Karanka labels comfortable win ‘worst performance this season’
As Bob Bradley put it, his side failed to “take care of business”. Middlesbrough did, and in doing so condemned Swansea to a Christmas spent off the foot of the Premier League only on goal difference.
Two first-half goals from Álvaro Negredo, who scored at the Riverside for the first time since the opening day of the season, and one after the break from Marten De Roon, ensured a sixth defeat in 10 games for Swansea’s American head coach, who talked a rather better game than his players had produced in a largely insipid 90 minutes.
“You don’t get anything from complaining about results,” he said after Swansea maintained their average of conceding three goals in each of his six away matches. It is consistency of a kind, albeit rather unwanted.
They have taken one point from the past 21 since winning at Burnley in August, and Bradley added: “It’s the same old story, and we have to look at ourselves. We left ourselves in a hole after conceding two early goals. If you put yourselves in those kind of situations, it’s hard to get out. So far in my time, it’s gone well for us [not losing to rivals]. We talked about the importance of Crystal Palace and Sunderland when we played them, and for the first time today we didn’t take care of business against a team next to us in the table.” Middlesbrough successfully stifled the visitors’ midfield fulcrum, Gylfi Sigurdsson, to such an extent that goalkeeper Víctor Valdés will record few easier clean sheets this season. The hosts were two up inside half an hour, the first after 18 minutes owing much to the industry of Adam Clayton, who collected a pass from Gastón Ramírez down the Middlesbrough left. A deft shimmy left Alfie Mawson floundering and the midfielder’s inviting low cross was dispatched first time into the bottom corner by Negredo from a dozen yards.
Ramírez almost doubled the advantage
Drought ended: Alvaro Negredo scored at home for the first time since the season’s opening day
with a 20-yard free-kick which curled narrowly over, but the wait for a second goal was not a long one, as Adam Forshaw accepted the invitation to tumble over the leg Jordi Amat had left in his path as the midfield player burst into the area. Negredo was the personification of calmness, sending Lukasz Fabianksi the wrong way as he rolled the ball into the bottom corner.
De Roon embellished the margin of victory in the 58th minute, the midfielder running unhindered into the area and volleying home a Ramírez cross to round off a flowing four-man move. George Friend, on as a substitute after a six-week injury absence, should have made it four when the full-back popped up at the end of another slick move. His shot ended in the North Stand, but at that stage it really did not matter.
Swansea’s best spell came when the contest was already over and most of their 400 travelling supporters had headed for the exits. Ben Gibson blocked a goal-bound shot from substitute Leroy Fer, Sigurdsson curled a shot just over and Valdés saved a pointblank header from Fernando Llorente late on.
“We’ve won with probably our worst performance this season,” said Aitor Karanka as his side rose to 14th after scoring more than twice in a game for the first time this season. Dedicating the victory to the club’s goalkeeper coach Leo Percovich, who faces surgery this week after rupturing an Achilles tendon in training on Friday, the Middlesbrough head coach added: “Most of the time I’m pleased with the performance and not the result. This time it’s the other way round but that doesn’t matter because this was the third game at the end of a very hard week. It’s a massive win.”
Swansea finished 12th last season despite occupying a similarly precarious position at Christmas. A repeat looks unlikely this time, but Bradley insisted: “The team has put itself in a tough spot and we’ve got to stick together and fight the fight.”