The Swans finish underNeath but over Town

In a bizarre arrangement, Swansea City played two back to back friendly games on Saturday against local Welsh Premier League sides.  First up was a visit to The Gnoll, home of Lee Trundle’s Neath, before heading down to Michael Sheen’s club, Port Talbot Town.  As always Abi Davies and Mark Pitman were on hand to give contrasting views on the afternoon’s festivities.  First up is Abi with the events at The Gnoll.

Neath 1 Swansea City 0 – The Gnoll – Saturday 16th July 2011
Swansea City continued their preparations ahead of their début season in the Premier League with back to back friendlies against Welsh Premier League sides Neath and Port Talbot.  Brendan Rodgers named equally strong sides for both games with a mixture of first team and youth players featuring.

The game as The Gnoll was the first chance Swans fans had to see Danny Graham in action following his £3.5 million move from Watford.

Steven Caulker also made his Swans debut against Neath two weeks after agreeing to join the newly promoted Welsh side on a season long loan.

Neath’s starting line up included five former Swans – most notably Lee Trundle, who still remains a firm favourite among Swans fans.

From the outset, it was evident that Neath wanted to provide a pre-season upset as the home side were quick to test the Swans back line. With ex-Swan Kerry Morgan troubling Zola out wide, earning the home side their first free kick less than 5 minutes into the game. Although the set piece amounted to nothing, further chances came for The Eagles as they used both wings effectively with Kerry Morgan, Chris Jones and Lee Trundle posing Neath’s biggest threat.

With uncertainty surrounding whether Gary Monk will be fit for The Swans opening Premiership fixture, Caulker would be the most likely candidate to partner Ashley Williams against Manchester City on August 15th. The defender on loan from Spurs gave a great account of himself at The Gnoll, looking solid and already seems to have developed a good understanding with Ashley Williams.

Swansea showed glimpses of quality in a pretty lacklustre first half. Ryan Harley came close for The Swans with an effort that drilled across the face of goal.

Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham should both play large parts in the up and coming season, and it was a movement involving the two that saw Swansea create their next chance as Dyer played Graham through, only for his shot to fire just wide of the target.

Graham looked promising, with a great work ethic as well as his ability in front of goal I feel he and Stephen Dobbie will create a great partnership next season.

Following a sublime season in The Championship, Nathan Dyer was the stand out player for Swansea in the first half as he demonstrated his blistering pace and trickery on a number of occasions, however The Eagles defence remained solid as Brendan Rodgers side failed to show any real conviction in the final third.

With 10 minutes of the half remaining, the visitors thought they had broken the deadlock after Nathan Dyer played Danny Graham through on goal, the striker found the back of the net, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.

Neath continued to press for a goal with a long range effort from Lee Trundle forcing a great save from The Swans keeper.

Mark Pitman takes up the story from the second half and onto Port Talbot Town.

Pedantic officiating from referee Harrington had played a part in the deteriorating contest but on 44 minutes he adjudged that Ryan Harley had handled the ball in the Swansea City area and Neath were awarded a penalty. Former Swan Chris Jones stepped-up against German trialist goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann and drilled the ball down the middle of the goal to hand his side the lead at half-time. Mini-football with teams of local youngsters took to the field at the break as the much-worn Now! album used by the club had its latest airing while food trade at the Gnoll resembled that of the local Tesco as hundreds of white and orange replica shirts queued for a midday snack.

As with most pre-season friendlies, half-time saw a number of changes made as eight new faces took to the field for the Swans. Stephen Dobbie and Luke Moore would now become the forward pairing while fan favourite Leon Britton would become the main midfield play-maker. Lee Kendall was again called into action to make a couple of fine saves to keep his side in front as Swansea City pushed for an equaliser but further changes throughout the second half prevented either side from finding any real momentum and only served to frustrate the already disappointed crowd. Swansea enjoyed the far better possession but could not turn their chances into goals and with fifteen minutes remaining a steady stream of supporters made their way out of the ground and onto Port Talbot.

Neath held on for the victory to offer the Welsh Premier League club a morale-boost after their early European exit while the Swansea City fans in attendance were left justifiably concerned about their upcoming trip to the Etihad Stadium as much as their impending trip to Port Talbot’s GenQuip Stadium. The Dutch influence on the clubs orange kit had done little to inspire the side but manager Brendan Rodgers will not have been concerned by his sides defeat as he made the short journey to his sides second friendly of the afternoon.

Port Talbot Town 1-3 Swansea City – The GenQuip Stadium – Saturday 16th July 2011
While their team-mates were suffering a surprise defeat at Neath, the other half of Rodgers; squad were warming up in the bright sunshine of Port Talbot’s GenQuip Stadium. By half-past two a number of Swansea City fans were arriving to take in their second game of the day and with it take a first look at goalkeeper Jose Moreira, a recent signing from Benfica, and also to welcome back from injury influential midfielder Ferrie Bodde. Like The Gnoll, the playing surface at The GenQuip Stadium was in tremendous condition as Port Talbot Town held a guard of honour for the visitors to enter the field, and the heavy rain clouds that had a been a concern for the club on the morning of the match passed to make way for bright sunshine.

Amongst the established stars such as Bodde, Angel Rangel, Joe Allen, David Cotterill, Craig Beattie, Alan Tate and Neil Taylor in the Swansea City starting line-up was youth team product Josh Pike. Better known to the Port Talbot Town fans in the crowd than the Swansea majority, Pike came through the junior ranks at the Welsh Premier League club before joining the Swans and would now find himself making his senior debut in front of over 2,000 people at his home-town club. Port Talbot Town would also offer home debuts to a number of the clubs new signings after a busy summer for manager Mark Jones, who responded to losing four regular players by signing six ahead of the clubs pre-season campaign.

Swansea City took the lead inside the opening 15 minutes as Ferrie Bodde showed the fans in attendance that his injury had not affected his game as he threaded the ball through for striker Craig Beattie to finish past goalkeeper Kristian Rogers. It would be Bodde’s last contribution however as he left the field following the re-start. Fears of a re-occurrence of the injury that had blighted his career would later prove unfounded as his exit was only one of precaution having he felt a tightening of his hamstring after an intensive week of training.

In a more open and entertaining game than the earlier event at The Gnoll, Swansea City maintained possession for long periods and hit the post through Lee Lucas on 25 minutes. Casey Thomas, who had been on-loan at Port Talbot Town last season, was influential on the left and caused his former team-mates a number of problems with his pace and ability. Beattie had a second goal ruled out for offside before Angel Rangel doubled the lead after he combined with Beattie and finished in style to leave the fans happy as they headed for the bar at the break.

Like the match at Neath earlier in the day, the second-half saw a number of changes take place and it was Port Talbot Town who would start the better of the two sides from the re-start. David Cornell, another former Port Talbot Town loanee, was now in goal for Swansea City but one of his early touches of the ball would be to pick it out of the back of the net after striker Martin Rose had reduced the deficit with a deflected near-post effort. Like Bodde, Rose was also coming back after a long-injury and his return offered the ‘1901 Ultras’, the clubs fans, a major boost as they out-sang and out-trumpeted the visiting supporters despite being heavily outnumbered.

A younger Swansea City line-up for the second half soon settled into the match and added a third goal on 59 minutes when Kurtis March completed the scoring with a well-taken goal. The game remained open and competitive as the large crowd stayed until referee Paul Fisher brought the game to a close to round-off a constructive day for Swansea City and a profitable one for both Neath and Port Talbot Town. Few inside either ground will take many positives ahead of the clubs inaugural season in the Premier League on the back of the two performances, but manager Brendan Rodgers will be pleased to have seen his players back in action after the short summer break.

Both Neath and Port Talbot Town have enjoyed strong links with Swansea City over the last few seasons and the Premier League club have remained loyal to them despite their elevated status. Swansea could have arranged far more lucrative games than a double-visit to two of their local Welsh Premier League clubs but their efforts are appreciated by both clubs and by the fans who were able to see them in action when tickets to their Premier League fixtures will be scarce. The three clubs will now move their separate ways as they prepare for the new season but all three will be pleased with what turned out to be a constructive afternoon in South Wales.

Mark Pitman

More pictures from both games can be found here.

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