Goals from Jay Fulton and substitute Kasey Palmer gave a much improved Swans side a comfortable 2-0 win over Stoke at the Liberty this evening, a win that was good enough to lift the Swans into 2nd place in the Championship table.
Steve Cooper made three changes from the side that started on Saturday against Bristol City. Into the side came Kyle Naughton, Yan Dhanda and Ryan Manning with Cabango, Smith and Bidwell all dropping to the bench as we searched for a first win in four.
And one of the changes almost created the perfect start for Cooper when Dhanda rattled the woodwork inside two minutes after some strong work down the right hand side from the Swans. It set the tone for an excellent first half of football with the Swans continually looking dangerous on the attack and seemingly able to break through the Stoke defence at will.
Dhanda was adding exactly what we have been missing since the injury to Morgan Gibbs-White and all of a sudden, in contrast to recent games, there seemed urgency in the Swans play. Dhanda wasted a golden chance to put the Swans ahead when he was played in behind the visiting defence but a poor touch gave the keeper chance to clear when it looked for all the money as if we would take the lead.
The Swans were gaining all the plaudits at this stage and rightly so and it looked a matter of time before we opened the scoring. And when we did it came from some excellent all round play from the team before Guehi broke into the area and his cross was only cleared as far as Fulton who finished with some style to give us the lead.
We didn’t ease off from them and still should have extended our advantage and went in just the goal up at half time wondering whether the missed chances could come back to haunt us.
Stoke were forced at the interval to use a substitute on a change of keeper but came out stronger in the second half with the Swans being pushed back more than they were in the opening 45 minutes.
Despite that it was always looking like the Swans who would extend the advantage and it could easily have come when Ayew was denied from very close range after the Swans were given an indirect free kick on the six yard box following the goalkeeper handling a backpass.
There were 73 minutes on the clock when Cooper made a triple sub – Bidwell, Cabango and Palmer introduced for Manning, Bennett and Dhanda. At this stage, Stoke had zero attempts on goal to their name such was the Swans dominance of the game and that was before you considered the significant corner count advantage that the Swans had.
The triple change seemed to fire up Stoke more than the Swans and some action ensued in the Swans area but none of it troubling Woodman although we know all to well the fragility of a one goal advantage no matter what the domination of the game may have been at that point.
Lowe spurned a chance to finish the game when he used his strength to go clear of the defence from a long ball by Fulton – the shot well saved by Gunn. A minute later Grimes had a go from a direct free kick but his attempt did nothing to trouble Gunn and the game moved into the last ten minutes somehow with the Swans just a goal up.
James McLean proved just how obnoxious an individual he is when he took out Connor Roberts and an inevitable yellow card followed but easily could have been more such was the lack of attempt to get the ball from the Irishman. Palmer took a yellow card shortly after for a foul on McLean which you wonder was retribution ahead of anything else.
And it was the very same player who made certain of the three points for the Swans when he was played in my Bidwell after good work by Ayew. The bravery of Palmer was there to be seen as he got his head to it before being clattered by Gunn but it was the least the Swans deserved on a night when the performance level improved massively.
With the three points secured the Swans were able to see out play with some comfortable ease – ease to which we have not really become accustomed but for all the critics after the last few games, the plaudits should be out tonight for a game that we were in control of start to finish.
More of the same Saturday please Steve.
LEAGUE TABLE AS IT STANDS