and lighting fast in thought and deed.
Buoyed by his two assists Dyer nearly made it three in just four minutes as he connected solidly with Bidwell’s cross but the shot was blocked by former Swan Stephen Kingsley.
Clearly with the bit between his teeth Dyer had another couple of cracks but found himself thwarted each time by Long, including one save with his feet outside the area, his decision to come out crucial as Dyer raced onto a ball over the top.
Nobody would have complained had the Swans been three or four clear by the time the clock hit 70 but then the home side seemed to lose focus as Hull pressed far higher up the pitch in a desperate bid to wipe out the deficit.
Knocked out of their stride the Swans became their own worst enemies and sloppy play at the back generated a stream of half chances. Cooper will be hoping that his defenders and ‘keeper get to know each other when they finally get to train together and they collectively sharpen up when it comes to playing out from the back!
By this time new signing Kristoffer Peterson had come on to make his debut, replacing Byers with Celina finally moving back into central midfield. And the Swedish winger made a favourable impression in his twenty or so minutes on the pitch; tall and imposing, he won his fair share of headers whilst defying his shape with plenty of deft footwork to back up his constant desire to take his man on. promising signs indeed.
Fellow new boy Woodman showed his potential too, constantly marshalling his defence as Hull pushed for an equaliser and showing up strongly to punch clear at a couple of nervy set pieces (aren’t they all for the Swans?).
For all the huff and puff though, Hull’s only clear cut chance fell to Irvine but his free header from a Batty corner flashed over the bar.
After a tense four minutes of injury time referee John Brooks blew the whistle which was the cue for the DJ to blast out What a Beautiful Day…and for Steve Cooper to indulge in a fit of fist pumping on the sidelines.
Ladies and gentlemen…football is BACK!
On the win:
I’m obviously delighted to get the three points. Going 1-0 down at home is never an easy scenario, especially in the first game of the season. But I thought the fans were brilliant after that goal
He’s in the team, he’s got number nine on his back so let’s look forward. I think he’s very committed to scoring goals and the team are going to be creating chances for him. He was in the right spot at the right time today which showed his instincts
On more signings:
We will look to get another forward in, we’ll have information over the next 24 or 48 hours.
The ATFV Verdict
A great way to start the season and no doubt a relief for Steve Cooper to get the first win under his belt immediately. More positives come in the shape of overturning a deficit, Borja getting on the scoresheet and a strong cameo from new winger Kristoffer Peterson. However, it was also clear that there’s an awful lot of hard work to be done and further reinforcements are essential. At the very least a striker must be signed and any bids for former captain Mike van der Hoorn discouraged and rebuffed. Oh, and Celina on the wing…please…MAKE IT STOP!!
Man of the Match: No doubt many will go for Nathan Dyer in recognition of his busy performance and two assists but I’m instead going for Matt Grimes who was quality in midfield throughout. The two occasions where he flamboyantly spun himself through the challenges to get out of trouble could have won him the accolade alone, but his all round performance, especially in the second half, was excellent.
Mare of the Match: It can only be Bersant Celina who watched most of the game pass him by from his left wing spot and lazily lost possession when he did get involved. Improved when he moved into the centre but it was another one of those games to forget for the talented but inconsistent Kosovan. Mind you, a sloppy Connor Roberts did his best to steal the award for himself!
Golden Moment: Borja’s goal and Grimes’ pirouette out of trouble are both candidates but it’s Bidwell’s “Sunday League” challenge that walks off with the award…or two footed tackles it into touch! With Hull putting on the pressure and the crowd getting nervy it needed someone to exert a bit of authority around the place – and Bidwell did just that with a flying tackle that took out a Hull attacker…even though his victim was off the pitch at the time! It’s not big, it’s not clever but it was damn necessary.
Strikes for Samaritans Update: Two goals and three points means a fiver banked for Swansea Samaritans and with Aaron O’shea pledging to match fund ATFV’s contribution it means that there’s already £10 in the pot after just one game!