Match Report

There are two ways of looking at this match. You can either heave a sigh of relief at the fact that we won, kept a clean sheet and are now on 36 points. Or you can look at our first half performance and wonder how on earth we got anything out of this game with a side which wouldn’t look out of place in the lower reaches of the Championship.

This was our first clean sheet in eleven games, and in some ways this was hardly a surprise since Swansea had only one shot on target in the whole game. Indeed, they only had 4 off target, compared to our 6 on target and 14 off. But that doesn’t tell the story of the game.

In the first half we were never at the races. We had very little in attack and our midfield was contantly overrun. The saving grace was the performance of our defence, where James Collins had his best game for ages and Arthur Masuaku impressed again on the left. Swansea played some pretty tippy-tappy football and always looked a threat until they got anywhere near the penalty area. You look at the quality of some of their players and the way they can pass to each other and you wonder how on earth they can be in the bottom three, but when you sell your best strikers, don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to score.

Mark Noble had a dreadful game. His tackles were mostly ill-timed, he constantly gave the ball away and apart from one long range shot did little to impress. It may have been his 400th game for the club, but it’s one he will want to forget, especially since he picked up a tenth booking, meaning he will be suspended for the next two games. Edimilson Ferndandes should be given a long overdue chance to get a couple of starts under his belt.

Two other players who ought to look themselves in the mirror are Snodgrass and Ayew. Their lack of application in the first half were appalling. Snodgrass may point to the fact that he laid on the pass for Kouyate to rampage forward and score, but apart from that he contributed little. He improved in the second half, but to me he looks painfully slow and takes far too long to pass the ball. Ayew showed one or two flashes but again, he was too easily knocked off the ball and played lazy passes to his colleagues.

I was surprised to see Darren Randolph start the game given his poor recent form. He may point at last to a clean sheet but let’s face it, he wasn’t tested. Even then he flapped at a couple of crosses and instilled nervousness in the crowd. I’d still like to see Adrian given another chance for the last six games of the season.

Losing Antonio, probably for the rest of the season, is a big blow. No one can do what he does and he will be gutted to miss out. If it hadn’t been such a terrible goal kick from Randolph he would never have had to chase to keep the ball back in and maybe he wouldn’t have pulled his hamstring. We’ll never know. I suspect everyone was as amazed as I was that Calleri was brought on to replace Antonio. And he certainly lived down to expectations, missing chance after chance. Quite why Bilic has any faith in him I really don’t know. Ashley Fletcher didn’t even make the bench but he’s twice the player Calleri will ever be. But you have to ask what the point of having Carroll and Sakho on the bench was when neither was fit to play even a small part in this game. Explain that one to me…

My man of the match was between James Collins and Manuel Lanzini who looked a constant threat. He had three long range free kicks, each of which went really close. I’d like to see him run at defences more, but in my opinion he is going to be a major star over the next couple of seasons.

For me, the difference between the first and second half was that we injected some pace into the second 45 minutes and played the ball forward. We were looking to attack, whereas in the first half we seemed frightened of our own shadows. I’m afraid Mark Noble needs to lead by example and instead of taking the easy option and playing the ball back or sideways, always look for the attacking option. We’re good when we’re pacy, we’re awful when we play safe.

The chatter around me was that we’re a Premier League side with a Championship team. On the first half performance you have to say there is some justification for that argument. The only genuinely classy players out there today were Lanzini, Antonio and Kouyate, although you have to say that Kouyate’s goal masked a very disappointing first half from him. Snodgrass, Feghouli, Ayew, and Fonte could all be imagined playing for Norwich City. Indeed, Snodgrass used to play for them!

One plus from the game was that Sam Byram looked the real deal today and wasn’t caught out of positio as often as he normally is. The fact that we kept a clean sheet was in part due to the fact that both our full backs put in a shift. It’s not often we can say that this season.

So yes, three points very satisfying, but a lot of food for thought for Slaven Bilic given that neither Noble nor Antonio will feature against Sunderland. As I say, I hope Fernandes comes in for Noble and that we see both Sakho and Carroll play up front with Ayew dropping to the bench.

A final word about the atmosphere. Even though we weren’t playing well, I thought the crowd were great. Bilic will certainly have appreciated an outbreak of the ‘Super Slav’ song, and I felt we really got behind the team. Perhaps we’re all getting used to the stadium now? One can but hope…

Scores
Randolph 5, Byram 6, Masuaku 6, Collins 8, Fonte 6, Snodgrass 5, Lanzini 8, Antonio 7, Noble 5, Kouyate 6, Calleri 4, Ayew 5, Feghouli 6

David Hautzig is away