Another difficult week for Swansea City finished on a note of triumph and positivity as Potter’s Proteges made it two Championship wins out of two with a gutsy victory over Preston North End.
Despite constant pressure from Preston in a tough second half the Swans could afford the luxury of a missed McBurnie penalty as debutant goalkeeper Erwin Mulder protected a first half lead provided by Jay Fulton’s decisive header.
All the talk going into this fixture was of the players sold on the cheap or plain given away on Deadline Day without any adequate replacements coming in, leaving the club with just one senior centre half (Mike van der Hoorn) and one frontline forward (Oli McBurnie). But whilst there may not be many players left at the club now (!) to a man they all stepped up to the plate and two in particular, local boy Joe Rodon and Dutch stopper Erwin Mulder, made the sort of debuts that dreams are made of.
Young centre half Rodon came into the side alongside van der Hoorn in the only change from the starting line up against Sheffield United whilst Mulder was forced into the fray when Number 1 Kris Nordfeldt suffered a groin injury in the 20th minute.
Leroy Fer was a surprise inclusion on the bench, and his introduction in the latter stages of the game was a welcome bonus for Potter who finds his midfield options sorely limited after the failure to land Brentford’s Ryan Woods.
The damp and drizzly weather seemed to match the mood of the crowd with many in a dark mood over the continuing running down of our proud club. However, the desire of every single Jack Army member inside the ground to get behind Potter and his young side killed off any form of protest, and from the moment Potter was introduced to the Liberty masses for the first time the crowd did its best to “support the team and not the regime”.
Positive Start but Penalty Woe
To be fair the players did their bit too, a positive passing start making it easy to get behind them.
Preston played their part too, refusing to sit back and pressing forward whenever possible and looking to test out Rodon at every opportunity. The youngster though showed great composure and physicality though, and with the cajoling of his captain van der Hoorn immediately alongside him Rodon repelled anything that came his way.
Two other youngsters that have impressed so far are Bersant Celina and Barrie McKay and the two combined effectively again in the tenth minute to rip a hole right through Preston’s rear guard. Celina had spent much of the opening ten minutes sitting just in front of his back four with Tom Carroll the more advanced but on this occasion Celina strode forward and clipped a looping ball over the Preston defence. The nippy and alert McKay made it to the ball first but his burst into the box was abruptly halted by Alan Browne’s tackle from behind and it was an easy decision for referee Linington to point to the spot.
A confident looking McBurnie placed the ball on the spot but his resulting effort was tame allowing Declan Rudd in the Preston goal the opportunity to palm the ball away for a corner, which ultimately came to nothing.
A Further Blow
Worse was to follow for the home side a few minutes later as Nordfeldt pulled up after taking a routine cross at his near post. After collecting the harmless cross a grimace of pain crossed the Swedish stopper’s face and he immediately kicked the ball out of play and sought attention from the Swans physio.
It was pretty apparent that Nordfeldt was unable to continue and as substitute keeper Erwin Mulder prepared himself to enter the fray it was an unfortunate but timely reminder to the Board that the Championship is a long hard season and injuries and suspensions will bite hard into any squad, let alone a Swans one that is thinner than a supermodel on a crash diet!
As if to emphasise that point the first strains of “we want Jenkins out” and “you greedy bastards” started to ring out around the East Stand – but the chants didn’t last long and were not repeated at any time during the rest of the afternoon.
The combination of the missed penalty and the significant change in defence seemed to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the Swans players and Preston seized upon this to take control of the ball for a spell of pressure.
Although the away side was imposing itself and pressing forward though the Swans defence held firm, van der Hoorn and Rodon repelling anything that came their way and that left Mulder untroubled as the new occupant of the Swansea goal.
Ful of Joy
One of the features of Potter’s side is an ability to release pressure on the defence through quick breaks and this was displayed to its maximum potential with a lightning fast counter thrust leading to McKay being felled once again. There was double punishment for offender Darnell Fisher as first he was shown a yellow card and then he watched the Swans grab the lead from the resulting passage of play.
The initial free kick was cleared out but the ball was recycled and fed out to Joel Asoro on the right hand side. The former Sunderland signing strode forward and then delivered a floating, teasing ball into the box. Stealing in between defenders was industrious midfielder Jay Fulton and his header found its way through the crowd and past Rudd to give the Swans a precious lead.
The goal was just reward for Swansea in general and Fulton in particular for his lung busting efforts from the first whistle.
A couple of minutes later and Asoro could have doubled the lead, bursting through and leaving a defender on his backside before unleashing a shot that was kicked away for a corner by Rudd.
Preston tried to respond but everything was played in front of Swansea’s defence and Mulder was mostly untroubled. And again, this just invited the speedy counterattack with Martin Olsson only to happy to oblige; a thirty yard burst from the back ended with a teasing ball played in but desperate defending prevented McKay from profiting.
A competitive half filled with good football saw the Swans going in with a slender lead at the interval but there was a feeling that it could have been so much more…and a failure to take chances might come back to haunt us…
Preston came out with renewed purpose and it was a tough opening ten minutes for the home side.
Decent defending saw Alan Browne’s effort blocked and then Mulder was called into action for the first time to deny Swans loan target Lukas Nmecha, although the save in the centre of the goal from the Preston debutant was a soft one in truth.
Browne then set up two of his colleagues in quick succession but Barkhuizen’s shot was wide and Mulder saved Josh Harrop’s effort moments later.
The pressure was really being applied and the Swans were struggling to put anything together to stem the flow of one way traffic.
Potter responded to this by withdrawing Asoro and replacing him with the more defensive talents of Matt Grimes.
The shots continued to rain in though as first Harrop and then Callum Robinson tried their luck, the latter coming from van der Hoorn’s first mistake of the match but the big defender was relieved to see Mulder making another decent save.
With Potter urging his men higher up the pitch the Swans finally got some traction going forward and the ever busy Fulton tried his luck from thirty yards but it was easy meat for Rudd. Moments later Celina burst on to an astute pass from Carroll, left a couple of defenders trailing and then drilled a right footed shot that Rudd was happy to dive on.
Callum Robinson then missed the target twice either side of a Graham Burke effort that was saved by Mulder, who was clearly relishing his first taste of first team action more than a year after joining the Swans last Summer.
The young Swans side was having to dig deep to keep a determined Preston effort at bay and several players were showing signs of extreme fatigue having run themselves into the ground. And so it came as a welcome surprise when Potter introduced Leroy Fer into the fray with fifteen minutes to go, and the relief of the crowd that another experienced player was being introduced was reflected in the enthusiastic welcome the player received as he sprinted on.
Oh NO Olsson!
Any joy Fer felt at such a warm welcome probably turned to instant horror though as he watched helplessly as Martin Olsson played a blind back pass that was picked off by Gallagher. Before the striker could profit from it though an alert Mulder had raced off his line and managed to hack the ball clear, sparing his defender’s blushes in the process!
Oh how the Swans could do with a second goal to relieve the pressure and with 80 minutes on the clock the perfect opportunity fell to McBurnie to grab it but the tired Scot blew his big chance. It was a shame as his determined run had seen him break clear of the defence and bear down on Rudd between the sticks but his attempted lofted finish sailed over the crossbar without ever threatening the goal.
It was the last decent chance of the game though, much to the home side’s relief, the last thirteen or so minutes being played predominantly in the home side’s final third but dogged and determined defending leaving Preston perpetually frustrated.
As the final whistle sounded the crowd erupted in relieved cheers as the eleven heroes in white on the pitch finally stopped running and took the time to draw a tired breath or two.
The home side had held on for a second big win of the campaign but nobody – least of all the Board – should ignore the need for experienced reinforcements on the back of a victory that contained enough warning signs that the next nine months of Championship football are only going to get tougher.
ATFV Man of the Match: On any other day I’d be handing out the accolade to the excellent Erwin Mulder or the immense Mike van der Hoorn but on this day it would be a travesty to give to anyone other than Joe Rodon. The young defender made a composed and battling debut despite being under all sorts of pressure on the pitch from his opponents and off it from a fan base worried about replacing Fede Fernandez. Nobody could have asked more of young Joe though and his MoTM award is well deserved.
ATFV Moment of the Match: It could all have gone horribly wrong for the Swans as Martin Olsson lost concentration and played a loose back pass right into the path of Preston’s centre forward. Fortunately though his debutant goalkeeper was on his toes and as Mulder hacked clear you sensed a turning point had been reached. If Preston couldn’t accept such a gift then in all likelihood they wouldn’t breech the Swans goal all afternoon – and that’s the way it proved to be!
ATFV Match Thoughts: Oh how grateful must Huw Jenkins and his American puppet masters be for Graham Potter and a painfully young side giving everything they’ve got and thus taking the sting out of the crowd’s anger towards them. So many of the Jack Army are torn between venting their fury at a Board overseeing one shambles after another and supporting a group of players that have already proved that they are willing to go through the pain barrier for the badge on their shirts. Demonstrate during the game or not? I don’t know what the answer is…for as much as I positively hate the current regime there is no way I feel like offering anything but unconditional support to Potter and his players during game time. This was a performance that shows we have a squad that is finally prepared to roll up its sleeves and fight for the cause. But this performance also shows how desperately we need to bring in at least three players in this loan window.
ATFV Final Word: Despite Rodon’s excellent debut, anyone disputing the desperate need for a new centre half should remember one thing: we are one bad tackle on van der Hoorn away from Kyle Naughton playing centre half!