Watching Championship football in a leather chair usually means that I am at home on the settee watching Sky Sports, but a freebie in the posh seats at The Liberty Stadium offered a welcome alternative after a fortnight of postponements. A drastic change in the weather had resulted in the South Wales snow and ice being nothing more than a distant memory as a large festive crowd approached the home of Swansea City ahead of this important Championship match against Barnsley.
Outside of my usual surroundings of the Welsh Premier League, it took a few pre-match beers to remind myself that I was indeed at a football match. With swipe card entry replacing the traditional turnstile admission and the function rooms catering more for diners than drinkers, it was not until the teams came out to the backing of a dodgy nineties dance tune that the real football match atmosphere began. A traditional 3.00pm kick-off time was a welcome piece of nostalgia in this new age of professional football, the only difference being of course, that this was on a Tuesday afternoon.
Swansea City 1 Barnsley 0 – Liberty Stadium – Tuesday 28th December 2010
Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers made his intentions clear after a four-goal Boxing Day defeat at Queens Park Rangers as the Irishman made six changes to his starting line-up for the visit of bottom half Barnsley to The Liberty Stadium. Rodgers opposite number, Mark Robins, also went into the match on the back of a festive reverse and the opening exchanges explained the difference in league positions between the two sides as Swansea showed their promotion credentials with a positive start.
Swansea City were by far the more dominant side in the opening 30 minutes. The trenchcoat-wearing Rodgers stood smugly on the touchline as he watched his changes work to such positive effect, content in the knowledge that he also had the luxury of one of the most effective benches in the Championship to call upon should there be the need for change following his surprise team selection. Winger Nathan Dyer was at his best on the right and caused Barnsley a number of problems and it was no surprise when he turned provider on 27 minutes for on-loan MK Dons striker Jermaine Easter to head home.
That was surprisingly the beginning of the end of the home sides dominance. Despite offering little to encourage the 208 travelling Tykes, Barnsley were soon back in the game and twice went close to levelling in the ten minutes after the re-start. After a comfortable first 30 minutes, Swansea slowly but surely switched off and were joined by the majority of the 15,000 crowd after 40 minutes as the half-time attractions inside The Liberty Stadium proved more tempting than the fare being served on the field.
Any off the field comparisons with the Welsh Premier League were dismissed at half-time as I purchased a £1.50 tea bag and some accompanying tepid water and milk. Former Wales International Matthew Jones was one of many discussing the dominance of the home side at the break, but with only one goal to show for their efforts and Barnsley enjoying their best spell of the match before the referee brought the first period to a close, it was fair to say that Rodgers would soon be utilising the strength on his bench.
Barnsley boss Mark Robins proved to the first manger to gamble however as he made his three changes before the 70 minute mark. Rodgers was a bit more cautious, bringing on new hero Scott Sinclair, local hero Joe Allen and the contract-disputing Darren Pratley at staggered intervals. The only surprise was that striker Stephen Dobbie was not the first player to be replaced, in fact it was a surprise that he even came out for the second half, after suffering a generally miserable match. Despite finding himself in some excellent positions, the finishing from the forward was generously abysmal.
Both sides missed further chances as the rain became heavier and heavier. Barnsley had a goal disallowed for offside and the unimpressive Dobbie squandered a near-post opportunity from two yards. With six substitutions but a distinct lack of any physio activity, unrest groaned across the stadium as the fourth official indicated there would be an additional four minutes.Barnsley had maintained a period of pressure on the home side when the announcement was made and there was a genuine concern around the ground.
The concerns proved right as deep into injury-time Swansea City goalkeeper Dorus de Vries made a superb save. The clearance prompted the eventual and very welcome full-time whistle and started the celebrations of a much-needed three points for Brendan Rodgers and his side after the four-goal defeat at league leaders QPR just 48 hours before. His changes had paid off although the strength on his bench played just as an important part in the success as he made key changes to his sides system during the second half.
Jermaine Easter was a surprise addition to Rodger’s squad when he arrived on-loan. A Cardiff-born and bred striker, it would take some hard-working performances for him to win over the home crowd but his winning goal in this match will have banished the boo’s that greeted him on his debut. His cause was helped by the performance of Dobbie alongside him in attack but questions remain if he has the quality to be a consistent performer for Rodger’s side in this promotion chasing campaign.
On a similar South Wales rivals note, Nathan Dyer was correctly named as the Man of the Match following his superb performance, but the enthusiasm of the PA announcer was saved for the news that Cardiff City had suffered a 4-1 reverse at Watford.
Rodgers had pleaded for patience in his programme notes and had stated his concerns over his side not taking their chances in recent weeks. The side are back in action at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday when Reading are the visitors and following this latest performance Rodgers can use the same page again for his programme welcome. Can Swansea earn promotion to the Premier League this season? It was a generally uneasy performance despite a strong start and Barnsley had enough chances to have taken something from the match. The record books show a clean sheet and a victory however, and it is the sides that can win without being at their very best that usually succeed in the long term.
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