The wait for any team to complete a South Wales derby league double will go on after the Swans were beaten by their local rivals at the Liberty this evening in a game where Cardiff simply wanted it more than we did and the Swans didn’t really threaten to ever cancel out the early goal from Flint that decided the game.
Steve Cooper was again ringing the changes after the disappointment of the midweek defeat against Bournemouth. Into the side came Bidwell, Guehi, Fulton with a first start for Morgan Whittaker at the expense of Jamal Lowe. Cardiff saw Joe Ralls and Harry Wilson come into the starting line up having lost touch with the play off chasing pack a little in the past seven days.
Cooper sent his side into the match knowing that a win would create South Wales derby history but also knowing that – following Watford’s comfortable win earlier in the afternoon – the win was needed to keep pace with the Hornets who were starting to suggest that they could pull clear in second place. The lack of a crowd at the Liberty meant maybe less intensity to the fixture but we can all hope and believe that this will be the last match between the two sides behind closed doors.
Conor Hourihane tested Phillips in the Cardiff goal inside the first five minutes with a sharp free kick which was tipped away from the corner. The Cardiff keeper was clearly expecting Roberts to take it and full marks to Hourihane for the quick thinking which was not to be.
Minutes later though Cardiff found themselves ahead thanks to a header From Flint. A long throw into the box from Vaulks caused confusion in the Swans defence and a sharp save from Woodman but his save only found the head of Flint who powered the header home to give the visitors the lead and Cardiff’s first goal in this meeting in five matches.
The goal clearly gave Cardiff confidence and they were dominant in the opening 15 minutes of the game and Bacuna forced another save from Woodman with the Swans on the back foot and being pressured high up the pitch and making some of the mistakes that we have seen creeping in more and more in recent weeks.
Steve Cooper was forced into an early change on 18 minutes when the injured Hourihane was replaced by Korey Smith – it will be interesting to see what the injury does to the Irishman’s international call up and whether he still joins up with the squad for those games.
As the game went past the half hour mark the Swans had settled into our recent pattern of just not really competing in games. Chances were non existent, the long balls were becoming more evident and Cardiff were looking comfortable with their lead and even at this stage you started to wonder if they had done enough. Long gone are the strong performances that we saw in December and January and they have been replaced by a team that looks devoid of almost everything – as one fan commented on Twitter
2nd to everything. Hell, we're 3rd to some things here.
— Paul Thomas (@NeathJack1) March 20, 2021
Freddie Woodman almost gifted Cardiff a second goal on 42 minutes when he inexplicably passed the ball straight to Moore but the Cardiff striker tried to pass the ball into the gaping net and it was easily cleared by Bennett but the whole passage of play summed up the first half with Cardiff happy to keep their one goal advantage whilst the Swans did their best to make life as easy as possible for the visitors. A point highlighted just a few minutes later by the Swans taking a short corner and finding themselves offside from it. Basic errors from a team that has completely lost their way.
Four minutes of first half stoppage time may as well have been four hours such was the ineffectiveness of the Swans again and as the two teams went off at half time the only positive for us would have been that we only had a one goal deficit and it was difficult to imagine too many words of positivity in the Swansea dressing room at half time but some level of motivation was needed to turn the game around.
The predictable no changes were made at half time but the Swans did manage a rarity at the start of the second half with a shot in target. As was the case in midweek it was Morgan Whittaker who had it but it was easily saved by Phillips but it was already a step up on our first half statistics.
The Swans were given more than a decent chance to add to their on target shot tally in the 56th minute but Ayew shot well over as Phillips watched it sail high and wide. Ayew is not normally one to take a free kick and it shows why on this evidence – quite why he did it with Grimes and Roberts on the pitch is anyone’s guess.
What it was though was sign that the Swans were advancing forward more at this stage and there were signs that the Cardiff defence was not looking as secure as it was in the first half with Whittaker coming more into the game and he fired another shot over as the Swans were in search of an equaliser.
A glance at the match stats told a story as the game went into the final third time wise. The Swans were closing in on 70% possession and had more shots at goal than the visitors but there was little doubt that Cardiff had gained at this stage by far the better attempts at goal and could certainly consider themselves unlucky to only be a goal ahead at this stage. The game was simply crying out for something to change personnel wise but a glance to the touchline at this stage was seeing our manager not looking like it was high on his agenda.
Cardiff were clearly happy to soak up any ‘pressure’ (and I have to use that term loosely) that the Swans were putting on them and hit us on the break and it was from one of those breaks that the Swans were grateful to Woodman to keep them in the game when he saved well from Wilson after great link up play between him and Moore as Cardiff broke.
Ayew almost bought the Swans back level when he met a Roberts corner with a glancing header but agonisingly it came back off the post and away from danger just as it looked as if we had managed to peg back the visitors.
Finally as the game reached the 75 minute mark Cooper decided it was time for changes with Jamal Lowe and Ryan Manning introduced as replacements for Naughton and Bidwell as he attempted to at least salvage a point and prevent the bragging rights heading East.
The Swans were still pushing on trying to force an equaliser but through poor finishing and Cardiff throwing bodies in the way the game was in the last ten minutes and still Phillips had not been forced into a meaningful save and the Swans were rapidly running out of any ideas that they actually did have. Dhanda replaced Fulton in attempt to add a different dimension to the attack but the match stats of 15 shots at goal, 0 on target for the Swans tells the story of many of our recent woes.
As had been the case of much of the second half the game was almost exclusively being played in the Cardiff defensive third but it just wasn’t going to be for us on any level a point highlighted by Whittaker having two chances in quick succession, the first blocked and the second off target which pretty much summed up our shooting prowess on the night in that it was non existent.
The signal of five minutes of stoppage time gave no more than a glimmer of hope that the Swans could turn their possession advantage into something but with eleven men behind the ball and our inability to make a shot hit the target we all expected it not to happen. Our chance was a free kick on the right hand side of the area in the second of the five minutes but as Grimes played the ball across to Dhanda he skied the ball so far over the bar it was lucky to stay inside the ground let alone trouble the goalkeeper. Whittaker did though finally trouble the goalkeeper a minute later but while it looked a good save it was fairly routine and about 93 minutes too late to get any comfort from.
This was a game where we had the chance to create history. This was the game where we, as fans, demand nothing but total commitment. And this is the game where we dare not lose. We failed on all three fronts today and it leaves any hopes of automatic promotion very much in tatters on the back of two straight league defeats.
In truth our league form has been pretty poor since we beat Norwich at the Liberty back in February and we now head into the international break with plenty to think about and much work to be done. We can only hope that Watford lose all their momentum in the break and somehow we find a way of actually playing football and scoring goals because without it it’s going to be a disappointing end to what was a very promising season.
We face the reality this evening of back to back defeats for the first time this season and also the fact that we failed to score despite more than 70% possession and 20 shots at goal. That tells a story. A very depressing one.
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