Williams winner sees Swansea beat wasteful Watford

swansea celebrate

Swansea 1-0 Watford – www.goal.com

Swansea City climbed out of the bottom three on Monday night with a 1-0 win over Watford at the Liberty Stadium. With new head coach Francesco Guidolin watching the Swans from the stands, Ashley Williams’ header rounded off an impressive first half display from the hosts. They had to do more defensive work in the second half, but restricted out of form Watford to long range efforts and deserved their narrow victory.

The Welsh side played good football early on and looked to play out from the back. Their full-backs, particularly left-back Neil Taylor, pushed high up the pitch to provide width and create space for the midfielders. This was important for the home side, because they faced a Watford team that operated narrowly and tried to congest the central areas.

Wayne Routledge looked lively and the winger was released by a smart Gylfi Sigurdsson flick, but was adjudged to have been offside when he drilled the ball at the keeper. Shortly after, Leon Britton played a one-two with Andre Ayew to break into the penalty area, but his final touch was too heavy and Heurelho Gomes smothered the ball. Watford had a rare attack of their own when Troy Deeney stole the ball off Taylor and crossed for Odion Ighalo, but the striker did not get the right contact with his header. It was a frustrating night for Ighalo who, according to WhoScored, had just 1 shot all evening and only 32 touches, the fewest of any starting outfield player on the pitch.

Swansea had two shots from outside the box, Ayew after a one-two with Sigurdsson, Jack Cork following Taylor’s lay-off, neither of which tested the keeper. However, the team’s persistence paid off on 28 minutes. Ki received Sigurdsson’s overhit delivery and crossed the ball in for Ashley Williams, who held off his marker before powering a header into the bottom corner.

jurado

Jurado – www.zimbio.com

Swansea stayed on top after their goal and continued to dictate the play, as Watford’s Deeney grew increasingly frustrated and was forced to drop deeper to help the midfield. Although, the former Walsall forward played a great lay-off for Jurado, whose powerful shot was saved. The Hornets had looked reasonably organized early on, yet once they had conceded the first goal, they couldn’t find the creativity to break Swansea down. Their narrow 4-4-2 system this season has helped them start games solidly, but they have taken just two points from losing positions and a rigid approach does not give them the impetus to unlock defences.

Watford showed attacking endeavour in the second half. However, most of their efforts were pot shots from outside the box, most commonly from Jurado, a summer signing from Spartak Moskow. The Spaniard fired over after a neat interchange with Deeney, before Miguel Britos headed onto the top of the net from Ben Watson’s free-kick. It was proving difficult for Watford to get numbers into the final third, as Swansea’s long-serving Leon Britton did a good job of protecting the back-four.

Swansea had a spell of pressure midway through the second half, although Jack Cork’s shot on 61 minutes failed to test the keeper. The Swans were still a touch reluctant to throw men forward in search of a second goal, because their midfield’s main aim was to cut the supply to Ighalo, something they achieved emphatically. The Nigerian’s biggest involvement after the break came when he held the ball up for Jurado, whose low shot flew wide.

Deeney tried to instigate an unusual Hornets breakaway but he couldn’t release Ighalo, due to a superb block from Ashley Williams, who was colossal on the night. Although, the Welshman was also a touch fortunate not to concede a penalty late on, in a tussle with Ighalo. As it was, Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski remained unchallenged, having had little to do all evening.

It was Swansea who came closest to scoring late on through Bafetimbi Gomis, who had come on for Ayew. Cutting in from the right, Gomis turned Nathan Ake inside out and danced his way into the danger area before hitting a shot, which bounced off the post. That miss could have been punished when Fernandez’s ill-judged header fell to Deeney, but the striker’s volley from outside the box flew wide, meaning Watford would travel back to Hertfordshire empty handed.

flores

Quique Sanchez Flores – www.express.co.uk

The Hornets have now lost their last four league games. Any talk of relegation may be premature, because they have played Tottenham and Man City in that time and were a touch unlucky to lose to those teams. However, there is a need for head coach Quique Sanchez Flores to adapt his tactics and learn how his side can chase games. Swansea boss Alan Curtis discovered that, by tasking a deep defensive midfielder with cutting the supply to Deeney and Ighalo, his team could negate the threat of the Watford strikers.

If more teams do that to Watford in the coming weeks, they will need to change their simplistic, direct style of play. It will be up to their midfielders to be more intricate and clever about their movement and the way they pass the ball. The problem, however, is that Watford’s current midfield consists of strong, hardworking grafters, rather than nifty playmakers. The dilemma for Flores is how much he can afford to alter his side’s tactical setup to break teams down, without sacrificing the defensive structure.

For Swansea, this is a massive win. Alan Curtis might easily have felt offended by the fact that the club are appointing a new head coach to work alongside him. However, the Welshman’s long-standing commitment to the football club, which dates back to the beginning of his playing career in the 1970s, is stronger than personal concerns and he has shown great professionalism throughout his time as manager. Curtis will meet with Guidolin and the backroom staff on Tuesday, and the new boss should be glad to have somebody next to him who lives and bleeds Swansea City.

Watching his first Swansea game, Guidolin will have seen the club’s big characters such as Ashley Williams and Leon Britton stand tall when they needed to and put their neck on the line. Monday night’s performance suggests that, after what has been a difficult few months for the football club, Swansea have turned a corner at long last.

curtis and williams

Alan Curtis and Ashley Williams – www.theguardian.com