Garry Monk may be ruing his starting selection on the drive home this evening. The Swansea manager opted to rest key midfielders, Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson, tonight. Drafted in in their steads were Jack Cork and the obscure Modou Barrow – making only the second Premier League start of his career.
And boy, did it show. Barrow got absolutely nothing from Stoke left-back, Erik Pieters, before being mercifully hooked on the hour mark. It was at that point that Ki and Sigurdsson were belatedly introduced to the fray – making Swansea, if only very briefly, resemble a somewhat functional attacking unit.
The visitors, Stoke City, took the lead in the 4th minute from the penalty spot. In a sign of the horror show to come for the hosts, their standout player this season, Ashley Williams, succumbed to the temptation to illegally challenge the clever Bojan in the box. The Stoke number ten dispatched the resulting penalty and went on to enjoy twice as many first-half touches of the ball as his opposite number – the disappointing André Ayew – despite the fact that Stoke were predominantly sitting deep, soaking up pressure and looking to break.
And how well they warmed to that task, with the much-maligned Irish midfielder, Glenn Whelan, particularly to the fore in denying space to Swansea’s dysfunctional attacking midfield cohort. In addition to the aforementioned Ayew and Barrow, the usually thrilling Jefferson Montero also toiled on the left flank, with Glen Johnson comfortably getting the better of their individual battle. It took until the 90th minute for the Colombian midfielder to deliver a decent cross – which surprised Ki into nodding wide.
Despite chasing a lead and being on the front foot for 86 minutes, Swansea only managed to fashion two shots on target over the course of the game. With Ayew struggling to find space to receive the ball, both wingers stuttering, and Gomis’ touch and movement not up to the required standard, it was difficult to see how a breakthrough was going to manifest itself.
Jonjo Shelvey hit the post from an acute angle just before the hour mark, after winning a 50-50 challenge with Wollscheid. And then, the cavalry – who should have been the frontline – arrived. Ki finally found Gomis in the box with a pass to feet shortly after his arrival, only for the aforementioned German centre-back to make a crucial block. And Sigurdsson went close from range just two minutes later, after becoming the only player in white to escape Whelan’s attentions in front of the Stoke box tonight.
Aside from that brief flurry, the last twenty minutes was pretty moribund stuff from a home perspective, with the play too narrow and the tempo too slow to trouble a resolute Stoke. The visitors repelled the threat comfortably, even after the introduction of a second striker in the shape of Eder.
In fact, it was Stoke who carried the greater attacking threat after their opener, despite also only managing two shots on target themselves. A brilliant reverse pass from Shaqiri to set up Johnson should have resulted in a doubling of their lead just before the break. And a lofted through ball from the Swiss, matched by a brilliant diagonal run from the impressive Marko Arnautovic could and should have also borne fruit – were it not for the quick pressing of goalkeeper Fabianski.
No complaints from Swansea then – apart, of course, for the Jack Butland incident – when the Stoke goalkeeper recovered a blundered attempted pass with a studs up challenge on Ayew. Not a red for me, but certainly a foul. Butland escaped without even the concession of a free-kick. As did Stoke – with the three points, after a textbook away performance.