Swansea City scored three goals for the FOURTH game in a row as Birmingham’s stubborn first half resistance was brushed away in a devastating second half that saw both Borja and Celina score for the second time in a week after Kyle Laughton’s thunderbolt had opened the scoring. The ATFV Swans v Birmingham Match Report surveys another superb Swansea City win.
It’s getting harder and harder not to get carried away as Swansea City soared back to the summit of the Championship with this thumping win over a Birmingham side that was limited in ambition but heavy on physicality that saw them collect five bookings.
Steve Cooper’s Swans though rose above the rough stuff, playing some superb football, especially in the second half, but also pressurising their opponents mercilessly high up the field.
The national audience watching on Sky TV as they munched their midday Sunday lunch will have been impressed by a Swans side that sprayed the ball around at will in an attempt to break down a stubborn Birmingham side that did little but pack ten men behind the ball.
It was a tactic that might have worked too as the Swans couldn’t quite open them up until unlikely hero Kyle Naughton – on as a half time replacement for Jake Bidwell – thundered a right foot shot past Lee Camp to open the flood gates.
Not long after Bersant Celina doubled the advantage, profiting from Mike van der Hoorn menacing the Birmingham defence high up the pitch and then birthday boy Borja smashed in his second successful penalty in a week to leave the away side singing the Blues…and hacking at anything in white that moved more than a yard!
Cooper sprang a surprise in his team selection with Jan Dhanda replacing George Byers at 10, the only change from the line up that started against QPR in midweek. There was also a place on the bench for rising star Jordon Garrick.
Cooper seems to have quickly settled on the nucleus of a starting line up and it is paying dividends for him; his predecessors, from the moderately successful Potter to the barmy Bob Bradley could never resist making wholesale changes in personnel and formation and thus lacked the consistency and rising confidence that Cooper’s team is displaying.
That collective confidence and familiarity with a game plan probably helped Yan Dhanda settle quickly on only his second League start; the former Liverpool youth player was displaying some nice and neat touches in the heart of the Swans midfield and he tried more than anyone to penetrate the blue barrier Birmingham had erected in front of their goal.
Unfortunately for all the good football in the first period it just wasn’t good enough to shift the Birmingham players around and create the space needed to truly hurt the Swans’ opponents.
Dhanda did set up the in form Borja in the 13th minute but the Spaniard’s radar was off and his right footer missed the target.
Andre Ayew was just as wasteful a little later, directing his header from a Bidwell cross straight into Camp’s grateful arms.
Ayew then had another pop at goal, this time with his left foot, sending the ball high and wide, and then Dhanda tried his luck after being played in by Borja only for the Brum defence to stand firm and block the attempt.
The goal attempts then dried up; the Swans huffed and puffed but the Birmingham wall only got stronger and for all the pretty football the Swans were finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate enough to get a pop at goal.
Things would need to change in the second half…and they did…!
Cooper looked to build on his side’s first half efforts by removing Jake Bidwell and replacing him with Kyle Naughton; on the face of it not a tactical change that would engineer a breakthrough but that’s exactly how it panned out. Cooper seems to have a Midas touch with his substitutions so far!
There didn’t seem to be much of a change to the pattern of the game for the first fifteen of the second period though. The Swans continued to plug away, trying to pass their way through their stubborn opponents but not quite succeeding.
The first big chance of the half came Borja’s way as he connected beautifully with Matt Grimes’ free kick; the Spaniard’s thundering header was met by a big hand from Camp and the goalkeeper was relieved to see the ball tipped over the bar in spectacular fashion.
That really seemed to add a few decibels to the Jack Army on the sidelines and add that little bit more tempo into each Swans attack. Birmingham responded by packing their midfield even more – taking off Spanish striker Alvaro and bringing veteran midfielder Gar Gardner in his place.
The tactic didn’t work and, given the home side’s dominance, it was no surprise when the first goal went in. What was a surprise was the scorer and the quality of his strike!
It all started with yet another flowing football move releasing Roberts on the right. The full back’s delicate cross was meant for Borja on the penalty spot but the Spaniard went down under challenge and, convinced that he’d been shoved in the back the striker appealed vigorously for the penalty. This seemed to distract both sets of players in the box and so nobody really noticed Kyle Naughton collecting the ball, shielding it and heading outside of the box and then swivelling around to release a thundering shot back into the near post corner.
Make no mistake, the defender on Naughton was switched on and so the Swans player had it all to do but those in the box really should remember to play to the whistle!
With Birmingham’s packed defence finally pierced there was a palpable feeling of relief and the Swans seemed to gain yet another yard in pace and thought on their opponents. And that was firmly illustrated as the Swans doubled the lead just a few minutes after Naughton’s opener.
A Swans move had broken down but Mike van der Hoorn stamped out any thought of a Birmingham counter attack, robbing the ball high up the pitch before releasing Celina with a perfect pass. The Kosovan burst on to the ball, driving into the box with one touch in front of himself before smashing it past Camp at his near post. The goalkeeper can console himself as he was beaten by the sheer pace on the ball – no ‘keeper would have stopped it!
It was one way traffic with the Sky cameramen probably sat in the Riverside Bar sipping an over-expensive pint, safe in the knowledge that their cameras were left pointing in the right direction to pick up all of the action.
The Birmingham players clearly wanted to be in the bar with the cameramen rather than be left chasing shadows on the pitch under the burning sun. Unable to just walk off and call a pint they decided to take out their frustration on their opponents.
There were some nasty challenges, some petty ones and eventually one that would prove costly as it gave Borja the opportunity to triple the lead from the penalty spot.
It started like so many Swans attacks with Ayew collecting the ball and making the hard yards before laying off to the ever advanced Roberts on the right. The raiding full back looked up and pulled his cross back; the ball was just too far ahead of Ayew but it was perfect for Dhanda as he raced into the box and got his foot to the ball just before the defender who consequently caught his man and sent Dhanda tumbling.
Referee Woolmer had no hesitation and pointed instantly to the spot. Borja needed no second invitation and he convincingly sent Camp the wrong way to register his fifth goal of the season and his side’s third on what was turning out to be a comfortable day indeed.
It was comfortable enough for Cooper to bring on Jordon Garrick for the last five minutes, giving the youngster the chance to stretch his legs and get some more crucial game time and experience.
Cooper also withdrew the tiring Dhanda, no doubt extremely pleased with the youngster’s contribution throughout the afternoon.
That could be said of all Cooper’s players though. For opposition manager, and former Swans coach Pep Clotet, the opposite was true and the Blues caretaker manager couldn’t wait for the final whistle to put him and his charges out of their misery.
Misery is a mysterious concept for Cooper and this Swansea City side so far, and this fourth win in five sets up the side for a top of the table clash with Leeds next week…that one will be much more of a challenge than this easy win, but who would back against Swansea City coming out on top right now?
His verdict on the game:
I think that’s our best performance over 90 minutes
On keeping a clean sheet:
You can look at the game and see we made a load of passes, scored three goals and dominated possession. But I was equally happy with how we defended as it was a big part of the game plan
On breaking the deadlock:
I know we came in 0-0 at half-time, but I was happy with how we are playing. I just felt we needed to be more prepared to take risks at the top of the pitch and fortunately the players did that
The ATFV Verdict
For a side that sold it’s top scorer on the eve of the season there’s little problem scoring goals! A fourth game in a row scoring three goals is a great achievement in itself but the quality of some of those strikes makes it all the better. It was the same here against what I thought was a really disappointing Birmingham side; I thought they would have had a little more ambition and cause us a whole lot more problems. Naughton’s goal was a decent individual strike but the second goal was real quality, from van der Hoorn’s strong arm and then perfect pass to Celina’s emphatic control and finish. And although the third was a penalty it was sheer football porn that led to it, a flowing move started by the goalkeeper and finished with Dhanda’s perfectly timed burst into the box. Irrespective of the positive results this Swans side is worth watching – a young, talented side with a smattering of experience, playing good football and playing for the fans in the stand. There will be tougher tests than this one in the coming months but as long at the side continue to approach things in the way they’ve approached the opening month of the season then I’ll be happy. And I’ll bet that the results will keep coming too.
Man of the Match: Another tough call with Matt Grimes keeping everything ticking over for 90 minutes and Mike van der Hoorn dominating his opponents whilst having more touches than anyone else on the pitch. However, I’m giving the award to Jan Dhanda – he might not have been the best player on the pitch but his performance is a stand out one, full of endeavour and subtle touches. A great contribution for someone making only his second ever Football League start. You’re the Man, Jan!
Mare of the Match: No Swans player deserves the Dusty Bin whereas the whole Birmingham side do – lacking ambition, lacking skill but expert at picking up deserved yellow cards. The opposition was simply awful and deserved to be spanked three nil.
Golden Moment: It can only be Kyle Naughton hammering his side in front. It was the breakthrough we needed, it was a really well taken strike and it was made all the more golden by the unlikely fact it was Naughton providing it!
Strikes for Samaritans Update: It’s a stuck record as for the third time I report a £6 haul with three goals and three points. It’s all match funded by Aaron O’shea of course and that means a further £12 is added to a pot that now boasts an impressive £48 for the Swansea branch of the Samaritans after five games!