A feature on an important South Wales derby win for Swansea City.
Cardiff City and Swansea City both went into Sundays South Wales derby nicely poised at the top of the Championship. Their respective styles of play had earned praise from their league peers throughout the campaign and the expectation for the opening derby of the season was one of the most eagerly anticipated for years. The build-up to the match started weeks before with thousands of column inches in the South Wales media filled with memories of players who have played their part in one of the most hostile fixtures in the British football calendar and with anticipation for this latest contest.
Two people who would not be anticipating the match the same enthusiasm however were managers Dave Jones and Brendan Rodgers. Both have enjoyed superb starts to the season and both men had successfully navigated their respective sides into strong positions for automatic promotion from the Championship. After a successful opening to their campaigns however, the derby offered both something very different.
The game was well set-up to be an entertaining affair, the strength of the Cardiff City attack against the mean defence of the visitors would be key to which team would triumph despite both sides being without influential players. Both managers prepared their players the same as every other game, playing down the profile of the event and focusing their team on the job at hand.
Teams out of form can look ahead to a derby as an opportunity to bring their side a huge lift with the right result. For Jones and Rodgers however this did not apply, both sides were in fine form and playing well, the wrong result in this one-off match would undo a lot of the good work that has taken place on and off the field throughout the season.
The atmosphere at the match was subdued, not helped by the lunchtime start or by the lack of local influence on the field, the traditional passion did not spill from the players in the opening half as both sides went about their business in methodical fashion. Cardiff let Swansea play deep in their own half before closing them down and attempting to break on the counter-attack. Swansea kept possession and looked to expose Cardiff with a systematic approach to the game.
Incidents were few and far between, Michael Chopra called for two penalties and Bellamy pulled an opponents ear. The subdued atmosphere was not a result of terrace tension but by the lack of excitement that those present at the Cardiff City Stadium had anticipated on their arrival. With Cardiff failing to inspire, Swansea came out with a more positive approach for the second half and took the game to the home side, the tackles became harder, the passion began to show in certain Swansea players, the frustrations began to show in most Cardiff players.
Swansea City took a deserved lead through on-loan Marvin Eamnes on 75 minutes. Their pressure had paid off, another hard and mistimed tackle on Joe Allen from Michael Chopra brought some much-needed M4 derby spark in the last few minutes. It was a positive for Cardiff that there was some passion in their side, albeit portrayed as a negative in the guise of a poor tackle.
Bellamy found himself in space with a free-header in the fourth minute of injury-time and put it wide. His frustrated reaction summed up the performance of his side. Just like the game, it was a wasted opportunity. For all their attacking strength on the field, the absence of Jay Boothroyd was again apparent at this point more than ever before.
Brendan Rodgers will be delighted with his side’s performance and victory. Dave Jones will be furious that his players laid down with such little effort and all-but conceded the match long before Swansea scored the only goal of the game. Jones will of course target himself to some of the blame with his tactics and team selection, but will also quickly move on from the game not to let the result affect his side’s promotion and title ambitions.
Swansea now have the psychological advantage over their nearest and not-so-dearest rivals as the two clubs move on in their respective Championship campaigns. Cardiff have shown their high-profile strike-force can be as ineffective against a well-organised defence as it is effective against other teams in the division. The defeat will affect their confidence and will be a major disappointment for the fans that have so much belief in their current squad.
Swansea have been in the shadow of Cardiff so far this season, they remain one place behind them in the table but what they now have with this result is the foundation and confidence to take the next step forward in their promotion ambitions. Their solid defence has taken on and beaten the leagues best attacking line-up, Swansea must now believe and show that they can also beat Cardiff over the course of the entire campaign.
This article was also published on the WalesOnline Magazine Sports Blog here – http://blogs.walesonline.co.uk/sport/2010/11/advantage-rodgers-after-south.html