IBO Reporter : Spot51
|Saints kicked off this White v Black encounter and began knocking the ball about. It was Swansea that got the first shot away though, Walsh firing wide from distance. Swansea had been coached to carry the ball out from the back and both full backs looked comfortable carrying the ball down the wings. On an early foray by Manning he was upended by Valery who was booked by Graham Scott. With no right back on the bench, Valery’s future conduct needed to be exemplary.
It seems the Swansea do not come up against the Gegenpress in their league as they were soon undone by it. Tella intercepted a cross-field pass and Redmond was on his bike. One Nathan found the other and Redders tucked the ball into Hamer’;s bottom left corner. 1-0 Saints!
At this point the screen went blank – bloody Welsh! I quickly searched for the non-HD BBC Wales channel which was still functioning. Nothing important had happened and the first half became a procession of Saints chances created by nicking the ball off Swansea and cutting through them like the proverbial “hot knife”.
Swansea had their moments too. On 14m Romeu conceded a free kick which allowed Naughton to shoot but a Saints body blocked and the resulting corner was cleared. Mostly, Swansea were being dragged about by our forward movement with both Valery and Perraud providing overloads from which we created – but failed to take – further scoring opportunities. JWP was enjoying the options our movement gave him but the best chance came from a free kick after Stu was fouled. The captain found Tella but he blazed the ball over Hamer’s bar. Stu and Tella were also creating chances – the best of these almost set up Broja but Manning’s toe diverted the ball away.
It was one way traffic now. It seemed only a matter of time before we went further ahead but on the half hour the game turned. Obafemi had been largely anonymous until he sprinted for a lofted pass. He got there before Valery but his touch was rubbish so let him go FFS! Instead, the Frenchman put his hand on Obafemi’s shoulder and he hurled himself to the ground. Graham Scott pulled both cards from his pockets and we were down to 10 – again! Walsh obligingly hit the free-kick well away from Fraser’s goal.
With no replacement available, Ralph continued with those left. JWP went to right back, Stu moved to the centre and Redders went right wing leaving Broja up front in a 4-4-1. At least Saints are well versed at being a man down and sat back and invited the home team to break them down. For the first time in the game we were obliged to defend and I was particularly impressed by Perraud. He can do the defensive bit too! Possession was turned on its head but Swansea were often forced to shoot from range and Fraser watched the ball as it travelled into the empty stand behind his goal.
On rare forays forward, Tella was brought down by Bennett and Broja held back by Smith with both defenders carded. But mostly, Saints sat back and Swansea failed to hurt them. At half time, we still led 1-0.
There were no half-time substitutions and Saints mounted an early but unproductive attack as the 2nd half started. JWP seemed to relish bringing down Obafemi when he tried to go by him. Swansea did nothing with the free kick. Ralph had clearly asked for a bit more adventure from his 10 men and Broja almost picked out Tella but the ball was cleared. Without the ball we dropped back into 2 banks of 4. On 50m Manning eased past Redmond and got a shot away which Fraser had to save. Otherwise the big keeper was only required to keep collecting crosses over everyone else’s heads.
With the hour approaching, Saints had a couple of now rare attacks. First, we opened them up down our right wing but the crisp exchange of passes was wasted when Redmond overhit the final ball. Then Walsh’s foul on Alfa gave JWP a free kick. It was too far right for him to shoot but instead he drifted a perfect cross behind the Swansea back line. Stephens came steaming in at the back post and it looked as if he must score. Perhaps the bounce before it reached him made him miss, but miss he did, his header just wide of the post.
Cooper and Walsh were then replaced by Ntcham and Grimes, the latter taking Swansea’s armband. Swansea looked better from that point, keeping the ball better and penning us back. Ralph soon made his changes, bringing on Diallo and Adam A for Redmond and Stu A. On 67m Cullen got beyond Perraud but Bednarek blocked the cross and their corner was cleared. Saints still looked to get forward and an interception allowed us to pile forward. Romeu got a decent shot away but it was right at the keeper. Obafemi kept being flagged offside – infuriating when he played for us but a blessing to our 10 men with the ball being turned over and Fraser booting it up-field.
Swansea’s next period of possession ended with a careless foul on Tella. There were 15m left and just as we began to think we could hold out, Swansea scored. The Swansea fullbacks had been very active but mostly in midfield where we looked comfortable. The first time Naughton ran beyond Perraud he was found with a through ball and drove in a low cross. Stephen’s stuck out a leg but only deflected the ball to Piroe. He gleefully banged the ball into the roof of the net and it was 1-1. Bugger!
Ralph responded with 2 more subs – Moi and Long for Tella and Broja who had both run themselves ragged. The goal gave the home team belief that they could go on and win and suddenly they were creating decent chances. Grimes forced a blocked save from Fraser who then got both gloves on Cullen’s follow up. The big man was quickly off his line when Cullen chased a through ball into his box, Smith fired over before Fraser was again called into action, fielding Cullen’s cross. That was the winger’s last involvement as he was replaced by Dhanda.
Adam and Shane were now doing the pressing but others were tiring. Piroe came close to scoring again near the end when he got behind Stephens but Fraser’s huge right boot blocked the goal bound shot. Obafemi was hooked for Fulton in the 3 added minutes and Stephens was booked - but I’m not sure why.
1-1 at 90m meant Saints had to play for another 30m a man light. There are no replays in the remainder of this year’s FA Cup and whilst the FA say this is for “one season only”, many commentators suggest we’ll never see replays again.
The game continued much as before with Swansea dominating possession. Then, out of the blue, Ntcham who’d looked decent, got round our defence and drove a low ball in from the right. Not sure what Bednarek was trying to do; the wise thing would have been to get out of the way as no Swansea forward was close enough and the ball was going wide. Inexplicably, the Pole snicked in at Fraser’s far post to put us 2-1 down.
The Welsh commentary team were ecstatic and replayed the goal so many times that the very next shot we saw was Elyounoussi sticking the ball past Hamer for 2-2. When we got to see the replay, the ball was rolled back to Stephens from the restart. Jack considered his options before pinging a lofted pass over Manning where it was controlled by Long. With Swans’ defenders retreating, Shane picked out Moi at the back stick and the Norwegian had time to take a touch before stroking it home. We’d been behind for under a minute!
Swansea were stunned and Saints reacted positively. We moved the ball with greater purpose and began to move the game from our half to theirs. Then, on 102m, Moi carried the ball in from the left and spotted JWP breaking down the right. The captain had done a steady job at right back but now he was getting forwards. The ball was played to him and he hit a peach of a pass into the box, The pass was right into Shane Long’s stride and the Irishman was able to volley home from close range. Saints were back in front!
Unsurprisingly, the next few minutes saw us back in 4-4-1 order and Swansea attacking with greater urgency. As we moved into 2 added minutes, Dhanda had a shot which Fraser again blocked away to his left. It reached Ntcham who obligingly stuck the rebound wide. Grimes then shot from range but it went high. Fifteen minutes left and Saints led 2-3.
The same pattern emerged in the 2nd part of Extra Time but Saints were ready to break forward whenever Swansea squandered possession. A number of their players were cramping up: not surprising as it was their first game in a month and they were playing another 30m. Saints were quick to put the ball out so Swansea players could be treated (whilst running the clock down).
The Swans fashioned a decent chance on 110m when Dhanda crossed but Piroe headed over. Saints responded by getting forward, Hamer rising to pluck Moi’s cross out of the air. Russel brought on his final sub – a lad called Williams who was on loan from Liverpool – who replaced Smith. Long then engineered another chance for Saints, breaking forward and sending the ball towards Moi. It would have put the game to bed but great tracking back enabled a Swans defender to put the ball out for a corner. We took this short but lost possession.
With time running out, Fulton won Swansea a corner on the right. The big men came forward but the short corner routine saw Saints move up in unison and catch the taker offside when the ball was passed back to him. Great defending!
Moi copped a blow in the face but Saints maintained the lead into the 1 added minute. The lady on the commentary team (who talked the most sense TBF) awarded JWP their MoM before Long almost set up another goal for Adam. Last ditch defending cut out his final pass.
That was it. The final whistle brought the match to a close and saw Saints through to a rare home tie with Coventry in Round 4. Sometimes last year, we looked a dishevelled wreck of a side but this team played with real spirit. Swansea weren’t great but they can play and we were a man down for over 90m in a topsy-turvy cup tie. To come beck from 2-1 down in Extra Time took both hard work, guts and a bit of EPL class. It was a great performance and to do it in the dodgy black kit made it even more special.
Man of the Match
I know he didn’t play the whole game but I like Shane Long. I liked him before he joined Saints, I’ve supported him during his time here and I appreciate what he delivers. TBF this does not often include goals but when he does score, they usually matter. He scored in both 1-0 wins at the Vitality when Swansea were in the Prem and got that wonderful goal at Anfield that took us to Wembley. On Saturday he set up our equaliser, scored the winner and richly deserves being my Man of the Match.