Hart told to improve in wake of his wonder save
Swansea 2-4 Manchester City
Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30
Six goals, including a brace from that perennially restless birthday boy Yaya Touré, but it was a moment of gravity-defying goalkeeping that decided this match and will live longest in the memory.
Manchester City were leading 3-2 and weathering a period of intense pressure when, in the 81st minute, Federico Fernández headed what looked like a certain equaliser that would have kept Swansea City's European hopes alive and left some doubt lingering over Manchester City's place in the Champions League next season.
Joe Hart chose that moment to deliver a save that was extraordinary on three different levels.
There was the speed of his reactions, the sheer athleticism of his acrobatic jump and, most impressive of all, there was the awareness to adjust his outstretched hand mid-air to guide the ball above the bar.
"It felt good," Hart said. "He headed it well but I've flown after it and needed to get a good connection to get it up and over."
It was among the very best saves in Premier League history and also a fitting way to seal a win that guarantees Manchester City's place in the group phase of the Champions League.
In stark contrast, Swansea's Lukasz Fabianski had made mistakes for both Touré goals that were to evoke unfortunate memories of the rather cruel 'Flappy-Handski' nickname that followed him at Arsenal.
Swansea cannot now catch Southampton in seventh for a potential Europa League place but were justifiably still proud both of this performance and the certainty of their highest Premier League finish of eighth.
"Joe Hart's save was world-class; unbelievable, incredible," said manager Garry Monk. "Ninety nine times out of 100 it is a goal."
City boss Manuel Pellegrini was more measured in his praise, saying that Hart had benefited from being pressurised for his place by Willy Caballero.
He also stressed how Hart was continuing to learn when he was asked whether he was now one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
"I think that Joe is the number one in England," Pellegrini said. "He has improved a lot. The most important thing is that he has an open mind. I think he is starting to reach the peak of his career.
"Joe must improve and not think he knows everything at this moment. Every day he works hard. It was a beautiful save in a very important moment."
It was also the highlight of a wonderfully entertaining and free-flowing if sometimes kamikaze match.
The tone was set in Monk's attacking selection - after his team were criticised by Arsène Wenger for their supposedly negative tactics in winning 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium, the Swansea manager started with Bafétimbi Gomis in attack.
"I wanted the players to send a message to the world: we can go toe to toe with anyone when we decide to," Monk said.
Swansea's confidence following five wins in their previous seven matches was quickly evident and, after a precise Jonjo Shelvey through-ball, Gomis provided Hart's first test.
Jefferson Montero and Nathan Dyer were enjoying particular success on the flanks and, having cut inside and completely wrong-footed Eliaquim Mangala, Dyer forced a superb one-handed save by Hart.
Fabianski is tied with Hart on 13 clean sheets in the race for the Premier League's Golden Glove but it was to be a rare goalkeeping error that contributed to Manchester City taking the lead. David Silva had passed to Touré and, while his shot was delivered with venom and did just deflect off Ashley Williams, Fabianksi should not have been beaten.
The goal allowed City to play partly on the counter-attack and it was direct from a Swansea corner that they scored their second.
Frank Lampard's 40-yard volleyed crossfield clearance was a moment of pure class, with Sergio Agüero racing forward and spotting James Milner, who had the vision and legs to run virtually the full length of the pitch to join the attack. He then showed considerable composure to collect Agüero's pass, dribble inside Neil Taylor and aim his finish across Fabianski.
Swansea did not allow the scoreline to alter their tactics and were rewarded on the stroke of half-time when Gyfli Sigurdsson shot powerfully beyond Hart. The goal ensured that Swansea were again full of creativity and belief when the match resumed.
Shelvey prompted another good save from Hart before a further misjudgment from Mangala. Gomis pounced, bringing the ball under control before finishing past Hart.
It looked like Fabianski's earlier error would be forgotten, especially after good saves from Silva and Jesus Navas, but he was then surprised at his near post by the power of Touré's shot.
Swansea still kept attacking but Hart's breathtaking save from Fernández was the pivotal moment, with Wilfried Bony putting a further shine on City's win on his return to Swansea with a clinical finish in added time.