Swansea City remain unbeaten in the Premier League after a well earned and well deserved point at home against Sunderland.
The hosts had to come back from going behind twice to get a share of the points, as Martin O’Neill showed why he splashed out £12m on striker Fletcher, as he netted both Sunderland’s goals in the first half.
Michael Laudrup’s side looked in confident mood and they dominated the majority of the first half, but after dealing with the early pressure, the visitors took their first chance of the game, as Fletcher raced clear on goal to fire past Vorm after a poor backpass from Ashley Williams.
Wayne Routledge volleyed home a quick equaliser after a clever pass to create the space, but Fletcher put the Black Cats back in front – this time he was unmarked at the far psot to score from a dubious free-kick – awarded for hand ball. The Swans worked hard in the second half to break down a defensive Sunderland side, who were always organised – sitting in their 2 lines of four, but de Guzman did well to pick out Michu, and the 6ft 3inch attacker leaped well to power home a header.
Laudrup, for the second game running, named an unchanged side from the one that beat West Ham 3-0 last weekend, but new signing Ki Sung Yeung featured amongst the substitutes.
As Vital Sunderland told us in our Q&A, O’Neill’s side were soaking up the pressure, and hoping to steal the ball to catch us out on the counter attack. However, when the Swans are on form, it’s very difficult to get the ball off them and attack from a promising position.
Today, the hosts were very accurate with their passes, but they were always worked to make a lot of them today, as they tried various different ways to get in behind the visitor’s defence. 690 passes in total, with 93% reaching their target, dominating statistics, but we struggled to penetrate in front of goal, and it was only Dyer’s low shot that forced the goalkeeper into a save, before the action started later on in the half.
On 20 minutes, Neil Taylor went down after a tackle and it looked very serious as it took 6 minutes before the talented left back left the field of play. 19 year-old Ben Davies was given another chance to play Premier League football, after a brief spell against the Hammers last Saturday.
Most of the play was amongst Swansea’s midfield, as it tends to be, while Danny Graham did his best up front to get involved, but he was often muscled off the ball having been outnumbered against Sunderland’s crowd of defenders.
Laudrup’s team seem to deliver more crosses into the box, particularly Angel Rangel but against a tall side like the Black Cats, they were always going to be easily cleared towards a waiting Swansea player to force another attack.
Also the wingers do tuck inside more, rather staying hugged against the touchline like under Brendan Rodgers last season. Passes seem to be longer, and it’s been a while probably since Leon Britton made so many long passes across the pitch, as he looked beyond his nearest team-mate.
The fans were encouraged by the early dominance and the football that was on show, but a goal hardly looked like it was soon on it’s way for either side, as both goalkeepers were mainly spectators for the first 40 minutes.
Ashley Williams gifted Fletcher his first goal for his new club. The striker picked up the loose ball after a mistake from the Welsh international defender, and he was never going to miss the target, as he fired in a low striker past the onrushing Michel Vorm. Sunderland’s first chance, and their first goal.
With 5 minutes remaining, plus a further 6 of injury time, there were another 2 goals to see before the break. The Swans responded in just 5 minutes, as the visiting supporters were silent again in the North Stand.
Michu found Dyer, and he brilliantly flicked the ball through onto Routledge’s run and he volleyed the ball home, giving the goalkeeper absolutely no chance to keep it out.
Unbelievably, the sides didn’t go in level at half time, as the Swans pretty much shot themselves in the foot following another case of poor defending – this time from a direct free-kick from the left after a dubious handball. Fletcher was unmarked at the far post to put the away side back in the lead.
HALF TIME – SWANSEA 1-2 SUNDERLAND
If the Swans could continue to dominate possession and play a lot of football in the opposing half like they did in the first, then they had every chance of getting at least a point or all three.
Sunderland barely changed of course, they still looked to sit deep in their lines and looked to make the most of any break away they could get. They didn’t really, as the Swans pressed for another equaliser.
Michu was always the likely source of another goal, rather than lone striker Danny Graham who struggled to find any space in front of goal.
Jonathan de Guzman curled in a cross from the right and Michu was the best player on the pitch to have to power a header into the net to level the scores once again.
It was game on now, Swansea City had even more momentum now to push forward, continue to dominate and push for a winner.
However, centre half Chico Flores significantly hindered any chance of a winner as he made a reckless and stupid challenge, that was only going to get sent off and banned for three games. Saha looked to get past the Spaniard down the left flank, but for some reason he tried to win the ball – at head height, with a high raising foot – which caught the striker’s ear – and of course he fell to the ground to exaggerate the effects of what was a very clumsy high challenge. As soon as it happened and the Sunderland fans waved for a red card to be raised, you just knew the referee would do so. You can’t have any arguments with that, but some of his previous decisions – particularly the free-kick decision that led to Sunderland’s second goal were controversial.
Laudrup was forced to make needless changes to compensate for the hole in the defence. Alan Tate replaced Wayne Routledge, before Ki Sung Yeung made his League debut in place of Michu. The South Korean was brought on to help us keep the ball and avoid conceding a third goal as we played another 20 minutes or so with 10 men.
Sung-Yeung did a good job of keeping the ball. He was always looking for it and he almost helped in getting a third and winning goal late on. Dyer was causing more problems in the second half – this time down the left flank, and his tricky play meant Sunderland were marking him with three players at times.
He and de Guzman had opportunities to win us our third game out of three, but they both scuffed shots wide of the target.
Sunderland could have won it too late on, but after failing to clear the lines, Alan Tate did very well to block Saha’s shot.
Swansea City dominated long periods of the game in both halves, and they must have had more than 60% possession. However, It was looking like – in a match with a contrast of styles – “anti-football” was going to come out as the winner, but justice was done when Michu grabbed a second equaliser, as a draw was probably a fair result on balance.
Some fans said before kick-off that it was the team’s first “real test”, having beaten two sides that lacked organisation and real quality beforehand. As you’d expect from any side managed by Martin O’Neill, they’d be organised, with the emphasis on defence and they weren’t going to make costly mistakes in defence that QPR and West Ham were guilty of recently. They also had the quality of Fletcher up front, and he only needed 3 chances to score a brace on his debut for his new club. It wasn’t pretty, or particularly ambitious, but they came for a point and they got it. Sunderland won’t look to play good football, they’ll simply look for points and they’ll probably get enough to finish somewhere in the top half.
The Swans meanwhile were impressive again. Their passing was probably cleaner and more accurate than last weekend against West Ham, and showed excellent character to come back from behind twice to get a point. The only disappointing factors was the poor defending for the goals, and the fact that we’ll lose Neil Taylor for a number of months, while Chico Flores made a reckless challenge to serve a 3-match ban. Apart from that, things still look very promising for Swansea City this season.
Swansea City: Vorm; Rangel, Flores, Williams (c), Taylor (Davies); Dyer, de Guzman, Britton, Routledge (Tate); Michu (Ki); Graham.
Subs not used: Tremmel (GK), Agustien, Moore & Schecter.
Sunderland: Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Colback; Johnson, Cattermole (c) (Meyler), Larsson, McClean; Sessegnon (Campbell); Fletcher (Saha).
Subs not used: Westwood (GK), Ji, Kilgallon & Bramble.
JONATHAN DE GUZMAN
‘I think the game showed me a lot of good things about the character of this team,’
‘In the first two games, winning five and three nil, today everything went against us.
‘First the injury of Neil and we had to put on Ben Davies, 19 years old who did great, then there is the first mistake of the game and we go 1-0 down. We came back, but in injury-time they scored a second goal. We came back again in a great second half, made it 2-2 and wanted to go for the win but then a couple of minutes later we are down to 10 because of the red card of Chico.
‘Even then, with one man less, we kept the ball and it was great for me to see the performance of the team today after all of these negative things.
“I am very pleased with our first two games against Arsenal and a Swansea side who are picking up where they left off last season,’
“Overall I thought Swansea played very well and I`m happy with a point.”
“We can learn a lot from Swansea.
“When they went down to 10 men they kept the ball very well.