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How Swansea City created history as they came of age in the derby

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It has finally been done. Russell Martin’s Swansea City side of 2021/22 became the first team in history to complete a South Wales Derby league double with their stunning 4-0 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium. With almost 48 hours having passed since kick-off in the Welsh capital, I’ll take a look at how the Swans achieved their historic feat.

Article by @scfctheo

As kick-off drew closer, many would have been expecting a chaotic start to the game with Steve Morison’s Bluebirds coming flying out of the traps early on – but with just 2 minutes on the clock – Martin’s Swans had already set the tempo.

It was a game that Cardiff City just simply could not afford to lose, so there was some surprise when Michael Obafemi was given the freedom of the Cardiff City Stadium as Joel Piroe delicately chipped a pass over the opposition’s backline.

The ball just evaded the in-form Irishman, who was adjudged to be onside by the linesman, but Swansea had given Cardiff an alarming warning. Cardiff, it transpired, didn’t make use of Swansea’s warning as Alex Smithies found himself fishing the ball out of his net just 4 minutes later as Obafemi found himself on the end of a sweeping 9-pass combination that led to the opening goal of the game. Smithies would go on to do rather a lot of fishing during the 90 minutes, but we’ll get on to that in a bit.

In truth, I could write a whole article on that opening goal. On many occasions this season, Swansea have been criticised for being stale or indecisive in the final third but the first goal of the afternoon, like the others to come, was anything but.

It was a perfect example of everything that Russell Martin wants from his team going forward – fluid movement, progressive passing and a high-quality chance at the end of it.

It wasn’t just the sumptuous passing for the goal that was pleasing, either, as the move started with Swansea regaining the ball as they pressed Cardiff into their own third, forcing Joel Bagan into giving the ball straight back to an uncontested Swansea back three.

Swansea can’t have the ball all the time, and this was a perfect example of how they can add to their dominance off it. Piroe’s press, Cabango’s line-breaking pass, Obafemi dropping deep and Paterson’s movement. There were so many pleasing elements to the goal – it was a true joy to watch.

Russell Martin often talks about wanting complete control of matches and, over the 90 minutes here, it’s not controversial to say that he got what he so wants.

It is telling that 53 minutes (including first-half stoppage time) passed between Swansea’s opening goal and the next goal in the game – Ben Cabango’s second.

It could’ve been possible that opening that scoring after 6 minutes was the worst thing that Swansea could do, with an expectant Cardiff crowd anticipating a barrage from their team on the Swans’ goal for the rest of the game.

But, to Martin’s delight, Cardiff never gained any momentum and failed to create a clear-cut chance throughout the entire game. And that, I believe, constitutes ‘complete control’ – a rarity in any derby match.

Something that Swansea haven’t done often enough this season is putting games definitively to bed by racking up unassailable leads – but they certainly picked a good game to start what will hopefully become a new habit.

Prior to kick-off, only twice in the league this season had the Swans won a game by more than 2 goals with those wins coming in the form of two 3-0 triumphs against Peterborough and, you guessed it, Cardiff City.

It would’ve been easy and understandable for Swansea to fall back onto the edge of their box after they doubled their lead, but they did anything but.

They took full advantage of Cardiff’s desperate lack of structure towards the end – picking their rivals off twice more as Hannes Wolf headed home his first goal for the club and Michael Obafemi added to his impressive scoring streak with his second goal in an early-April afternoon that is never to be forgotten in SA1.

It would be impossible for me to fit in praise for every single Swansea player in this piece but, in truth, they would all deserve it.

A pairing that cannot go unmentioned, though, is that of Matt Grimes and Flynn Downes in midfield. The pair are simply faultless at their best, and this was most certainly their best.

If Swansea can keep the two together ahead of next season, then they will have a partnership that can genuinely challenge any other midfield in the division – something that would undoubtedly be pivotal as Swansea look to become more competitive at the top of the table during their second season under Russell Martin.

Matt Grimes is continuing to do week in, week out what he has done ever since he was given a starting berth under Graham Potter after relegation to the Championship.

Now club captain and approaching 200 appearances for the club he joined in 2015 as a 19-year-old, Grimes is entering the prime years of his career and arguably playing the best football of his time at the club.

He produced another masterful display in the derby and the biggest praise that can be given to the skipper is that it is now the level of performance he produces nearly every week. As for his partner, it seems staggering that 23-year-old Downes was brought to the club for just £1.5m in the summer and arrived as a player who had been exiled from Ipswich Town’s first-team squad.

He had always been a revered talent, playing for England’s youth teams and coming close to a move to Crystal Palace last summer, but he had failed to truly impose himself as one of the best in League One.

Yet now, without question, he is one of the best in the Championship and destined for the Premier League. He has a bit of everything to his game – it is rare to see a midfielder so aggressive in a tackle yet so composed and classy on the ball – and while we all hope to one day see him donning Swansea colours in the top flight, I think it’s best that we enjoy him while we can.

The bottom line, though, is that every member of this Swansea squad has created history that can never be bettered or undone. There will never be another team to secure the first South Wales Derby double – that record will always belong to Swansea City’s class of ’22.

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