Jamaal Lascelles ensured it was a miserable return to Premier League action for Swansea City as first he thwarted Tammy Abraham in the act of scoring and then rose highest at a corner to head in a late Newcastle winner.
There was an air of confidence and optimism leading up to the first fixture since the international break – always dangerous where the Swans are concerned. And so it proved as optimism gave way to frustration in front of the Sky TV cameras.
With excitement levels over the arrival of Renato Sanches and the return of Wilf Bony bubbling away there was every reason to approach a winnable home fixture with confidence, and with the former handed an immediate start and the latter waiting to be unleashed from the bench fans were eager to get the game started and watch a pretty new look side get down to business.
And to be fair, the Swans started well; Clement had gone for a diamond with Sanches on the right, Carroll on the left, Clucas at the base and Leroy Fer the tip of the spear, and with Abraham and Ayew buzzing around up top there was plenty of passing and moving to enjoy.
It was less of the passing without purpose we’ve witnessed on occasions but it still rarely troubled a robust Newcastle side, and after fifteen minutes or so the Swans started to lose their way.
They weren’t helped by a chronic habit of giving the ball away cheaply and Sanches was the chief culprit; if the young man needed an early lesson in how tough, fast and demanding the Premier League is to other leagues then he got here, Newcastle players snapping at his heels at every opportunity. I would politely ask people to remember though, he’s not the first foreign youngster to struggle on a Premier League debut and he won’t be the last – he needs a little time to adapt and get to know his team mates and that’s not going to happen in two days!
Newcastle were happy to contain the home side but they came close to opening the scoring just after the half hour mark, Joselu meeting Matt Ritchie’s whipped corner with what looked a certain goal scoring header only for Fabiasnki to divert the ball wide with a brilliant one handed save.
A few minutes later there were strong Newcastle appeals for a penalty as Merino darted between Olsson and Mawson before going down in the box. Referee Michael Jones rightly adjudged there was no challenge but wrongly allowed Merino to get away with a dive unpunished on the day.
The Swans hit back with a long range effort from Ayew stinging the gloves of Rob Elliott, the ‘keeper pushing the shot aside for a corner. Carroll’s quadrant kick was a good one and Alfie Mawson rose unopposed to head narrowly wide when it looked easier to score.
The Swans had a penalty appeal of their own just before half time as Lascelles tried to chest away a ball that dipped right in front of him, only to end up laying on it! Referee Jones chose to ignore the appeals and the half finished goalless despite the increased goalmouth activity in its latter stages.
Swansea City 0
Within a few minutes of the restart there was a pivotal incident that had a huge bearing on the result as Matt Ritchie was handed a double escape from what should have been a red card. The debate has raged whether Sadio Mane should have been sent off for a high foot on the Man City ‘keeper on Saturday, but the fact is that the referee deemed it a red card and so consistent treatment should have seen Ritchie shown the same colour card rather than yellow for his high boot on Mawson. It was a double escape for Ritchie as he should have seen a yellow card early in the first half for a petty late challenge on the same Swans defender, but Michael Jones chose to lecture instead of discipline. Straight red or two yellows, either way Ritchie got away with it and was allowed to remain on the field to eventually set up Newcastle’s winner.
With Clement urging his players on from the touchline the home side started to put their opponents under a little more pressure; a period of pressure around the Newcastle area led to Tom Carroll meeting Ayew’s lifted pass on the volley and Elliott was forced to palm away the effort.
Elliott was helpless a few minutes later though as Tammy Abraham rounded him with ease after latching on to a through ball from Fer. With the goal at his mercy and the crowd already celebrating Abraham looked to apply the finish, only to stare in disbelief as Lascelles slid out of nowhere to block the shot on the line. The ball did hit the defender’s arm after his ribcage but there were no appeals from the Swans players and a penalty would have been harsh in truth.
When you miss a chance like that it’s an almost unwritten rule of football that you’ll end up regretting it – and that’s exactly what happened as Newcastle took their big chance in the game. It was Ritchie that did the damage, making the most of that red card escape to whip in another dangerous corner which Lascelles met unopposed to head past a helpless Fabianski.
By this time Wilf Bony had already come off the bench in place of Sanches and Roque Mesa was stripping off ready to join him on the field of play – only to be sent back to the bench as Newcastle scored.
The Swans huffed and puffed as they sought to find a way back into the game but the tempo was too slow and the basics weren’t good enough to trouble Newcastle. The closest they came was when late sub Luciano Narsingh ran in on goal only to see his shot saved with ease by Elliott, the keeper using his feet at the near post.
At the final whistle there was real disappointment within the stands but nobody really felt we deserved anything against a Newcastle side that was there for the taking but more up for the contest than the home side.
As reality checks go this was a rude one. A decent transfer window has raised expectations but the fact remains that we’ve lost our two most important players from last season and it will take time for the squad to settle down. Clement has a glut of options in midfield but the permutation he picked yesterday failed to fire; it was too slow, too sloppy and players looked out of position. Tom Carroll in particular looks a shadow of the performer that impressed me so much last season…where before he was running the show from the middle he’s now slowing play down on the left. Sanches has come in for some real stick but there’s a very talented player in there and we will see that in the coming months. Clement was rightly angry after the game with the performance but he has learn the lessons from yesterday and find a more effective selection from the riches at his disposal. Bad day at the office, put it behind us, although it doesn’t exactly get easier from here with a match against our bogey side Spurs at Wembley to look forward to!