Some games are endured more than enjoyed.
This new years day coming together of Swansea and the claret and blues, was definitely one such game. Even when you win these type of games, you`re not too sure what it is that you`ve actually won, apart from the obvious three points on offer that is. We came very close to winning today, picking up three very valuable points in the process, and while it was frustratingly disappointing to throw away the lead and two precious points right at the death, looking at the game overall, and recalling what had gone before, particularly in the opening twenty to twenty five minutes of the first half, the very fact that we came so close to kicking off the new year in style with an away victory, is an amazing statistic in itself.
Make no mistake, by the time the thirty minute mark arrived, the home team should have been at least four goals to the good. They out-played, out-fought, out-thought, and out-classed us, yet somehow contrived to miss chance after chance after chance, and only had the 1-0 lead, when in a fair and proper world, which fortunately for us today, the premier league is not, the three points would have been already in their back pockets.
We were awful virtually throughout the opening half, every bit as woeful as we had been in our previous three games. Our defence was cut apart at will, our midfield over-run and once again merely chasing shadows, and up top we offered nothing.
That we made more of a game of it second half is to our credit, no doubt spirits were raised thanks to Andi Weimann`s forty third minute against the run of play equaliser, but in truth, repeating our abysmal first half offering would have been extremely difficult, and even by our recent standards, would have taken some doing.
We made our first trips to Swansea City, back in the good old third division days of the early seventies, but it was at the Vetch Field where all of the action took place in those ancient times, rather than the Liberty Stadium, which became the Swans new home back in 2005. We won both of our third division trips there thanks to a 2-1 score line, but we weren`t so fortunate back in the early eighties, when on our two visits to the Vetch for old football League division one games, we were beaten 2-1 on both occasions.
Going back to the third division trips, the latter of the two, 1971-72, played on the 27th December, we made one of our hairiest/scariest away trips ever, negotiating our way through driving, fast accumulating snow on the way to South Wales. I recall that we stopped off mid-morning en route at a public house, to grab a bite to eat and enjoy some liquid refreshment, only planning to take a thirty minute break or so from the gently falling but definitely settling snow that was causing yours truly, at the wheel of his faithful old Austin A40, some seriously deteriorating visibility difficulties.
We were the only four guests in the bar, when onto the tv screen came a showing of The Beatles ‘Hard Day`s Night` movie, a film we had all seen numerous times, yet for some reason only genuine diehard Beatles fans could understand, insisted on seeing again. Anything I guess rather than head back outside and face the elements. By the time we did exit the pub, we were greeted by a first rate winter wonderland scene.
Language of which our mothers certainly wouldn`t have approved of, filled the chill winter air as we dug the A40 out of the snow, and once again began negotiating the roads as we headed off to Swansea. Fortunately the closer we got to our destination, the lighter the snow fell, but we all four realised that it would be another hair-raising drive back to Brum post game, and this time with the added danger of darkness. Still, we lived to tell the tale, and we picked up the two precious points on offer (it was our third division promotion season), but yes, apart from a journey up to Middlesbrough one year, that 27th December hazardous trek to Swansea will long remain in the memory as one of the most treacherous away day drives we have ever made.
No such problems on this present day trip though. Forty plus years on from that eventful journey, the very same four of us diehards/idiots were making more or less the same drive, on more modern, much improved roads of course, making for an infinitely better, quicker route (it still takes three hours plus, give and take) between dear old Brummagem and the city of Swansea.
‘I wonder what our response would have been back then` Andy asked, ‘if someone would have said that we`d be still be regularly making Villa away trips in 2013, forty years on`? None of us had a sensible, or should I say repeatable, response to that poser.
Good music is always the order of the day on our away excursions, today being no exception, and James Taylor`s ‘Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon`, Ronnie Lane`s ‘Anymore For Anymore`, and the Moody Blues ‘Threshold Of A Dream` had entertained us by the time we stopped near Celtic Manor, close to where we hit the M4, to enter a very pleasant local hostelry for our pre-game refreshments. We bumped into three fellow travelling Villans, shared a table, and entered into a very engrossing debate and discussion relating to our season to date. Always good to share thoughts and opinions with fellow travelling Villans.
We were joined by Greg and Brian, two away day regulars, who added their weight to the conversation, and only the important need to hit the road again broke up what had turned in to an extremely interesting debate. So many varying thoughts and observations, plenty of food for thought. Pity Mr.Lerner and Paul Lambert weren`t in attendance, our ‘expert` opinions would surely have influenced their January transfer dealings. Or, more likely, probably not.
So back into the car, onto the M4, Swansea here we come. ‘Spanky and Our Gang now providing the in-car concert. ‘Sundays Will Never Be The Same`. Tell us about it Spanky. After that Chelsea horror show, you`re probably right.
So, here was the starting line up on which Paul Lambert pinned our hopes and expectations: Brad Guzan, Matty Lowton, Cap`n Clark, Joe Bennett, Herdy, Andi Weimann, Fabian Delph, Enda Stevens, Ash Westwood, Christian Benteke, Marc Albrighton.
Substitutes, awaiting the call of duty: Shay Given, Stephen Ireland, Brett Holman, Jason Bowery, Barry Bannan, Eric Lichaj, Sami Carruthers.
Good to see Sami Carruthers involved. He is in my opinion one of our better, more talented youngsters, and I`m surprised that he hasn`t been involved more to date.
Swansea came at us right from the off. Routledge left Lowton for dead but his shot was easily saved by Guzan, who then denied Michu`s follow up effort, and then the ex-Villan should have put the home team ahead when clear through on goal, but again Brad came to our rescue.
Swansea came very close again, this time Cieran Clark did well to cut out Michu’s pass to Danny Graham, when a goal from the latter would surely have been the outcome had he received the ball, but you sensed that it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough came, and indeed it was. Hernandez set Routledge free, and he waltzed around Guzan and tucked the ball away. It was no more than Swansea deserved. Our defence looked all at sea again, and another heavy defeat looked very much on the cards at that stage.
We were all over the shop at the back, and it was almost 2-0 immediately after Routledge`s opener, when Michu saw his effort come back off the post, with Brad well beaten.
Both Graham and Michu again went close for the Swans, and we were somehow hanging on. A second goal at this stage would have been the killer blow. Benteke went on a decent little run, but his poor effort was gathered by Vorm, and once again the home team began to turn the screw. Michu hit the post again following a superb piece of skill, as the one way traffic towards our goal continued.
We had experienced a first half battering, received a footballing lesson, when suddenly from out of the blue we were level, with Andi Weimann finishing superbly following a Christian Benteke assist. Swansea had started to take their foot off the pedal, something you simply cant do at this level, and in doing so they left the door open for us to get back into the game. Williams failed to cut out Christian Benteke’s clever flick, and Andi finished superbly with an angled drive across Vorm in the home goal.
The travelling support couldn`t believe it, nor I suspect could the players, but somehow, after being completely outplayed throughout the half, we were to go in at the break on level terms. The Swansea players would have been kicking themselves, but after wasting so many clear cut openings, they only really had themselves to blame.
The second half saw a huge improvement in our performance, without us ever reaching the heights, but it was certainly much more of an even contest. In fact, it looked at times as if we were shading it. We could have been ahead had Christian Benteke been able to stretch enough to get a toe on a clever ball across the six-yard box from Matty Lowton, just after the restart.
Swansea certainly weren`t being allowed to play their football, as at times in the first half it was as if we were standing off them, giving us the opportunity to admire and appreciate their pretty passing game. The home team were struggling to make any form of a breakthrough, and our defence had tightened up considerably to where Brad was very rarely troubled. Such a different story when compared to those first half opening exchanges.
We looked to have experienced a lucky escape when Joe Bennett was penalised for handball on the left side of the area, but despite huge appeals from players and home support alike, Swansea were only awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box, when in truth Bennett had appeared to handle just inside the area.
Andi Weimann went extremely close to giving us the go ahead goal, but his curled effort was just wide, while Swansea were now restricted to pumping hopeful balls forward, not their game at all.
We looked quite comfortable at this stage, and for the first time over the Christmas period we were showing strong resistance at the back. We would have happily settled for the 1-1 draw as the game entered the final stages, when Dyer fouled Andi Weimann in the box, and up stepped Christian Benteke to convert the penalty with a right footed shot into the bottom left corner. 2-1 to the claret and blues. Cue wild celebrations amongst the travelling faithful.
We looked to be holding on for the three points, when from virtually the last kick, Danny Graham tied things up when he volleyed home, after Michu`s effort had been blocked following a goalmouth scramble, to deny us the much needed victory.
So, overall, while we have to be delighted with the point, and the fact that we ended the horrendous mini-run of heavy reversals, we should also be frustrated at conceding so close to the end, and yet mightily relieved that we weren`t 4-0 down at the break, a score line that would have been more in keeping with the home teams first half superiority.
A mixed bag of emotions indeed, but after the three previous performances and results, at least we once again have something on which to pin our hopes for an improved showing throughout the second half of the campaign.
As for the year ahead? Surely things can only get better? With two domestic Cup games now ahead of us, followed by a visit from Southampton on the 12th, we have the opportunity to push onward and upward, and welcome brighter skies to dear old Brummagem B6.
No, I didn`t get the opportunity to enjoy a paddle in the sea, I was the days unfortunate designated driver, I had to witness us taken apart in that one sided first forty five, and I had to suffer Swansea`s late, late equaliser, but overall I have to say that I enjoyed my new years day following the claret and blues to South Wales. I`ve certainly known worse away-days.
Come On You Lions.
Glensider at Swansea City
Some games are endured more than enjoyed.