Tuesday 8 November 2022
A patchy performance from Blues saw them maintain their recent unbeaten home record with a late draw against one of the best sides seen down St Andrew’s this season.
Changes from Saturday”s hard-fought win in the rain at Stoke. Having put in a shift and a half after not completing ninety minutes for a long while, Jukey reverted to the bench to be replaced by the returning captain, Deeney. Dean succumbed to a late knock at Stoke, Max stepped inside again, Graham switched flanks and Longelo came back in at left wing-back. Bacuna was the pick to replace the suspended Bielik, playing much deeper than usual.
Despite the changes, Blues started well. Swansea were always going to try and play out from the back, and Blues’ early initiative was based on the high press in the hope of forcing errors from the Swans near to their own goal.
The tactic paid off in the 12 minute with a ninth goal in an increasingly productive season for Scott Hogan.
Blues had been camped in the last third for most of the opening period and the Swans backline were looking far from comfortable in their attempts to play out.
Good work down the left by Chong allowed him to roll the ball back into path of Longelo. Again the West Ham loanee showed that his right leg isn’t just for standing on as he swung in a cross which was met by Hogan in the middle of the area without an away defender in sight and goalkeeper, Benda, having gone walkabout.
Blues continued to press after the goal, but you felt that they needed to get a second while they were on top.
Chong did almost double the lead after some neat footwork deep in the Swansea area was thwarted by a last ditch tackle by Grimes as he was pulling the trigger.
Without the comfort of a second, the tide started to turn. All of sudden Swansea were getting out with ease and starting to play around and through our midfield.
And there was a point to their increasingly neat interchanging and passing and that was the unfortunate Jordan Graham. Swansea had obviously taken note of Blues’ changes and they targeted the fish out of water wing back.
A terrific pass by Grimes bisected Graham and Max at right centre back. The excellent Manning had stolen a march on the out of shape Graham and his cross shot beat Ruddy but hit the base of the post. Just as we thought we’d got away with one, Ntcham returned the ball with interest, curling a lovely shot around the desparing dive of Ruddy.
Swansea were in charge now. This was the point in the game where we really missed Bielik. Bacuna was working hard and sticking to his task, but he just doesn’t have the Pole’s ability to read the game, see where the danger’s going to occur and plug the gap. Bielik’s ability to read the game is the best we’ve had down St Andrew’s since Barry Ferguson was in charge on the pitch.
Consequently, Swansea’s impressive pass and move game was becoming more dangerous by the moment and it was no surprise when they took the lead in injury time at the end of the first half.
Manning got the reward that his display warranted when he knocked in low cross that came after Swansea again targeted the space behind the wing-back, this time on Longelo’s side.
As Swansea increasingly played around us, we started to lose our defensive shape. This time it was Dean who was conspicuous by his absence and a reminder that there’s still a lack of depth to the squad. It all called for a bit of a reset at half time and thoughts that maybe that Friend should appear for Graham, so Max could go back to the right.
No changes, however, after the break but the attitude, the shape and the discipline were better. Blues were more solid at the back as they attempted to form a base to go forward in search of an equaliser.
But, for the most part, a lot of effort came to nothing for most of the second half for both teams with each goalkeeper having relatively little to do as defences dominated.
“… by the end we had three centre forwards, five attacking midfielders and only two defenders”
Eustace has showed that he’s not afraid to change things in game. As the half progressed, there seemed to be regular activity from the Blues bench withdrawing more defensive players for forward thing replacements, to the point that by the end we had three centre forwards, five attacking midfielders and only two defenders. And it paid off.
Unlike of late, the set plays had been uniformly dreadful throughout – until the thirteenth corner.
With the box packed with virtually everyone but Ruddy and the corner taker Bacuna, the Curaçao international got it right at last. The corner allowed Sanderson to get his head to it and knock it down where the waiting Deeney rammed it into the net.
This team has many qualities, not least they don’t give up and that quality was just about deserving of the point in the end.
One more game on Friday to end the pre-World Cup marathon of games. A win against Sunderland and they’re in the top six, albeit for a few hours. Before the start of the season, I don’t think any of us could have envisaged that in our wildest dreams, but it would be just reward for the performances of the team and the highly impressive coaching and management of Eustace and his backroom team.