Goals either side of half time by Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew were enough to kill off Crystal Palace and give the Swans’ season lift off.
A first win of the season – and away from home at that – is most welcome but there remains an awful lot of work to do if we want to avoid the struggles and angst of last season. That said, there were also some exciting plus points that suggest there is plenty for Paul Clement to work with; Abraham and Ayew continue to forge an understanding up front, a second clean sheet was secured with the help of a decent performance from Mike van der Hoorn and Sam Clucas looked like he was born to wear a Swans shirt.
All the pressure was heaped on Palace manager Frank de Boer leading up to the contest, his Selhurst Park revolution in real trouble after less than a handful of games. However, the Swans provided the perfect opposition for the under fire Dutchman – well, at least according to the garbled and illiterate “words of wisdom” from Paul Merson on Sky before the game! Good call again, eh Merse?!
The pathetic pundit’s words were looking as ill-judged as ever right from the first whistle as the Swans dominated possession, passing it around with confidence albeit without really threatening what was essentially a Palace back five. And the more the Swans popped it around with no real pressure on them from the home side, the more agitated and restless the home crowd became.
It could have been much worse for the Selhurst faithful too if Jordan Ayew had managed to keep his brave header on target after some brilliant work out wide by his partner Abraham; alas a defender’s stray boot in the face slightly put off Ayew as he connected with the cross and the ball flew wide.
It was the only chance in what was am opening period of terrible quality, Palace sluggish and wasteful with the ball and the Swans too content to pass around without any purpose.
The lack of service – not just in this game but the season so far – seemed to get the better of Benteke and the big striker picked up a yellow card after leaving his foot in when bossed around by Fede Fernandez.
Benteke’s frustration soared to even greater heights a few minutes later when the first cross he got to attack was stolen off his head by his own teammate McArthur, the ball flying harmlessly wide of Fabianski’s well guarded goal.
Palace tried upping the tempo, mainly through the busy efforts of Townsend out wide, but although there was a short flurry of activity in and around the Swans box they simply couldn’t break through a rear guard excellently marshalled by Fernandez and superbly screened by debutant Clucas in the holding midfield role. Townsend rifled one effort past the post but that’s as close as a tame Palace could get.
And it wasn’t long before the Swans went on the attack again, Abraham badgering Fosu-Mensah into a mistake and prodding the ball towards goal, an underworked Hennessy sticking out a foot to block.
Abraham though wasn’t to be denied and he put his side in front at the perfect time, just a minute before the break, capitalising on the best move of the match. More keep ball from the Swans eventually led to Leroy Fer being fed out wide and his inch perfect cross was met on the volley by Abraham, leaving Hennessy with no chance. The finish was better than it looked in real time – Abraham connected solidly despite having to readjust his feet and fight off the attentions of Joel Ward who was determined to pull his man off balance.
It made no difference to the hulking yet nimble Abraham and he chalked up what will no doubt be the first of many Premier League goals to give his side a crucial lead going into the interval.
If losing a goal just before half time was a blow for Palace, what happened after the interval was nothing short of a fatal wound…and a self inflicted one at that!
First half substitute Martin Kelly must have wished he’d never come on as first Fabianski saved his header almost immediately from the kick off and then seconds later he made the glaring error that left his side two down.
More Palace pressure after that initial Fabianski stop led to a bit of desperate defending and when the ball was cleared just outside the area it would have been the most simple task for Kelly to pick up the ball and play it back in; however, a criminally weak effort on Kelly’s part allowed Kyle Naughton to come away with the ball despite it being an 80/20 against challenge and Palace were immediately in trouble.
Credit to Naughton though…it would have been easy to lose composure or just put his head down and run into the empty space however he chose exactly the right option by playing the ball past the last defender for Jordan Ayew to run onto.
Palace defenders could do more than stand there claiming a non-existent offside as Ayew bore down on goal. Hennessy rushed out and tried tackling the Ghana forward but only succeeded in ricocheting the ball past himself and Ayew had the simplest of tasks to walk the ball in for 0-2.
It was soft from Kelly, disastrous from Palace but nobody connected with Swansea City cared a jot as they celebrated doubling their lead.
A visibly shaken de Boer played his last sub, bringing on the cultured Cabaye to supplement his earlier attacking change, Chung-yong Lee having coming on for the start of the second half.
It made little real difference, although both substitutes had shouts for penalties as Palace pressed forward desperately in search of lifeline, but first Olsson and then van der Hoorn made precise, perfectly timed tackles that referee Andre Marriner deserves credit for spotting.
There was no need for the Swans to do anything extravagant or stupid and Clement’s side was quite happy to soak up what little pressure Palace applied. There was a let off with fifteen to go though as a decent Palace move put McArthur through on goal but the midfielder panicked and prodded the ball lamely into Fabisnaki’s grasp with his wrong foot rather than steadying himself and finishing with the right foot.
There was a late chance for Townsend to grab a consolation as he capitalised on a rare mistake by the otherwise faultless Mawson but the finish summed up Palace’s whole afternoon – tame, half hearted and off key.
In contrast though, the Swans were comfortable and clinical when needed and were worthy winners on the road. Although there’s still room for improvement there’s no doubt Paul Clement will enjoy the international break far more than his counterpart.
Four points from three games is a decent return and Clement continues to find a way to accumulate points – it isn’t always pretty but it is proving to be pretty effective. Maybe a couple of further attacking recruits before the window closes will allow Clement to be a bit more expansive – let’s hope so because the partnership between Abraham and Ayew has potential and with the prospect of Llorente’s return and the possibility of Bony rejoining we could have a potent strike force…with some genuine service. In the meantime, it’s nice to go into the international break with a positive result and three points. Harder tests await and no doubt there will be those that simply focus on how bad Palace were; but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Clement’s side did that comfortably.