Thursday 21 June 2018

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Mawson pounces as Reds endure familiar feeling

Swansea 1 Liverpool 0

Swansea’s Alfie Mawson celebrates scoring the game’s only goal. Photo: Getty Images
Swansea’s Alfie Mawson celebrates scoring the game’s only goal. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

The annual Swansea City revival is under way as they incredibly ended the longest-unbeaten run in the Premier League and damaged Liverpool's fierce momentum and chances of finishing in the top four.

Swansea remain bottom of the ­table, but are now just three points from safety and have given themselves a lifeline when they were in danger of being cut adrift.

Swansea City's Nathan Dyer keeps Liverpool's Andrew Robertson at bay. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City's Nathan Dyer keeps Liverpool's Andrew Robertson at bay. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool, meanwhile, blew the opportunity of opening up a formidable five-point gap between themselves and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who they face at Anfield on February 4.

It was Spurs who last beat Liverpool and 15 league games later, and with a run of 19 matches unbeaten in all competitions, and fresh from beating Manchester City in their previous fixture, they have now lost to Swansea.

As an advertisement for the Premier League, in a season when it feels the Big Six have pulled away into a league of their own, this was perfect.

Gusto

Swansea City's Leroy Fer in action with Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City's Leroy Fer in action with Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum. Photo: Reuters

There was no need to pipe 'Hymns and Arias' over the tannoy for this one, as has happened of late. Instead, it was sung with gusto by the delighted Swansea supporters after Roberto Firmino had hit a post with a header in injury-time.

Swansea's plight at the foot of the table, and what led to that descent, was summed up by the fact they have had five managers, including two caretakers, since they last faced Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium in October 2016 - Bob Bradley, Alan Curtis, Paul Clement, Leon Britton and, now, Carlos Carvalhal.

That last meeting ended in defeat and Swansea were desperate to avoid a repeat; even if they knew they were up against it. Remarkably, they managed to go in at half-time in front, having weathered the storm, with Liverpool twice going close.

The goal came from a precious corner, which was not cleared properly by Virgil van Dijk - the £75 million (€85m) signing making his Premier League debut for Liverpool - whose header was weak.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Photo: Reuters

It bounced down into the turf and, as Ki Sung-yueng challenged, the ball ran to Alfie Mawson, who swivelled and swept it low into the net.

The celebrations were so wild that defender Federico Fernandez received a bloody nose and had to change his lily-white kit.

The goal unsettled Liverpool, with Andrew Robertson and Joel Matip cautioned for rash challenges and, then, on half-time, Mohamed Salah crossed to the unmarked Sadio Mane, who volleyed wide. He has buried harder chances and Liverpool trudged off in frustration.

Carvalhal has a reputation as a front-foot, positive manager but he unashamedly strung a five-man defence five yards outside the Swansea penalty area and challenged Liverpool to break down that white wall.

It was not until midway through the first half that Liverpool went close, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's corner met by Van Dijk, whose header skimmed past the far post.

Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal. Photo: PA
Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal. Photo: PA

Before that, Swansea had the ball in the net, in a rare breakaway, as Jordan Ayew finished from a tight angle but it had gone out of play, for a corner, before he poked it beyond goalkeeper Loris Karius.

It remained cagey. It was grimly defensive from Swansea, who were determined not to be breached, and they worked hard simply to get the ball up to the halfway line.

Eventually, they were breached when Van Dijk, with a superb, looping pass, picked out Salah, who was clear on goal but volleyed wastefully, and surprisingly, given his precision in front of goal, over the crossbar. But it was Swansea who had the half-time advantage. It was Swansea who had nicked it and, fair play to them, for their canny tactics.

Unsurprisingly Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, sent them out early for the restart. He would have demanded, and expected, a reaction. Salah shot wide and then only a fine, last-ditch challenge by Kyle Naughton denied Robertson before Fabianski slid out to intercept as Firmino set himself to meet a Salah cross.

Again the pressure grew, with Mawson accused of handling a Firmino shot before an effort by Salah was deflected over the bar.

Changes were made, with Adam Lallana and Danny Ings coming on for Liverpool who, surely, had to get something out of this encounter. Liverpool's desperation grew. Shots were snatched at from distance - tellingly from their defenders.

The Swansea fans reacted, their noise grew; their team dug in and Fabianski, once more, denied ­Liverpool as he held onto Ings's low shot as space opened up for the striker.

It was increasingly frantic. Can volleyed over in injury-time and Salah fired high and wide, before the best chance of all fell to Firmino, who could only hit a post with a free header from five yards.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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