Friday 18 August 2017

Swansea seize the moment after rivals slip up

Swansea City 1 Everton 0

Swansea City goalscorer Fernando Llorente. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City goalscorer Fernando Llorente. Photo: Reuters

There are always twists and turns towards the end of a season, but Swansea City could not have imagined the chain of events that would see them climb out of the relegation zone with two matches remaining. Hull City's surprise defeat at home against Sunderland opened a window of opportunity that Swansea took full advantage of with the most precious of home victories, courtesy of yet another Fernando Llorente header.

It lifted Swansea one point clear of Hull, who have slipped into the bottom three, with a trip to Sunderland and a home game against West Bromwich Albion to come. Swansea, in other words, are in control of their own destiny.

Swansea City manager Paul Clement. Photo: PA News
Swansea City manager Paul Clement. Photo: PA News

As for Everton, the visitors huffed and puffed but, in truth, this felt like a performance from a team that has little to play for and is looking forward to the summer. Ronald Koeman's side have now failed to win in their last seven league matches, and their first defeat away at Swansea could not have come at a worse time from Hull's point of view.

The result at Hull had been greeted with huge cheers around the Liberty Stadium and gave Swansea a huge incentive. In some ways, it also added to the tension, and that seemed to filter through to the players in an opening 25 minutes during which nothing much happened. The game badly needed a goal and it arrived just before the half-hour mark, easing the tangible sense of anxiety about the home supporters in the process. Jordan Ayew was the architect, the Ghanaian twisting and turning close to the byline to get away from Gareth Barry before delivering an inch-perfect cross that implored Llorente to nod home at the far post. Towering above Phil Jagielka, the Spaniard squeezed his header past Maarten Stekelenburg.

Everton looked a little rattled and Swansea should have added a second four minutes later. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had a strong penalty appeal turned down moments before Llorente scored, managed to dig out a cross from wide on the right that evaded a clutch of players and ran through to Alfie Mawson, on the edge of the six-yard box, at the far post. The central defender looked certain to score when he lashed at the ball, but Mason Holgate, Everton's right-back, got across to make a superb block.

Everton's only effort on goal in the first half came in the opening minute when Romelu Lukaku headed straight at Lukasz Fabianski, the Swansea 'keeper. The question for Swansea now was whether they should stick or twist and go for a second goal. Everton were not going to roll over, however, and Lukaku, drifting into the right channel, came close to an equaliser with an inswinging cross with his left foot that slid narrowly wide of Fabianski's far post.

Jordan Ayew produced a strong performance and a match-winning assist as Swansea beat Everton 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: PA News
Jordan Ayew produced a strong performance and a match-winning assist as Swansea beat Everton 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: PA News

The game was on a knife-edge and Everton started to take control. Yet Swansea still had chances and looked dangerous on set-pieces. Clement introduced Jack Cork and Leroy Fer. The Dutchman must have thought he had scored when he met Tom Carroll's fine centre with a shot but Stekelenburg denied him. Back came Everton through Lukaku, who thrashed a shot that ripped the side-netting. This, however, was destined to be Swansea's day.

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