A solid defensive performance helped Swansea survive an extraordinary onslaught from Birmingham to take a point from their Championship clash at St. Andrews.
When Swansea and Birmingham last met – in December 2008 – The Blues had just been relegated from the Premier League, but would finish the season in 2nd, meaning they’d return to the top-flight only a season after dropping down a division. Meanwhile, Swansea were looking to consolidate their Championship status in their first campaign since being promoted in 2007/08.
Now, the roles are reversed – Swansea are reeling from relegation but looking to bounce back into the Premier League, while Birmingham are looking to cling on to their second division place after seasons of toil at St. Andrews. After winning their first two games, the performance here was a reality check for a fanbase which was beginning to openly dream of promotion at the first attempt.
Though it was Birmingham who started the better of the two sides, forcing a couple of corners in the early exchanges, Joel Asoro offered a glimpse of Swansea’s new-found attacking prowess under Potter, linking up brightly with Bersant Celina in the middle of the field.
And Birmingham had the first chance of the game, as Omar Bogle was denied by Erwin Mulder after a goal-line scramble.
Swansea were perfecting the art of designing their own downfall, as a number of the 14 chances that fell to their opponents in the first half came as a result of mistakes in passing accuracy from a defence which seemed intent on playing out from the back.
Potter was proving to be a surprisingly animated figure on the touchline, in stark contrast to the usual controlled patrol he undertakes.
The solitary positive for Swansea was that their opponent’s dominance counted for nothing at the interval – the score remained 0-0 at half-time, despite facing 14 shots.
After the interval, the game was far more closely contested – Swansea’s midfield trio began to gain the kind of ascendancy on the match that they could only dream of in the first half, but it took until the 65th minute for the Swans to gain any kind of control on the game. It was not by chance that their new-found dominance coincided with club captain Leroy Fer’s introduction.
Even after Fer came on, Swansea still struggled to create chances, and Oli McBurnie struck a lonely figure up front. Despite the selection of Asoro and McKay as wingers, with Celina playing in a very attacking role, McBurnie was never offered the assistance his quality deserves.
The first half was a severe sign that the current midfield trio – though technically talented – is lightweight, inexperienced and susceptible to mistakes under pressure. Potter must be offered the assistance he needs in the transfer market to bring in either Mohammad Besic or Ryan Woods, though the latter now looks unlikely.
Potter’s insistence on trusting his youth players is heartening amid a time when few managers give their youngsters the opportunities they deserve. Seeing the often-overlooked Daniel James and Matt Grimes enter the fray at such vital times proved a refreshing change from the negative substitutions seen every week under Clement and Carvalhal.
In truth, Swansea’s insistence on playing the ball out from the back was ill-judged, but a fanbase that has rightfully begged for a change in style under the previous two managers has no reason to complain over the performance tonight.
This performance should serve as a further reminder to Swansea’s American owners that though Graham Potter is clearly the right man, he must be backed if his side are to prosper as they have threatened to so far. Having brought £42 million in from player sales this window but spent only £6 million, any excuse that they do not have the financial capability to support Potter simply cannot run.
Nonetheless, seven points from the first three games, including two away trips, is an extremely positive return for a team which will only improve as it adapts to Graham Potter’s methods.
Joe Rodon’s performances continue to impress, and his partnership with Mike van der Hoorn looks as if it could form the bedrock of the Swans’ campaign.
But the fact remains that this squad is flimsy and short on dependable quality. Without further shrewd acquisitions, before the window closes on the last day of August, Swansea can not even dream of coping with the arduous nature of the Championship.