Progress continues under the Cowleys despite a further 2 points being dropped against a peculiar Swansea side whose individual talents were apparent in possession but who seemed rather easily subdued by an aggressive approach which trod a somewhat fine line at times.
Town were helped by a paucity of ambition by their Welsh visitors who, while clearly adept at picking up away points – they remain unbeaten on the road as December approaches – defended as deeply as a relegation threatened side might, particularly in the second half, against opponents with glaringly obvious frailties at full back on both flanks.
O’Brien and Bacuna coped admirably in their adopted roles, but apart from a worrying opening few minutes down Swansea’s left and occasional glimpses of Ayew’s ability on the right, the visitors barely exploited Town’s injury woes.
Perhaps taking an early lead, in fortuitous circumstances, influenced their mindset.
An aggressive opening by the Terriers was a little lacking in discipline and the Swans were able to enjoy far too much space and freedom to play at times and their crisp passing and movement seemed ominous with the home side looking a little vulnerable.
However, it was against the run of play when the visitors took the lead.
Peterson, Swansea’s left winger, tormented Bacuna early on and a long night appeared in store for the stand in, but the inexperienced full back could not be blamed for both the linesman and referee ignoring pleas for a dead ball which was obvious from wherever you were in the stadium.
Instead, a corner was conceded moments later which was defended but at the expense of another. A good delivery was won in the air before a Swansea foot touched the ball on ahead of Chalobah’s attempt to clear, leaving Fulton unmarked to convert from a difficult angle.
While Town should have dealt with both corners better than they did, the whole phase of play was predicated on officials missing the ball going out of play. Their performance did not improve from this point.
Rather than press home their advantage, Swansea became too passive, while Town stepped up their pressing to instil some doubt in to the Welshmen and curb their ability to play out from the back.
On the rare occasions that the press was beaten, Town continued to look a little vulnerable but the Swans were unable to muster a further effort on target.
Despite patient and accurate build up play, Town seemed incapable of creating chances of their own with just one cross early on by Bacuna causing the visitors any real discomfort; Grant was agonisingly close to connecting.
Poorly delivered corners came and went, a strong and fair challenge on the Swans’ keeper by Campbell following a slightly under hit back pass increased the temperature of the game and the striker’s next challenge provided further ignition as he clattered in to Van der Hoorn for a booking which perhaps warranted harsher sanction.
The bizarre sight of the linesman from the other side of the pitch running over to inject his own wisdom on events may have cooled any austere thoughts from the mind of the referee (who, like the rest of the stadium, must have wondered why the hell he had waddled over).
Unlike quite a few of his comrades, whose falls, leg clutching and moaning peppered and interrupted the game, Campbell’s victim was genuinely injured by the tackle – he didn’t appear for the second half – and for all the righteous anger towards a poor referee, the leniency shown to Campbell was generous.
If Swansea’s opener was predicated on poor officiating, Town’s leveller had more than an element of good fortune. However, the goal was the culmination of quite intensive pressure and the result of someone, in this case Pritchard, shooting from outside the area.
The diminutive play maker’s rather unconvincing effort took a deflection off Schindler in to the path of Grant who finished with his customary panache.
Pritchard, who seems to be dividing opinion upon his return to the side, had two other efforts on target from range, was involved in most of Town’s good work going forward and has the ability to create uncertainty in defenders and space for others. While not a perfect performance by any means, and he really needs to add goals in to the mix, there are enough signs that the talent shown in this division previously is finally appearing for his current employers.
The equaliser was timely and proved to be the foundation of possibly the best 40 minutes of the season in the second half with Town not only dominating proceedings but on the rare occasion their grip loosened they regained shape very quickly to deny the visitors the opportunity to counter.
Excellent combinations down both flanks kept the Swans pinned in to their own half, but the impressive approach play simply wasn’t matched once the ball arrived at the sharp end. Even Grant, an exquisite and natural finisher, felt the necessity of an additional touch.
The instinctive passing and movement was very encouraging, however.
Creating space against a side employing a defensive block to the extent that it pushed a highly competent opponent back on their heels is no mean feat; it was just a shame that hesitancy in front of goal and a pair of excellent opposing centre halves thwarted the pursuit of 3 points.
Mounié’s appearance from the bench didn’t particularly move the dial and his lack of pace rather detracted from Town’s energy when compared to Campbell’s work rate. He cannot complain about a lack of service; he dithered when presented with a shooting opportunity in full sight of goal and connected badly to a cross which created a difficult chance. Heading hopelessly wide rather summed up his contribution.
With 5 minutes to go, and Town still pressing hard for a winner their performance deserved, Chalobah’s youthful naïveté burst in to the open.
Despite one or two blips, including an errant cross field ball which nearly set Swansea free from the pressure built against them, this was comfortably his best performance of the season, linking well with others, putting in some good challenges and even having a shot from outside the area which was tipped, possibly unnecessarily, over the bar.
Town were still threatening the visitors’ stolid back four, had largely subdued any threat from them and, while time wasn’t on their side, looked the only possible winners. At this point, Swansea’s Byers made a late challenge on Chalobah which provoked the young man’s ire. Moving towards his opponent, his head jerked forward collapsing Byers to the ground. A red was the only possible outcome even if subsequent replays uncovered a complete over reaction by the (dying) Swan.
With ten minutes remaining, including the copious amount of time added on for the serious injury to Byers’ fringe, it should have been expected that the air would be sucked out of Town’s pursuit of a winner. But it wasn’t.
Coping with relative ease, Town’s depleted contingent continued to take the game to the visitors, though Swansea came closest to a winner with a back post header over which the vast majority of the crowd held their collective breath.
To only get one point for the second half dominance of a strong, confident opponent was disappointing but the positives shone through the late November gloom.
Alongside Schindler, Stankovic was excellent and his performance was not marred by the errors which accompanied his game against Birmingham. Commanding in the air, comfortable receiving and distributing the ball and rapidly forming a good relationship with his captain, the Slovenian has alleviated the worry of the central defensive disruption following Elphick’s sad absence.
In addition to getting to know each other, the central defenders have the extra responsibility of looking out for the juvenile full backs either side of them. So far, in 2 games, they have allowed three attempts on target. Sadly, two of those were goals, but the sheer mathematical probabilities will eventually work in your favour if that standard can be maintained.
Hogg’s early season travails are over. Despite yet another booking, a senseless foul on the halfway line, his energy, positioning and drive was key to a team display which augurs well. A raking, perfectly executed pass in to the path of a marauding O’Brien in the second half was a highlight; particularly as he is not supposed to be able to move the ball beyond 5 yards.
Perhaps the biggest positives as a team were the noticeably high levels of fitness of most of the side which allowed them to regain shape very quickly if possession was lost. This was more the case in the second half than the first but evidence of the real impact made by the Cowleys.
It was unfortunate that some of the intricate passing movements and genuine quality in the second half did not translate in to goals, but it did demonstrate much higher confidence levels both individually and as a team. Hopefully, the reappearance of genuine entertainment and enterprise indicates a much tighter squad with growing faith in each other. Hogg rarely has to shout at anyone these days.
Though spoiled by a routinely incompetent referee, who was no friend to either side, the stadium witnessed another entertaining game along with some genuinely encouraging performances by individuals working within a discernible team structure.
3 difficult tests now follow and there could well be setbacks, but supporters can have faith that the trajectory is upward even if it will still pan out over months, not weeks.
And, of course, we would have lost that one under……