A singular piece of Andre Ayew magic and a solid and strong performance from the Swans was enough to give us a one goal advantage from the first leg of our play off semi final against Barnsley – can we finish the job off at the Liberty on Saturday and seal our place at Wembley?
Steve Cooper sprung what would have been classed as a surprise when he left Connor Roberts out of the starting line up preferring instead to go with the experience of Kyle Naughton a move that you would assume was done partly to try and nullify any advantage Barnsley may have been trying to take with their brand of football.
Play off 1st legs can often be cagey and that was certainly the case in the first 45 minutes at Oakwell as the two sides largely cancelled each other out. Barnsley probed plenty of times at the Swans defence but never really tested a defence that was well marshalled by Guehi and Cabango whilst Woodman was commanding in his area during the first 45 minutes and kept the home side – and their returning fans – largely quiet.
If defensively strong was one of the key mantras of the first half game plan, scoring a goal would have been one of the perfect ones and we got ourselves in front just over five minutes before the interval. And, as has been the case so often this season, it was thanks to Andre Ayew that we took the lead.
Well, I say that but we should give credit to both Naughton and Lowe for their parts in the goal but it was the skill of Ayew who found the space, created the opportunity for his left foot and curled the ball past the home keeper to give the Swans the advantage.
The Swans were grateful to Freddie Woodman at the start of the second half for keeping out a Barnsley equaliser with a vital double save. He will have been slightly disappointed with the first which he palmed out to a Barnsley forward but recovered to make a superb save at the second attempt.
It sparked a pretty intensive few minutes of Barnsley pressure with a series of corner and some level of panic in the Swans defence that was threatening to undo the good work of the first half.
At this point the fans being back in the ground was starting to become more obvious as the noise levels at Oakwell were going upwards and Woodrow tested Woodman again with a free kick from the edge of the area and the Swans keeper held on at the second time of asking.
The second half was progressing at a frantic pace, a fact backed by a statistic that showed Barnsley had 50% more chances in the first 12 minutes of the second half than they had done in the whole first half put together. The Swans were on the back foot but not completely on a backs to the wall encounter but ventures forward in the opening 15 minutes of the second half were few and far between but maybe with hope that they could expose a hole in the Barnsley defence.
As the game ticked past the hour mark the Swans were doing a great job of slowing down the pace of the game but were guilty twice of giving up cheap possession from an attacking corner and exposed slightly from a counter attack.
This was now starting to feel more and more like a play off semi final with the crowd raising the home team in a way that we have to ensure the Jack Army does on Saturday evening, the difference that even the smallest crowd can make to the enjoyment of watching a game really is incredible.
Swansea though appeared to have weathered the storm as the game went into the last quarter and the introduction of Wayne Routledge for Liam Cullen was a clear sign that it was time for experience over youth as Steve Cooper looked to ensure the madness of the early stages of the second half was not repeated.
The game though was definitely not descending into a dull affair and Woodman’s quick reactions allowed him to clear after a ball over the top caught out Cabango and just seconds later the Swans were on the attack and Barnsley were grateful for a defensive clearance of their own.
Jamal Lowe came very close to doubling the Swans lead in the 72nd minute after some good work on the left saw him break into the area but just as you felt he was going to find the back of the net he shot high and wide and the 1-0 scoreline remained intact.
The Swans were using every opportunity to continue to slow down the play when they could but that was not to say that we were being defensive it was more a case to ensure that the game was being played at our pace rather than the one that the home side would have liked to dictate.
Defensively for large parts of this season we have been strong and that was certainly the case tonight as the Swans were using all aspects of their game to hold onto the lead with Woodman looking to add to the 20 clean sheets that won him the division’s golden glove as the game headed towards the last five minutes.
Andre Ayew looked to have made the wrong decision with those five minutes to go when he elected not to play in Routledge when a ball across to the experienced player looked the right thing but as it broke to Grimes he hit a stinging shot that was parried by the keeper and grabbed at the second attempt.
The one criticism of the second half would have to be the wasted corners from Conor Hourihane which never really showed any of the danger that we know a set piece from the Irishman can create. A point highlighted by a last minute free kick that floated over everyone and sailed aimlessly out for a goal kick.
Three minutes of injury time thankfully passed without too much real danger despite a couple of Barnsley corners and the job was done although the Swans were again grateful to Woodman with some help from the crossbar to keep our clean sheet intact.
Make no mistake though this was a good Swansea performance. After all the criticisms of recent months, some justified, some less so, this was a tactical masterclass from Steve Cooper which did a job and, thanks to that Ayew magic, got us the win into the bargain. Cooper can be rightly proud of his team’s performance this evening and we can go into the game Saturday with every confidence.
So for the second season running we go into the second leg of the play off semi final with a one goal advantage thanks to an Andre Ayew goal. Last time though we had played the home leg and were unable to hold on away from home, this time around we will welcome Barnsley to the Liberty for the second leg knowing that if we can avoid defeat we will have a date at Wembley coming up on 29 May. We are halfway there.
RATE THE PLAYERS
MATCH FACTS AND LINE UPS
OTHER CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
NEXT UP FOR THE SWANS