The Swans recorded yet another win at the Liberty with another clean sheet and inflicting a defeat on the leaders to boot as we moved back into second place in the Championship table with a promotion charge very much on the cards after another impressive performance.
Steve Cooper bought Kyle Naughton back into the side at the expense of Ben Cabango while there was a place on the bench for new signings Morgan Whittaker and Kieron Freeman, two of his deadline day signings at the start of the week. With Norwich playing their third game inside a week and searching for first goal, optimism was high ahead of the game that we could secure the win that would see us close within touching distance of Norwich at the very top of the table. More to the point though with Brentford moving into 2nd place in midweek we knew that it could take a win to lift us back into the top two ahead of the weekend fixtures.
As can often be the case in matches such as this one the first twenty minutes was a cagey affair with both sides content to sit back when the opposition had the ball and the two midfields cancelling other out. The Swans spent more time in this period looking to move forward but were cancelled out by the visiting defence whilst the same could be said for Norwich who had some possession in our defensive third but neither side was able to trouble the opposing goalkeeper during that first quarter of the match.
It was from a Swansea corner that the first shot of note of the game arrived when a well worked routine saw Grimes test the keeper from outside the box but it was straight at Krul although another sweet strike from the Swansea captain and a move that was clearly created on the training pitch during the course of the week.
Jamal Lowe was next to test Krul in the Norwich goal when he latched onto a superb pass from Guehi and got clear of the last defender but his shot was too close to the experienced keeper and he made another comfortable save but it was a sign that maybe the game was opening up a little and the Swans were getting themselves into the ascendency.
With the game heading towards the half time mark the Swans turned their slight first half advantage into a goal lead. Hourihane can consider himself unlucky to have not opened the scoring when his close range shot was deflected wide for a corner from a desperate tackle but it was from that corner that we did take the lead. It looked harmless enough as it headed towards Krul but somehow the keeper dropped the ball and from the resulting scramble, Andre Ayew was able to turn and fire the Swans ahead, the all important first goal of a game like this was ours.
Norwich could have found themselves level within two minutes but a good parry from Woodman kept out a close range header as the visitors tested him for the first time in the game. It was a rare movement though into the Swansea area for the visitors and the half time whistle sent the Swans in ahead and on the balance of play probably deservedly so.
Neither side made any changes at half time but within three minutes of the start of the second half the Swans had doubled their advantage. The Swans started the half on the front foot again and were pressing Norwich high up the pitch when they won the ball back, found Hourihane in the middle and his low powerful shot from distance found the corner of the net and took a scoreline to two nil, a perfect scoreline for a side breached just 15 times in 26 and a half Championship games to this point. And for the goalscorer a third goal in as many games and certainly already looking like he can lay claim to the title of the best piece of Championship business in the January window.
Norwich started to push forward a little more to try and get back into the game and after a couple of half chances went past Woodman’s right hand post, Daniel Farke introduced three changes into the game in a bid to shake it up and get back into the game that could slip away from him quite easily.
As Norwich started to push forward more then gaps were starting to appear in their backline and the Swans, with a two goal advantage, were happy to exploit that with some neat passing and had Jay Fulton put a better ball into the box from one of those moves then calls for goal of the season would have not been unjust such was the intricacy of play between Ayew, Fulton, and Roberts on the right hand side of the pitch.
Norwich were certainly starting to ask more questions of the Swans defence but we have become accustomed to how strong we can defend at the moment and on the rare occasion that they were looking threatening an overhit pass or a well timed tackle was keeping them at bay and it was starting to look more and more that the Swans would be moving into 2nd place as the game headed into the last twenty minutes.
Steve Cooper made his first change of the night when Jordan Morris replaced Jamal Lowe on 75 minutes for his first appearance at the Liberty with Lowe leaving having, once again, chased down many a lost cause to keep the pressure on the visitors high up the pitch.
Norwich were by this stage definitely on the ascendancy in terms of possession and territory but it was remaining the first half header that had been the only thing to trouble Woodman as the recent struggles in front of goal for Norwich were evident although much of that you can place down to our defensive organisation as much as anything.
Jordan Morris had what looked like a good penalty appeal waved away on 80 minutes after another good Swansea move – replays did show contact with the Swansea striker and given no attempt to get the ball I think the Swans could count themselves very unlucky not to get the decision that they wanted and certainly a view echoed by boss Steve Cooper as he was spoken to by the referee for his own protests that the decision was not given.
Norwich continued to push forward in response but with the Swans defensive line very strong and us defending deep the visitors were not able to break down a defence that was heading towards a 16th clean sheet in 27 games and a team defending what is becoming a very impressive unbeaten run.
Despite that deep defending we continued though to push forward when we had the opportunity although the commitment of men to join the attacks was becoming less and less and it was clear that the Swans had settled for a two goal win which we would have all taken at the start of play.
We can now take a rest from league action for another week with the slight distraction of Manchester City at the Liberty on Wednesday night taking centre stage but make no mistake about it Steve Cooper has built himself a good squad, an impressive team and is showing that there is nobody in the Championship that should worry us – we are capable of beating just about anyone at this level.
Another very good evening at the office.
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