A Wayne Routledge strike in the 90th minute was enough for Swansea City to see off Leeds at Elland Road and seal top spot in the Championship table. Steve Cooper’s side had to dig deep, put bodies on the line and cope with a glut of home possession but the steel in this Swans side is there for all to see, and when it counted Routledge was on hand to grab the all important winner. It left leeds boss Bielsa glowering at his overturned bucket on the touchline whilst Cooper got to show off his now trademark fist pump. The ATFV Leeds v Swans Match Report relives a very satisfying result.
The influence Routledge is having on this young Swans squad grows by the day. Injured for the start of the season Routledge has continued to be a “father” to the youngsters around him as he’s battled back to his own fitness. A goalscoring outing earlier in the week in the Carabao Cup showed he still has a place on the pitch outside of the Premier League.
Another goal here had the the travelling Jack Army dreaming of a return to the Premier League – but there’s plenty of work for Routs and the rest to do before that happens!
It’s hard not to get carried away though; some people have dismissed the Swans’ impressive early season form as “lucky” with an “easy” fixture list but this win means we have travelled to two play off sides from last season and gathered four points. We’ve demolished sides at home and here we dug in and beat the favourites to win the League on their own patch.
This Swansea side has been neither lucky nor on an easy ride and they sit top of the table entirely on merit.
The thing is, it’s going to go one of two ways once the action restarts following the international break…either we will continue to get better, with Cooper having more time to integrate his new players and install his ideas…or we will get significantly weaker following tomorrow’s transfer deadline. All looks good now, but the loss of Borja, Ayew, or van der Hoorn would be a serious blow, losing more than one would hurt us badly.
That’s not to say the wheels would come off entirely. Cooper seems to be wringing every ounce of potential out of the youngsters in his squad and it looks much stronger and deeper than anyone thought possible after losing Dan James and Oli McBurnie before the season kicked off.
I guess we enjoy this moment, start to believe that a promotion push is possible but maintain a touch of realism in that it’s still early days and at some point Cooper has to lose a game! How his side reacts to that first loss will, like yesterday’s victory did, tell us a lot about the players and their manager.
Cooper went into this top of the table clash with the same side that took Birmingham apart at the Liberty last Sunday. That meant a second successive start in midfield for Jan Dhanda and a return for Jake Bidwell at left back, sacrificed for Kyle Naughton at half time in that Blues win for tactical reasons.
Leeds of course boast one of the best players in the division in the diminutive shape of former Swans Pablo Hernandez and Bielsa gave sign of his intention by preferring the more attacking Alioski to Rob Douglas at left back.
And it was the home manager that would be most satisfied in the opening exchanges as Leeds set about their opponents with relish.
Bielsa’s bucket would have gone up in the air in celebration in the first few minutes if Freddie Woodman hadn’t been quick enough to scramble back and prevent a Mike van der Hoorn attempted back pass finding the bottom corner!
Leeds continued to go for the jugular from the outset, dominating possession, peppering Woodman’s goal with inaccurate efforts and pressing very high up the pitch to stop the Swans playing their way out.
Alioski wasted a couple of chances out on the left, whilst Patrick Bamford was even more wasteful with an effort that trickled into Woodman’s grasp and a wayward header from a Stuart Dallas cross.
The signs were there for Leeds in those early exchanges that it was going to be “one of those days” as their opponents stuck doggedly to their task and often forced the Leeds attackers to pull the trigger too early.
That might explain the strong-arm tactics the home side often adopted…frustration you can forgive to an extent, but it’s more likely that Leeds were just living up to their “Dirty” nickname.
Despite what the Leeds fans on Twitter and the Yorkshire media will have you believe it was not all one way traffic either.
One thrust by Bersant Celina saw the Kosovan pick the ball up just outside his own box before embarking on a weaving, lung busting run through the middle, all the way to the opposite box; if Celina had been able to collect the return pass in a one-two with Roberts he’d have been through on goal and contemplating a third strike in three games. Alas Roberts’ return was just about picked off by the Leeds defence and the danger was averted.
The next Swans chance came from a free kick after Jack Harrison flattened Dhanda in desperation. Swans skipper Matt Grimes stepped up to take the direct free kick but the former Leeds loanee could only drive his effort into the side netting.
Back at the other end Adam Forshaw blazed high, wide and not very handsome from outside the box.
It was the visitors that came close to breaking the deadlock as more Leeds indiscretion led to another free kick in an appetising position. This time it was Celina that struck the ball but it was charged down by the wall; the rebound found Grimes and this time his effort was on target, forcing ‘keeper Casillas to turn it around the post.
There was a huge let off for the Swans just before half time though as Leeds skipper Liam Cooper struck the woodwork with a header, his follow up volley from the rebound well over the top.
As Leeds fans will tell you, they “won” the first half with more chances and more possession but that pesky scoreboard remained unaltered and the sides trotted back to the changing rooms locked at nil nil.
Bielsa probably hurled a few tea cups around during the half time break, frustrated at his side’s lack of composure in good areas. In contrast, the away changing room probably saw Cooper’s zen like calm cajoling his players to even more defiance and reminding them just how dangerous they can be, whether it’s playing through opponents or hitting them on the counter.
Nothing would have changed in either manager’s mindset after the second half.
Leeds again came out and dominated possession and continued to rack up entries in the “shots off target” stat category.
Dallas was first to try his luck, again tapping in to the Pablo Hernandez supply line but his effort was shut down by the ever alert Swans rearguard.
Bamford was next to fluff his lines, shooting over in the six yard box before Hernandez hit the target only for Woodman to repel the effort.
Another couple of home chances came and went before both managers decided to roll the dice on the hour mark; Bielsa replaced Bamford with former Swans target Eddie Nketiah while Cooper withdrew Borja and Dhanda for the promising Surridge and the veteran Routledge.
It looked like the Leeds change would bear instant fruit as Nketiah raced on to through ball but yet again the finish didn’t match the quality of the buildup and the ball was lashed over the bar.
The Whites continued to turn the screw, dominating the ball but where other sides might have crumpled the Swans kept standing their ground – or throwing their bodies in the way, as Connor Roberts did to defy Harrison.
Nobody got near Hernandez’s next effort but again the shot was just too high and it rocketed over the bar.
Frustrated at the Swans end but relieved in their own box, Leeds had to rely on the benevolence of referee Darren Bond as the away side claimed vigorously for a penalty as Surridge beat Casillas to Rutledge’s poor attempt at a through ball. The ball was recycled and eventually Jay Fulton floated in a cross that Surridge met under pressure, the effort glancing off the striker’s crown and flying agonisingly wide.
With the clock ticking towards the ninety minute mark the home side pressed again in a desperate attempt to win the game and Nketiah almost did so as he connected with Dallas’s inviting cross; Woodman’s efforts to chase the ball and close the striker down seemed to be enough to put the youngster off though and the effort went into the side netting.
Cooper played his last card with a couple of minutes remaining, George Byers replacing Ayew.
As the contest edged into injury time the Swans made Leeds pay for their profligacy, and Byers was in the thick of it.
Persistent work by Connor Roberts won a corner which Grimes swung in dangerously. As the ball was scrambled away by a frantic Leeds defence it came back out for Grimes to drive in once again and despite a wayward first touch Routledge drove right footed towards the opposite post and Byers’ presence seemed to obscure Casillas’ view enough for the ball to find its way into the net.
Cue pandemonium on the pitch, on the sidelines and in the stands where the magnificent travelling Jack Army revelled in what would surely be the winner.
Bielsa simply got off his bucket and turned away in disgust.
The Argentine maverick has been in the game long enough to know that if you fail to take your chances you’re always at risk of getting beat. It won’t make it any easier for him or the thousands of Leeds faithful as they spend the next two weeks looking up at their opponents sat proudly on the top of the table.
On his first few months as Swans boss:
“I’ve enjoyed it and not just because we’ve picked up a few points,” Cooper said.
“I love the football club and I think it’s a football club I’m proud to be part of, the way that the staff and supporters are when they come to the football club.
“I can see they’re really proud of it and I’m just one of them and completely bought in to what it stands for.
“I’m hoping that the fans are seeing a coaching staff, performance staff and group of players doing their very best for the football club.
“We’re really proud to be part of it.”
The ATFV Verdict
At some point the bubble is going to burst and Steve Cooper is going to lose a game. But it ain’t going to be for at least a fortnight. I’m going to enjoy this period with the Swans sitting proudly on the top of the Championship table and I encourage all other fans to do the same. This was to be the ultimate test of Cooper’s young side and they passed it with flying colours…oh no doubt the opposition fans and media will whinge about this loss and how the home side deserved to win – like this arrogant piece of drivel – but quite simply the Swans defended excellently away from home against the supposed “best team in the division”, created chances of their own and then took one right at the end. It was the type of performance that promoted teams put out when they need to. Cooper has us playing some lovely football but he’s also instilled an iron will in this side, something that’s been missing for far too long. And he hasn’t done it by bringing in a couple of animals, or big beasts, he’s simply filled the skilled footballers he has with a real belief in themselves and each other. A quick word for Trevor Birch too – his handling of the Routledge issue, quickly coming to terms and immediately re-signing him on a lower wage after his release is looking like a real shrewd piece of business…yesterday’s winner from Wayne will have been immensely satisfying for our Chairman, and rightly so. But then, everyone at the club deserves a huge pat on the back for their efforts over the first month of the season – and long may it continue.
Man of the Match: It’s tempting to go for Jay Fulton as he continues to do the ugly and mostly unseen stuff but I have to go for his midfield partner and captain Matt Grimes. With every passing game Grimes looks more and more like Leon Britton’s heir apparent, always having time on the ball, always breaking up opposition moves, always loving and taking care of the ball. grimes didn’t have the best of times at Leeds as a loanee but here he will have shown the Elland Road faithful just what he’s capable of, just as he’s been demonstrating to the Swans fans since Graham Potter brought him into the team at the beginning of last season.
Mare of the Match: Without a doubt Dan James. The lad just didn’t turn up.
Golden Moment: My golden moment revolves around the winning goal but it isn’t anything that happens on the pitch – instead, it’s the reaction of Wyndham Evans on the commentary that is pure gold! Wyndham’s becoming as much of a Legend for his punditry on Swans Live TV as he was as a fine full back during the Toshack years. Don’t believe me? Go listen for yourself and enjoy the sheer over the top joy as Routledge’s winner winds up in the back of the net
Strikes for Samaritans Update: A single goal secured another win and so it’s £4 from me and the same from Aaron. We now have a Virgin Giving page for the donations now and both Aaron and I have paid up for the month of August; with Gift Aid topping things up we have already raised a healthy £70 for the Swansea Samaritans!