Match Report: Frustration as Tamed Tigers Hold Out

The Swans went hunting for big game and Championship points, but although they tamed some Tigers they could only bag a single point on the count of frustratingly firing blanks...

Overview

It was one of those days for the Swans, summed up by a Grimes free kick tipped onto a post and a stick on penalty waved off by unpopular referee Keith Stroud.

However frustrating the draw was though, the home side were indebted to recalled ‘keeper Ben Hamer who preserved the point with his only required save, which came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. Hamer’s flying stop had a bit of the “one for the cameras” about it, but the effort needed saving to stop a painful smash and grab at the DotCom. 

Hamer was the surprise name on the team sheet, manager Martin deciding it was time to take Steve Benda out of the firing line after a few high profile mistakes. 

Less surprising was Martin’s decision to throw new signings Rhys Williams and Olivier Ntcham straight into the action and both showed up extremely well, Williams looking extremely composed at the back and Ntcham looking impishly impudent at the opposite end.

Meanwhile the opposition were boosted by the inclusion of  Jake Magennis up front, the striker overcoming a niggling hip injury, Mallik WIlks, making a return from injury and the hulking but cultured form of Tom Huddlestone.

 The former Tottenham man was given a career lifeline by Tigers boss Grant McCann last month after spending a whole year without a club and it looks a shrewd move with the imposing midfielder marshalling his troops and using the ball well  from just in front of his back four.

With both managers talking up the benefit of having a whole fortnight to work with their respective squads, both will be happy with the performances – although McCann will be the happier with the shared spoils given his Tigers conceded the lion’s share of both territory and possession.

Martin meanwhile will be satisfied that his side kept the ball expertly, showed much improved fitness levels and created enough chances to win the game, but he’ll be disappointed that his troops didn’t decisively take one of those chances to secure the victory and a much needed three points.

The goalless draw leaves both sides locked together on the same five points, hovering above the relegation zone with the Swans in 21st and Hull one place better off thanks to a single goal difference.

The Teams

 

 

Swansea City 

Hamer

Bennett

Naughton

Williams

Laird

Downes

Grimes

Bidwell

Ntcham

Piroe

Paterson

 

 

 

 

Hull City 

Ingram

Coyle

Bernard

Greaves

Elder

Huddlestone

Docherty

Lewis-Potter

Moncur

Wilks

Magennis


 

The Action

With the Swansea.Com Stadium back up to full capacity after more of the Covid restrictions were lifted, a 16,000 strong crowd got into the mood by cheering Welsh Paralympians Paul Karabardark, David Smith and Harri Jenkins  before kick off.

The home side seemed to respond to the positive vibes on the sidelines as they made a bright start, although Hull did register the first corner of the game within the opening five minutes.

It didn’t take long though for the Swans to take the ball off their opposition- and keep it off them for prolonged spells. 

There was plenty of neat and tidy stuff, but there was also an injection of directness and urgency supplied by Ethan Laird wide on the right and new boy Olivier Ntcham driving through the middle.

Ntcham in particular was catching the eye – a purposeful run here, a drop of the shoulder there, and the Frenchman looks to have a bag of tricks at his disposal to go with his boxer’s build! He showed he’s not afraid to shoot either, letting fly early on but disappointed to see his effort blocked.

By the quarter hour mark the Swans were not only dominating the ball they were building a real head of steam and Hull found themselves under increasing pressure inside their final third.

A double block was needed to deny Bidwell first and then Ntcham from the rebound while Ethan Laird towered over his marker only to head wide of the target.

The Swans were getting closer and Ingram was finally called into action in the Hull goal, the keeper forced to save a Piroe effort from outside the box.

Ingram again denied the home side, touching Matt Grimes’ well placed free kick onto the post and the resulting set piece provided a chance for Piroe but the in form striker couldn’t keep his effort down.

Hull were creaking and the chances kept coming, albeit mostly from distance, as first Paterson and then Kyle Naughton – revelling in a role in the centre of the back three – took aim, but Paterson lacked accuracy and Naughton found Ingram up to the task once more with a smart save in the top right corner.

The pressure was building and surely it was only a matter of time before the Swans broke through…only…they stopped turning the screw! Their opponents had retreated, compacting around their last third and the Swans fell into the trap of passing without too much purpose.

Slowly but surely the momentum leaked away and it became too easy for the Swans to make the easy passes for the sake of making a pass, and it was even easier for Hull to sit tight and defend the slow and unimaginative stuff being played in front of them.

The early knockings of the second half saw Hull briefly break the pattern that had been established towards the end of the first, Mallik WIlks getting on the end of George Moncur’s astute set up but Ben Hamer continued to be totally untroubled in the home goal.

Ntcham and Flynn Downes, playing in the central spot in front of the defence usually occupied by Grimes, were catching the eye but it was referee Stroud who was centre stage when denying two penalty shouts by the home side.

It’s hard to believe the first one wasn’t given, both Stroud and his assistant with a clear view of Laird being wiped out as he latched onto a ball dropping inside the box.

The second one looked far more innocuous as Paterson went down softly as the defender slightly stepped across him as he stood his ground; what made it contentious is the fact that having instructed Paterson to get up the referee then proceeded to not only penalise Jake Bidwell for an identical challenge minutes later, but also brandish a yellow card at Paterson when he made that very point a little too aggressively.

Ntcham sought to up the ante again and played a lovely through ball but Piroe had neither the pace nor the support to profit from it. 

By the 70th minute Ntcham’s race was run and the new forward left the field to enthusiastic applause after a promising debut. Bizarrely it was Ryan Manning that came on to replace him, taking up a station behind Piroe until Martin made his next sub seven minutes later.

Michael Obafemi was ran on for his debut, Piroe dropped back into Ntcham’s position and Manning thankfully went back to replace the departed Jake Bidwell.

The raft of changes did little to alter the flow of the game and the second period continued to roll by with what was by now an almost testimonial feel to it. 

Strangely though it was Hull that responded the more positively when the fourth official’s board went up with an additional five minutes indicated and Greg Docherty’s right footed effort needed blocking as the official ninety minutes elapsed.

Then came that vital last minute save by Hamer who showed excellent concentration levels to react when finally called upon, flinging himself to his left to parry out substitute Ryan Longman’s speculative effort on the break.

There was still just about enough time for one last set piece for the Swans to win it, but like too many before it the delivery was simply not good enough to trouble a tight Tigers defence that had ridden its luck at times but earned its clean sheet. 

 

The Managers

Star Man

Flynn Downes

I was tempted to give it to the more eye catching debutant Ntcham but Downes deserves it for a powerful and composed 95 minute display. Reliable with the ball and disciplined without it, Downes was quite willing to drop into the back three to cover Naughton or Williams as they pressed forward. Very astute performance.

Entertainment Rating

3/5

Final Thoughts

I’ll hold my hand up and admit to being a little harsh in my immediate post match reaction; I watched the extended highlights this morning and we did create enough chances to win the game and Laird in particular can feel aggrieved about the spot kick that wasn’t given.

And if Grimes’ free kick had gone in it would have changed the complexion of the game and forced Hull to come out of hiding.

But I stand by my assertion that too much of the play yesterday was filled with passing for the sake of it and the gradual decline in both tempo and urgency was a concern. 

I also stand by my assertion that we have to be winning games against the likes of Hull – a home fixture against a newly promoted side that hasn’t scored a single goal since the opening day. 

It’s all very well giving the manager and players time to adapt and implement this very different style but you have to have a dash of pragmatism with the patience and the passing. There’s nothing wrong with tossing one into the box as time ticks away and you’re trying to score the goal that turns one point into three.

It may be early in the season but the Swans sitting just one place above the relegation zone is a concern and it heaps more pressure on everyone.

My fear is that Martin might be one of those zealots that holds the ‘passing game’ above all else and will forgive everything gas long as his side exceed 700 passes per game. Our young manager has to learn that football is a game of results as well as performance, and that endless passing without any pace or purpose can be just as boring as a Cooper side sitting back and endlessly hitting it long.

All of that said, and putting aside the frustration of the result, I want to end on some positives – Ntcham looks like he could be a real wildcard when he builds up his fitness and Rhys Williams looks to have the physical assets and the composure to fill the enormous gap left by the departure of Marc Guehi.

There’s better to come from this Swansea squad but with a tough run of fixtures against the likes of Bournemouth and Fulham to come, plus a looming South Wales Derby, we simply have to take full advantage of dominance over sides like Hull.

Otherwise we’re going to find ourselves in that bottom three and it is notoriously hard to climb out of there – especially when you’re committed to providing your manager with that precious commodity – time.