Karanka la­bels com­fort­able win ‘worst per­for­mance this sea­son’

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE - By Ja­son Mel­lor at the River­side

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.”

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