SWANS START TO BUILD FIRM FOUNDATIONS BENEATH THE ICONIC ARCH
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.