The Swans secured another Liberty Stadium win and another clean sheet in the process as an in form Barnsley side were beaten on a terrible looking pitch this afternoon. The result – and scores elsewhere – means the Swans head into Christmas in 3rd place in the Championship table.
Much of the discussion from recent home games has been the worsening state of the Liberty pitch. Yesterday’s announcement of it being replaced was welcome and clearly needed when the early pictures from inside the Liberty showed something that was just deteriorating by the day and certainly not something that gives any credit to a club in the lofty position of the Swans.
Steve Cooper made two changes from the side that were so disappointing at Derby in midweek as he looked to continue good home form and keep the pressure on the top two who are slowly starting to create some air between them and the rest of the chasing pack.
If the Swans boss wanted to put Wednesday behind him quickly then he was handed the perfect start to the game when Jamal Lowe finished well inside the first ninety seconds to give the Swans the lead. It was a great start to the game and with Lowe scoring his third goal inside a week we can only hope that his confidence is starting to flow.
If the hope was that Barnsley’s heads would drop after the early blow they proved to be short lived as the visitors pushed forward and forced a save out of Woodman with a free kick from just outside the area that was palmed away by the Swansea keeper.
Barnsley were having the better of the first half action within the first half hour despite the one goal early deficit and seemed able to cause confusion in a defence that had looked so strong ahead of Wednesday night but a few corners in quick succession gave some cause for concern but we survived each of them and retained the one goal advantage.
The Swans were content with breakaways it seemed and after a couple of tight offsides against Lowe it was Dhanda who broke the offside trap but was clattered by the keeper who was shown a yellow card, saved by the two covering defenders from it being a clear goalscoring opportunity. Matt Grimes did get the ensuing free kick on target but it was straight at the keeper and the chance had gone.
Connor Roberts was agonisingly close to making contact with a ball from Lowe across the area just past the half hour mark – the Swans forward making the opportunity himself after a quick throw in from Bidwell as the game continued to open up with both sides pushing forward to try and add to the scoring.
As the game approached the halfway mark then the Swans were getting more and more on the front foot which in itself was causing frustration for the visiting forward line who started to show their frustration at being kept at bay by a Swans defence which had certainly found its shape by this point and earned us a deserved half time lead.
Neither side made changes at half time and a scrappy start to the second half followed although a superb through ball from Grimes set Lowe free but he was denied progression by a well timed challenge outside the area from the keeper who would have been set for an early finish had there been any bad timing about the challenge. The running and pace of Lowe was causing endless problems though in the Barnsley defence and another run took him clear of the last defender but his ball across the area found an empty space rather than a team mate who would have had the easy chance of doubling the advantage.
Barnsley’s response at this point was immediate with a triple substitution to try and break up the play slightly with the Swans definitely having the better of the play but neither side at this stage finding the ability to test the opposing goalkeeper with shots on target. Indeed, the flow of the game was summed up when Guehi headed down a free kick but a dreadful first touch from Ayew saw the ball escape from him just as it looked as if the second goal had to follow.
The state of the pitch was getting worse by the minute which certainly wasn’t helping the flow of the game and as the minutes advanced the Swans seemed happier to sit deep and prevent Barnsley gaining any momentum.
The Swans doubled their lead with 25 minutes remaining when a Grimes corner was flicked into his own net by Adeboyejo who was bought on to try and make a difference to the scoreline, something he managed at the wrong end of the pitch from a Barnsley perspective. Given the pattern of play to date and the general tightness of the Swansea defence even at this early stage you started to think the game was over and the Swans were heading into Christmas on a positive note.
As the rain came down heavier at the Liberty the ball was starting to hold up more on the pitch and Lowe twice had good chances of outpacing the visiting, one of which saw his shirt pulled back and the referee raise his whistle to his mouth. For reasons known only to him though he decided not to blow the whistle and award the free kick – you can only assume as it would have caused him to make a decision he didn’t want to regards a red card? Each showing of the replay just confirmed the foul had taken place so one discussion point for after the match.
Bidwell could count himself a victim of the pitch when running into the area to meet a ball from Fulton that bounced considerably higher than you would expect and the full back was only able to blaze his shot over the top of the bar by some considerable distance.
There was little doubt that the second goal conceded by Barnsley had knocked the stuffing out of them completely and this was as comfortable as any finish to a game that we have played this season. The truth is that in the same way we never looked like scoring on Wednesday night we never really looked like conceding this afternoon.
For me – despite his double at Cardiff last weekend – this was Lowe’s best match in a Swans shirt and it should be a clear battle between him and Jay Fulton for the man of the match voting in what was a very good all round performance for the Swans.
We now have what is the rare luxury of a week off before we head to Reading on Boxing Day but we can do that knowing that we are still within reach of the top two in the division and a side still very much on form.
The work will now begin, thankfully, on the laying of the new pitch which will be in place ready for our next home game but for now we can enjoy yet another home win and our 10th league success already of what could prove to be a very good season.
A job well done!
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