Morgan Whittaker and Connor Roberts were both on target for the Swans as they signed off their “regular” Liberty Stadium season with a win over Derby County to move up to fourth in the table and pass the eighty point barrier at the same time.
A win for the Swans means that a two legged semi final against Bournemouth looks set to be the outcome of the final league placings after Barnsley were beaten. Bournemouth matching Barnsley’s result (or better) next weekend will make that happen.
Although Steve Cooper made five changes for this game any talk of a “weakened” team proved to be nothing more than sensationalist headlining as Cooper kept a strong team for the visit of a Derby side who were looking to secure the points that they needed to avoid relegation.
With the Swans play off spot already secured, Cooper would have been hoping for a Swans performance not just to help their final league position but more importantly to try and get a run of form and some momentum into us before the play offs start in a little over two weeks time.
The Swans probably should have made more of a chance inside the first three minutes when Lowe and Whittaker broke clear to create a two on one situation with the last Derby defender but whilst Lowe found Whittaker, the players lack of a right foot cost us the chance as his first touch was heavy (at best) and looking to push the ball onto his left foot was obviously the wrong thing to do.
It was a rare moment though of attacking intent from either side in a first half that was cagey at best and dull for the main. Derby arguably had the better of play in an attacking third but never threatened Freddie Woodman’s goal whilst the Swans were – as has become the norm for us in recent weeks – threatening nothing up front in the opening half meaning that the goalless half time score line had a feeling of inevitability about it.
The Swans fell a goal behind early in the second half with another piece of poor defending from the Swans. Cast your mind back to last weekend when Reading scored having stolen a match on Bidwell from a ball into the box well this was Derby stealing a march on Connor Roberts. A second ball into the box saw Lawrence get ahead of the Welsh international and place his header past Woodman to give the visitors the lead with a goal that went a long way to securing their Championship safety.
It is incredible watching the Swans just how little we can threaten an opposing goal and it was more than an hour gone before we had a shot on goal but when we did it bought the equaliser. A ball into the box found the head of Cabango and as he headed back across goal Whittaker got a header on the ball which was ruled over the line by the goal decision system. The Swans were level with their first shot on goal.
And two minutes later our second shot on target gave us the lead. This one was far more convincing as Roberts met a cross from the left with a perfect volley to find the back of the net and put the Swans 2-1 up. From a game that we didn’t look like we were trying in two goals in two minutes and we were on track for three points and keeping alive the relegation battle that looked as if was about to be ended for three clubs.
It looked like we may have a chance for a third just a minute later but Lowe was booked for diving in the area when you wondered if a penalty decision may go our way and the game was alive.
In between goals Cooper had introduced Ryan Manning and Ollie Cooper for Bidwell and Whittaker as news reached the Liberty that Barnsley and Bournemouth were both losing – was this to be a pivotal afternoon in the race for final league positions?
The Swans were very much on the front foot now and looking to attack at every opportunity as Derby heads dropped. That said we know the Swans are never totally comfortable with just a one goal advantage and Woodman was called upon to save a strong header from Kazim-Richards in the 79th minute to keep the scoreline at 2-1 as Derby tried desperately to get something out of the game that would ease their relegation fears.
It was definitely the encouragement that the visitors needed and they pushed forward more in search of an equaliser and some strong defending from the Swans denied Kazim-Richards again when he looked well positioned to again trouble Woodman. Cooper’s response was to send on Fulton for Dhanda to try and tighten up his midfield in a sign that maybe with just a few minutes to go we were protecting the lead we had built ourselves.
One of the key things we had to aim for this afternoon was a win and whilst it did not come with the performance that maybe we, as fans, desired it did come on the back of falling a goal behind and was a first home win in six – the last being a win over Middlesbrough at the start of March.
For Derby they remain outside the bottom three but still very much threatened with relegation and will fall through the trap door if Rotherham win both games or indeed if they are beaten by Sheffield Wednesday next Saturday. It is that simple for them.
The Swans know now that – barring a big defeat or big Barnsley win next weekend – they will finish 4th or 5th in the table and, as we know all too well, winning can become a habit very quickly. Are we potentially four games from the Premier League?
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