The Graham Potter era couldn’t have got off to a more perfect start as Jan Dhanda came off the bench to deliver a superb late winner with his first touch in league football. Dhanda’s strike sealed a courageous comeback that started with Oli McBurnie’s well taken equaliser nine minutes after the Blades took the lead on the hour mark.
The two goals were inspiring, the three points most welcome, but it was the spirit and resilience on show that was most pleasing with a young and hungry group of players showing a determination that has been missing from a Swansea City side for far too long.
Potter didn’t spring any real surprises with his starting XI, except maybe the presence of Fede Fernandez who lined up alongside newly appointed captain Mike van der Hoorn in the backline. Fernandez is still heavily linked with a move away from the Liberty before the transfer window closes next week and so it perhaps represented a risk to play him in the Championship opener…but the resulting defensive performance tends to justify that risk and the player came through unscathed.
However, the solid performance of Fernandez and VDH does pose a dilemma for the club who must balance keeping a player that maybe doesn’t want to stay with holding on to an asset who would undoubtedly bring some much needed experience to the young side around him.
Further up the field Potter handed full debuts to three of his new summer signings, Besant Celina, Joel Asoro and Barrie McKay – none of them let their manager or new teammates down but it was McKay in particular that impressed with some delicious flashes of skill that brought an edge of creativity that has been conspicuous by its absence for too long.
Blades’ Sharp Start
“Potter’s Proteges” had to weather a tough start though as the Blades looked sharp from the first whistle, their wing-backs pushing high up the field and penning the Swans in for the first six or seven minutes of the game.
Fernandez and van der Hoorn dealt with anything coming their way though and despite the early pressure it was all harmless stuff.
The Swans for their part looked to hit their hosts on the break and slowly but surely they played their way into the contest with some neat passing football, the impudence of McKay on the left and the direct running of the pacy Asoro on the right. And it was Asoro’s single minded aggressive running that led to a Martin Olsson free kick that turned out to be the only effort on target in a scrappy first half, but the Swede’s left footed effort was easy fare for the Blade’s on loan debutant ‘keeper Dean Henderson.
Lee Evans had a couple of efforts for the home side but the first curled wide of Nordfeldt’s post and the second was blocked by a determined Swans defence.
Dive Dive Dive
Unable to decisively threaten that well drilled Swans backline Chris Basham tried resorting to the darker arts of the game to try and engineer an opening, his clear dive in the box under pressure from Fernandez was so blatant that referee Jeremy Simpson and his assistant were having none of it. For some reason though such an obvious attempt to cheat was not punished with a fully deserved yellow card.
With a bitty first half drawing to a close the Swans finished it on the attack as Asoro brought down Olsson’s looping cross only to first see Henderson make a smart save and then the flag go up for the take down with the top of his arm.
That little piece of action summed the first half up entirely: plenty of promise undone by an understandable lack of match sharpness.
Blades boss Chris Wilder no doubt demanded more from his side for the second period and his troops appeared ready to answer the call, once again starting the half on the front foot. But just like the beginning of the game the Swans stood up to what was thrown at them.
There seemed to be a growing confidence in the away team’s ranks too, the passing game Potter demands starting to look slicker and faster.
One such fast and flowing move should have had a better end product than Asoro’s blocked effort; another McKay thrust saw him drive into the box and cut the ball back for Asoro but the young forward’s first touch allowed the United defence to crowd him out and the ball was blocked to safety.
Pressure Finally Tells
The Blades finally brought the home crowd to life with a period of pressure that saw them spurn two golden chances before finally breaking the deadlock with their first shot on target.
David McGoldrick failed to capitalise on loose Swansea play, his effort from outside the box flying past Nordfeldt’s post. And just sixty seconds later Swansea coughed up easy possession once again and were mighty grateful to see John Lundstram make an unholy mess of the chance from McGoldrick’s pass.
The reprieve was only a temporary one though as the home side snatched the lead with a smart finish from Baldock on 62 minutes. A concerted period of pressure finally saw the ball worked out to Enda Stevens who picked out Baldock lurking on the edge of the box for a neat finish into the left corner, past the despairing hand of Nordfeldt.
Potter responded immediately to the setback, bringing on Jefferson Montero for Asoro…and the enigmatic Ecuadorian turned the game on its head with the type of impact that still has Callum Chambers waking up in a cold sweat.
Perhaps it was the belief that Montero could provide the sort of lightning quick bursts and accurate service that gave Potter’s young side the belief that there was still plenty in the game for them rather than sinking into the same state of acceptance that blighted more senior servants over the last couple of years. Whatever it was, it was stirring to see a Swans side stand up to be counted.
Barely five minutes after conceding it took a tremendous save by Henderson to keep out a smart headed effort by Fulton, the midfielder flicking on cleverly from McKay’s cross.
Back on Terms…and Then in Front
Then just a few minutes later the Swans deservedly hauled themselves level. Whilst the finish itself was routine the build up was superb! A flowing move from back to front saw McBurnie and McKay trade a one two in the box and when Henderson saved smartly to prevent the ball going in from a defender’s lunge McBurnie was on hand to slam home into the empty net.
Cue wild celebrations as the jubilant Scottish striker led a gaggle of his teammates to celebrate with the Swans fans immediately behind the goal.
And it would soon get even better for those fans as they watched the confidence flow through the veins of their new look side.
McKay epitomised that with a simply stunning strike, pulling down a cross from the rampant Montero before thundering his shot against the Blades bar.
By this point the home side had brought on “the next big Welsh thing” Ben Woodburn whilst the Swans had made a more practical change, replacing the heroically exhausted Martin Olsson with Matt Grimes.
But it was the final substitution of the afternoon that proved pivotal as Potter chose to bring on the attacking talent of Dhanda rather than shoring things up and settling for a point with the more defensive option of Amat.
And that purely positive change brought instant rewards as Dhanda drove a dagger through Blades’ hearts with his first touch, just 29 seconds after entering the fray!
Instant Cult Hero
Another flowing Swans move saw Montero scamper free and deliver another dangerous cross which was pulled down by the ever eager McKay. As the young Scot cut back inside to apply a finish he found his feet taken away from him, but before the ref could whistle for any penalty Dhanda latched onto the loose ball and slammed it home through the mass of bodies in front of him
Cue more ecstatic celebrations as the young forward picked up for free from Liverpool’s vaunted youth team was engulfed by his jubilant new teammates!
Dhanda’s strike came in the 85th minute and whilst the Swans deserved to be ahead there was still something like nine minutes to negotiate before the celebrations could really begin…and if not for Nordfeldt those goal celebrations would have become pretty hollow.
With less than a minute left of the 90 a last ditch cross was slung into the box and as Connor Roberts tried to get something on it the ball flew off his leg and arrowed towards the bottom corner. Fortunately, despite being taken by surprise, Nordfeldt’s reactions were top notch and he managed to palm the ball away brilliantly.
There were no more real scares as the Swans saw out the final four minutes of injury time and then the celebrations could really start, Swans players and fans alike revelling in a much needed away win that was both hard fought and thoroughly deserved.
Let’s hope it is the first of many!
ATFV Man of the Match: There were some stand out performances, van der Hoorn and Fernandez at the back, Celina pulling the strings at 10 throughout the second half, Olsson’s commitment without any sort of training and of course Montero’s crucial cameo. But the award has to go to Barrie McKay for his threat, skill and indeed work rate over the 90 minutes.
ATFV Moment of the Match: This one goes to McKay as well! With his side under some first half pressure the young winger received the ball right on the touchline deep in his own half; trapping the ball right on the line he then flicked it around Baldock, leaving the bamboozled Blade in his wake as he powered into the opponents’ half.
ATFV Match Thoughts: Just as a defeat would not have meant relegation was a certainty this win doesn’t signal that Potter has it cracked already and the promotion charge is already under way. What it does show is that “Potter’s Proteges” might not have the physical stature or the experience of other Championship sides but they have the skill, the speed and the desire to go toe to toe with anyone in this division. If the Board can back Potter in his pursuit of a dominating physical presence in the middle of the park then tis side could surprise many this season – including many Swans fans.
ATFV Final Word: Thanks boys – you were a joy to watch today!