SWANS START TO BUILD FIRM FOUN­DA­TIONS BE­NEATH THE ICONIC ARCH

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT - CHRIS WATHAN Chief foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent chris.wathan@waleson­line.co.uk

UN­DERNEATH one of the most iconic con­struc­tions in Bri­tish foot­ball, Swansea City showed they are made of sterner stuff th­ese days.

Wem­b­ley’s arch has been the spec­tac­u­lar set­ting for two of the club’s great­est days, the venue chis­elled into its his­tory books mark­ing suc­cess and sil­ver­ware.

But there had been gen­uine fears that this third trip to the new ver­sion of the venue would see such happy mem­o­ries of the place crum­ble away.

After all, they faced a Tot­ten­ham team that has torn Swansea apart in the past – 5-0 at White Hart Lane last sea­son which could have been ten – and cut Ever­ton and even Borus­sia Dort­mund to shreds in the last seven days.

But, un­derneath that arch, Swansea showed they have foun­da­tions far firmer this sea­son. And now, after earn­ing this un­likely Wem­b­ley point, they have the chance to build.

There will be prob­a­bly a dash of snob­bery about Swansea’s set-up, that they didn’t come to play.

And it’s true you wouldn’t want to watch Paul Cle­ment send out his side so deeply de­ter­mined to de­fend first and fore­most ev­ery week.

But it’s not ev­ery week they go to take on a side who, even with­out scor­ing here, showed they are ca­pa­ble of some su­perb foot­ball.

Be­sides Swansea have tried to take Tot­ten­ham on at their own game on their own patch in the past – and been badly beaten.

In­stead, they dug in, rode the luck they de­served – with Mike Dean at last be­com­ing a friend of Swansea fans – and de­fended with heart and cool heads to get the point they earned. In the process, they be­came the first team to shut out Spurs in front of their own fans in the league since Jan­uary 2016.

It wasn’t al­ways pretty and, un­derneath that arch, it wasn’t the foot­ball from those glo­ri­ous last two trips, but it can point the way back to bet­ter days.

Though this is his sec­ond sea­son, Swansea are still build­ing un­der Cle­ment, which is why dis­play­ing such solid foun­da­tions was so im­por­tant and so im­pres­sive.

In­stead of head­ing into the home clash with Wat­ford with two de­feats in a row and sens­ing the pres­sure and cy­cle of scrap­ping for points re­turn­ing from last term, Swansea have given them­selves the chance to seek mo­men­tum.

It was an op­por­tu­nity missed in anti-cli­matic de­feat to New­cas­tle. For a side still try­ing to find its right bal­ance to get it fully fir­ing, try­ing to do it at Tot­ten­ham could have spelled dis­as­ter. Hence go­ing back to five-atthe-back.

So in­stead, they got what they came for and can use it to build thanks to those solid foun­da­tions. It is now a third clean sheet on the road in a row – four if you in­clude the end of last sea­son. In fact, the de­fen­sive im­prove­ments have been go­ing on ever since Cle­ment walked in the door.

Two play­ers show it more than most. Fed­erico Fer­nan­dez and Al­fie Maw­son were both part of a de­fence that were lam­pooned at times last sea­son and yet are now fast be­com­ing a pair of centre-backs to envy.

Maw­son’s value is well known, but Fer­nan­dez is be­com­ing the real Cle­ment suc­cess story. He had been woe­ful for much of his time fol­low­ing his first sea­son in South Wales, but here he was mas­ter­ful as he led the re­sis­tance against Tot­ten­ham, with Mike van der Hoorn let­ting no-one down again. With the in­tel­li­gent game-read­ing of Sam Clu­cas ev­ery bit as im­por­tant in front of them – and Lukasz Fabi­an­ski sav­ing su­perbly when they were breached – it left Spurs hop­ing for penal­ties.

Ref­eree Dean wasn’t hav­ing it, not when the ball in­ad­ver­tently hit an iso­lated Martin Ols­son, nor when it spun up and hit the same player’s hand not so long after. He also ig­nored a po­ten­tial trip on Serge Aurier and this time did spot a hand, only by the Spurs man.

They are the calls that have tended to go against Swansea in the past away from home. Swans sup­port­ers who still haven’t for­got­ten Dean award­ing a con­tro­ver­sial penalty at Ninian Park in 2009 may start con­sid­er­ing for­give­ness.

As com­men­ta­tors re­searched the game be­fore kick-off at Wem­b­ley, one looked up from his statis­tics and ad­mit­ted he couldn’t en­vis­age a sce­nario where Harry Kane wouldn’t score. And yet he didn’t, frus­trated by the wood­work as well as Fabi­an­ski who bril­liantly stopped one stoop­ing header from a set-piece.

Still, it would be wrong to say that Tot­ten­ham’s pres­sure came from cutting open the vis­i­tors to Wem­b­ley. There was su­perb move­ment, To­tal Foot­ball al­most as play­ers popped up in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, and it cer­tainly wor­ried in the early stages with Kyle Naughton hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time.

But Swansea stayed firm and tried to make the most of the ball for the counter.

Aside from one first-half chance, it didn’t threaten Tot­ten­ham. Van der Hoorn may have done bet­ter from a cor­ner and Tammy Abra­ham – as hard as he worked – may have held the ball up bet­ter at times.

In­deed, it will need to be bet­ter; Re­nato Sanches took a step in the right di­rec­tion but still looks as loose as he does classy. The statis­tic that Swansea have now gone three games out of five with­out a shot on tar­get isn’t a com­fort­able one.

But they are build­ing to­wards bet­ter – and they are able to do to so by hav­ing firmer foun­da­tions than they’ve had for some time, all il­lus­trated un­der the arch.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.