It was a day to remember for many at Bramall Lane in the late Saturday evening kick-off as Graham Potter’s new Swansea City side came back from a goal down to take all three points against a Sheffield United side aiming for an improvement on last year’s 10th place efforts.
A day to remember mostly for 19-year-old Yan Dhanda you could safely say, coming off the bench to score his first ever League goal with his first ever League touch just 29 seconds into his debut, sending the travelling Jack Army into raptures as he quickly pounced on a loose ball inside the box to turn the game on its head with just 5 minutes to play.
Barrie McKay had a stand-out debut on the left flank, while Jefferson Montero has come back from a couple of loan spells refreshed, rolling back the years with his mazy runs that led to Dhanda’s winner, and almost a debut goal for McKay who volleyed a fierce shot against the crossbar.
The worry had set in amongst some fans ahead of kick-off. A lack of signings, a weak centre of midfield and a winless Pre-Season Tour were the reasons, but they were soon eased as Potter’s new-look Swansea side more than held their own against an established Championship side in Sheffield United.
Graham Potter was bold with his line-up. There was no defensive mindset here like we’ve seen so often in the last few years in the Premier League. We were going to Bramall Lane looking for the win as he gave debuts to new recruits Barrie Mckay, Bersant Celina and Joel Asoro across the attacking front behind the lone striker Oli McBurnie who wore his new number 9 shirt.
Despite losing the captain’s armband to his defensive partner Mike van der Hoorn, Federico Fernandez still started and between them their partnership was solid throughout. Kyle Naughton was completely missing from the squad as well as Wayne Routledge and Jordan Ayew – whose move to Crystal Palace is in jeopardy after a swap deal couldn’t be completed.
The first half was a cagey affair with very little in terms of clear-cut chances, as both sides were working each other out tactically.
The contrasting systems – 3-5-2 and Potter’s 4-3-3 meant for some interesting challenges – how far forward could United’s wing-backs commit themselves with Swansea’s wide-men staying forward? How would Swansea cope in midfield with the home side’s one-man advantage? The latter saw McBurnie dropping deep to fill the gap, and McKay and Asoro were picking up some useful direct passes into the wide areas, as they looked to quickly catch United out on the break.
Potter’s instruction for the wide-men – McKay and Asoro to stay forward with McBurnie dropping into midfield was a clever one, especially given Sheffield United’s 3-5-2 system and their reliance on wing-backs for attacking width. They also had an extra man in the middle, so McBurnie dropping deep added some much-needed support for Carroll and Fulton.
Much has been said about the central midfield duo during the Summer, as many have identified the duo as being our particular weak-link and unfortunately they did little to prove them wrong. Carroll grew into the game when we went on the attack in the second half, but for Fulton it was almost like the game passed him by at times. He’s been linked with a move to Paul Clement’s Reading, but a move would seem unlikely considering our lack of options there.
The Swans were quite happy to allow United possession in non-dangerous areas, and they made a number of unforced passing errors early on that gifted us some chances to quickly counter-attack in the wide channels – but some of our decision-making let us down.
There was very little in the way of chances for either side. In the final five minutes of the half, Basham embarrassed himself by trying to win his side a penalty just before the break. He made his way down the right of the penalty area, Fernandez made an early sliding challenge as he anticipated a cross, but Basham looked to go past the Argentine and held a leg out to guarantee contact. Fortunately for us, the assistant nor the ref bought it, but they didn’t see the clear dive as Basham avoided a booking.
Swansea’s only opening came following a throw-in on the left side. Olsson sent in a hopeful cross that Asoro looks to control and as he touches the ball towards the goal (with the upper part of his arm) it’s cleared off the line by Egan, but the referee is eagle-eyed again and pauses play for a free-kick.
There were some satisfying moments in that first half. We weren’t ultra defensive, and although we still didn’t create many chances, we limited the opposition to trying their luck from distance. There were some neat and quick one-touch passing moves that didn’t quite come off to begin with, but McKay and Celina were bright and positive. Asoro couldn’t show his raw pace but hopefully that’ll come when we’re at home to Preston next weekend.
Half Time – Sheffield United 0-0 Swansea City
The second half quickly made up for a quiet first half that was lacking in any real exciting moments and quality in front of goal. Having been cautious in their approach and wary of each other’s strengths, that quickly changed as both sides became more open from the restart.
The Blades sent a few warnings before scoring the opening goal that you could say had been coming. McGoldrick really should have scored but he put his shot wide of the target when under no pressure after a poor back-pass from Celina. The £4m Summer signing was bright in the first half as he tried to make things happen in United’s half. Potter made a good decision in the second period to drop him deeper, as his side had no real control in terms of possession and bringing the ball out from the back.
Our best hopes of breaking the deadlock were from Barrie McKay who was causing all sorts of problems down the left. McKay looked to be in on goal as he made his move inside in space, but rather than going on his own, he cut a pass back for Asoro who hesitated before seeing his shot blocked inside the box.
Within 10 minutes or so we had already seen more action at both ends than we did in the entire first 45. United had the edge though and their opening goal just after the hour-mark was a disappointing one from our point of view. The hosts continuously tried to put crosses into the box which Fernandez and van der Hoorn dealt with all afternoon so conceding a headed goal from a cross was never likely. Instead, the goal came after the ball was well-worked through from the left. Tom Carroll didn’t track his runner as Baldrock strikes the ball in well and low first time from the cutback.
Carroll himself went close to scoring just minutes before as he let fly from about 25 yards but the ball flew just a yard or two over the target.
The opening goal saw the Swans burst into life, and it was the kick up the backside that we really needed. Fulton had our best chance of the game after 68 minutes as he glanced a header over his shoulder. The ball looked to be dropping in but the goalkeeper did well to palm over the bar for a corner.
Potter made an attacking change to help us be more direct down the flanks as Jefferson Montero replaced the rather poor Joel Asoro. This saw McKay switch to the right.
Montero soon showed his potential at this level and it was like watching the Ecuadorian from about four years ago. He made three runs, skipping past his man with ease every time. Firstly, he picked out McKay at the far post who volleyed a strike that bounced back off the crossbar before his final act of brilliance saw us net the winner with just 5 minutes left on the clock.
McKay, our other bright spark created our equaliser as United’s lead lasted barely 10 minutes. He linked up with McBurnie down the right, a neat one-two thanks to a clever inside flick from the striker. A defender tries to deny McKay a clear shooting chance from close range inside the box by getting a touch to the ball, but this forced the goalkeeper into making a finger-tip save that helped the ball into McBurnie’s path to finish with ease.
Swansea were in the ascendancy now and Potter must have felt that his side was capable of more. When his predecessors would have settled for a point and made a defensive substitution by bringing Jordi Amat on to see the game through at this point with 20 to play, the new Swans boss stayed true to our old Swansea Way philosophy.
He went bold and for the win, giving 19-year-old Yan Dhanda his League debut, and what a debut it was. As soon as he entered the field his side were on the attack. Montero raced down the left and United were back-tracking as four Swansea players sprinted into the box – knowing that the winger would send in a decent cross with his left peg. In it came at the far post, McKay took a touch inside and was brought down but both Celina and Dhanda were queuing up ready to shoot, Dhanda got there first and fired the ball through a bunch of players and into the net. The Swansea fans behind that goal were in raptures, some entering the pitch to join the celebrations – you can hardly blame them, it’s been a while since we’ve won away from home, and in that style!
Potter was right in his post-match reaction when he said his side wasn’t perfect. They weren’t but they proved a lot of doubters wrong – myself included I’ll admit. I expected a tough challenge away at Sheffield United but we matched them and proved to be more clinical in a well-matched affair.