Swansea City’s FA cup journey for this season lasted just one game as they were unable to overcome ten man Southampton at the Swansea.com stadium. Goals from Joel Piroe and an own goal looked as if we may progress but two quick goals from the Saints saw them progress to Round Four and us to think on the defensive errors that cost us dear again.
A whole month has passed between this and the Swans last fixture – a 4-1 defeat at home to Nottingham Forest and given the fact that our two most recent games were called off due to a Covid outbreak in our camp the team selection was always going to be interesting.
And when the team sheets were released an hour before kick off it showed rare starts for Liam Cullen, Michael Obafemi and Liam Walsh with the likes of Matt Grimes and Olivier Ntcham dropping to the bench. There was no place in the squad at all for Jamie Paterson.
The Swans started relatively brightly with Walsh trying a long range shot from outside the area that went high and wide and Valery picking up a 3rd minute booking for a foul on Manning and following a good advantage by the referee.
However, the defensive frailties that we saw before our enforced break soon came to the fore again as we gifted Southampton a goal inside the first ten minutes of the game. This time it was a misplaced pass from Walsh that was picked up in the midfield and the ball played to Nathan Redmond who easily slotted past Ben Hamer to give the visitors the lead.
That was all the encouragement the Saints needed and for the next twenty minutes they were a continual threat to the Swans defence seemingly able to create space at will and only a couple of last minute challenges from Piroe and Bennett kept the scoreline at 1-0.
Just before the half hour mark though the pattern of the game was turned slightly on its head when Southampton went down to ten men. Cullen’s high and hopeful ball found Obafemi and although his first touch was (more than) heavy an arm on his back from Valery saw the former Southampton striker go down and with the referee deeming it a free kick he was left with little alternative but to show a second yellow.
For the remainder of the first half the Swans were heavy on possession but, as has been the case many times this season, lacking in creativity something highlighted by us relying solely on long shots from Naughton and Walsh.
No changes at half time but the Swans probably should have been two down just before the hour mark when a Ward-Prowse free kick was watched by every Swans defender, each of whom would have been glad to see Stephens direct a free header wide of the target when he should have scored.
The response of Russell Martin was to take off Walsh and Cooper and replace them with Grimes and Ntcham as he looked to try and force a change on a game that wasn’t out of our reach but there was little real threat to the Southampton defence in that first 60 minutes.
If we struggle to create chances for our own forward line we find it incredibly easy to create a chance for the opposition and it was a misplaced pass from Naughton that was next to test Hamer as Romeu shot from long range but thankfully straight at the keeper.
The month off football had done little for our playing style and as the game ticked towards the last fifteen minutes it was a Swansea side devoid of ideas, pace and ability that seemed to be on the pitch. Too often passes were under hit, or more often played behind the player, taking away any chance we had of causing concern in the Saints defence.
However on 77 minutes the Swans drew level. A ball from Smith found Naughton in space in the area and whilst his ball was not the best the deflection fell nicely for Piroe and the Swans leading scorer did not need a second invitation to hammer the ball into the back of the net and bring the Swans back level.
The goal certainly spurred the Swans into life for a while and just two minutes later a long shot by Grimes was parried by Forster but Cullen was not able to trouble the keeper really with the rebound as his shot went into the ground first and was grabbed thankfully by Forster who probably should have done better with the first chance.
It was at this point of the game that you started to wonder how much a crowd inside the ground would push the team forward as the Swans pushed forward in search of the goal that may prevent the additional 30 minutes play.
The introduction of Yan Dhanda for Liam Cullen with five minutes to play was the Swans third change of a game that looked as if it was heading towards extra time. There was though long enough for the Swans to miss their best chance of the game. A through ball from Obafemi found Piroe running clear but, under pressure from a retreating defender, his shot was saved by the legs of Fraser Forster.
When you have gone a month without football with a squad that has been ravaged by Covid playing havoc with all your training plans the last thing Russell Martin would have wanted was an extra thirty minutes but that was exactly what he got as the final whistle blew on the game signaling a 1-1 draw in the 90 minutes.
The extra period started with the very rare sight of Jay Fulton on the pitch for the Swans – everything points to Fulton leaving in January so was this his chance to sign off with a final moment of glory for the Swans. Was it also to be an extra period where the fact that Swansea had already played with an extra man for more than an hour would pay dividends?
It didn’t take long for that advantage to count and it came about in a somewhat fortunate way. A cross ball from Manning found Ntcham on the corner of the box, his ball into the centre was low and hard but it took a fortunate (for us) deflection off the Southampton defender to give Forster no chance.
The lead though lasted less than 60 seconds as a long ball found Shane Long in the area and his ball into the middle eluded Bennett and it was struck home by Elyounoussi who gave Hamer no chance to bring the game back level at 2-2.
The game was no open and just two more minutes later Dhanda burst into the area but, as is often the case with Dhanda, he looked devoid of ideas and the ball deflected off a defender and Dhanda himself for a goal kick.
12 minutes into the first period of extra time the Swans found themselves behind again as veteran Shane Long scored their third goal after a neat move that found him in all the space he needed six yards out and he was never going to pass up the opportunity afforded to him and they had a 3-2 lead. The optimism of taking the lead in the 95th minute had been replaced by despair as quick as the 102nd. Unfortunately it is becoming a tale of our season that defending is something we do periodically rather than robustly.
It could have been 3-3 just minutes later though as a Dhanda shot from outside the area was parried by Forster and Ntcham’s powerful shot from the rebound went agonisingly wide of the goal with the keeper well beaten.
There were now just fifteen minutes left for the Swans to save their FA Cup season with the question being if we had one more chance in us as Southampton lined up behind the ball certainly looking to hold onto the advantage presented to them in the first half of the extra period.
Piroe was the first to turn down a chance to bring the scoreline back level when he only managed to get under a great cross from Dhanda – replays showing the Swans front man jumped too early and therefore was always likely to get under the ball.
Swansea’s desire to pass back too often was highlighted by a ball into the area for Fulton which he instinctively played backwards when a turn forward would have seen him in on goal and shortly afterwards a break from the Saints looked certain to finish the game off but a block by Bennett earned the visitors a corner much to the relief of the home side.
The last change saw Rhys Williams replace Korey Smith in the last throw of the dice for the night from the Swans but we were now watching two tired sides playing out the last five minutes of the game and you wondered if the chances had passed the Swans by.
And so it proved to be the case as Southampton saw out the remaining minutes with ease to progress through to the fourth round. Given the visitors played from 30 minutes onwards with just ten men this could very much be a missed opportunity for the Swans but for a first match back in a month then it was a respectable performance but littered with the same errors that we saw before our enforced break. Conceding the equaliser just a minute after going ahead was really inexcusable and you simply do not give Shane Long the space we afforded him for the winner.
MATCH FACTS AND LINE UPS
OTHER FA CUP RESULTS
NEXT UP FOR THE SWANS