Graham Potter’s Swansea City side might only have an average age of 23 and lack experience but they make up for it with fighting spirit and team togetherness – qualities that we’ve so desperately been lacking in over the last few years.
Winning games and picking up three points is always satisfying but league victories don’t come much more satisfying than Saturday evening’s dramatic and late comeback win at Millwall – with ten men.
A number of those fans who travelled to London for the game yesterday said it was their best and most favourite away trip in years and it’s not difficult to see why.
In between a couple of good wins and an excellent performance against Leeds, we’ve been left frustrated and disappointed by a lack of transfer activity during August and while Potter’s words about looking to focus on improving the existing players rather than looking to external solutions frustrating many, his team are backing him up.
We were up against another physical and direct side and having watched us struggle at Birmingham City, you can be forgiven for not giving us much of a chance at Millwall. We were warned by their midfielder, Shaun Williams, that it would be an “eye-opener”, but if anything that warning – a whole two weeks prior to the game, added as motivation to end their 17-game unbeaten run at home.
Graham Potter made a number of surprising choices in his starting eleven and nobody really knew exactly who was playing where. We got little opportunity to work it all out as well because within five minutes of his debut, Courtney Baker-Richardson was shown a deserved red for a high sliding tackle as he looked to win back the ball after a poor first touch near the halfway line and in front of the dugout.
It was a huge setback so early on in the game and more setbacks would follow to test Potter’s side further.
Half an hour later, Leroy Fer had to be subbed off with a groin problem, forcing Potter into another shake-up as he opted for full-back Kyle Naughton over a like-for-like switch using Tom Carroll. Like against Leeds, Connor Roberts played further forward down the right in front of the substitute.
Despite being down to ten men for so long, Millwall created very little in terms of clear cut chances and that was mainly down to good discipline and a high, committed work rate from the young Swans. Their only real chance came from a typical long ball for Morison to nod on for a runner. It was one of 15 aerials he won during the game but Wallace, who had the space to run through due to Roberts being out of position, failed miserably (for them) with a scissor-kick as his effort was skewed wide of the target.
The Swans looked like they had learned lessons from their struggles at Birmingham although Millwall’s press wasn’t as intense. Maybe it was because we had Grimes and Fer in the middle rather than Carroll and Fulton, but we weren’t putting ourselves under pressure in our own half as often as we did at St Andrews. Fulton is good when given a particular job – that is to track and tackle but he has struggled in possession – often struggling to get near 60% passing accuracy this season. Grimes’ first-team place and Naughton’s usage off the bench over Carroll says a lot about the former Spurs man’s start to the season. The fact that we had ten men may have swayed Potter’s decision to use Naughton over Carroll to add defensive cover, but he still picked Grimes over him from the start.
And it was Grimes’ quick thinking that opened up a counter-attacking opportunity following an offside decision that led to our dramatic winner with five minutes of normal time remaining. The ball had already stopped dead and Grimes played the ball up to Montero to do his thing down the left. Celina was also involved as the Swans kept the ball moving with some quick first-time passes. Montero’s final ball across the penalty area was simply perfectly placed and weighted for McBurnie to net the easiest goal of his career. The pass was sublime, the goalkeeper couldn’t quite dive to make the block, leaving him in no-man’s land. The jacks behind the goal in the upper tier went absolutely wild!
9 minutes earlier, Kyle Naughton – of all players – got us level. It didn’t look like we’d get a point after disappointingly conceding from a set piece but Jefferson Montero gave us that attacking outlet that we needed.
The Ecuadorian turned his man easily on the left after the ball was pinged over to him on that side by Carroll. He passed low across to Naughton and he did well to avoid Shaun Williams’s sliding challenge, taking the ball just outside the box. With his back to goal he turns and arrows a superb shot into the bottom left corner.
Millwall fans were disappointed with their manager after the game for his lack of game management and naivety, and they had a point. They were happy to commit players forward with a one-man advantage but they were completely caught out when Montero came on on the hour mark. He punished them in the lead-up to the equaliser, and they did nothing to deal with his threat as he was creator again for the winner.
The scenes when McBurnie tapped in the winner and at the end of the game spoke volumes about this team. They may not be blessed with league experience and proven quality but they sure do make up for it in many other ways. The newly-found team unity and togetherness shone through and it’s something we haven’t seen in years. We’ve got genuine Swans fans in the team, the likes of Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts and Dan James all being local lads giving everything for the team they’ve supported for years. Mixed with the experience of Leroy Fer, McBurnie’s goals and the impact of Jefferson Montero from the bench – together with Graham Potter’s astute tactical reading of the game and man-management, he’s building something special here. We may well lack that extra depth and quality to compete for a top 6 place and an instant return toto t Premier League, but we can at least be proud again of a winning team.