Swansea City 3-3 Birmingham City Six Things: McBurnie delivers Blues heartache

 

Maxime Colin and Connor Roberts – bbc.co.uk

A spirited second half performance at Swansea City looked to have earned a surprised victory for 10-man Birmingham City, but Oliver McBurnie’s strike 15 seconds from the final whistle denied Garry Monk a winning return to the Liberty Stadium in a 3-3 draw. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Smooth Swansea

Graham Potter can be encouraged that, in the first half, his side did not give the ball away the ball away in dangerous areas as they did in August’s reverse fixture, a 0-0 draw that Blues dominated. His side controlled possession and, after going close through Oliver McBurnie shortly beforehand, grabbed the opening goal on 21 minutes; a lovely through ball from the deceptively target man-shaped false nine found Daniel James, who showed clever movement to get in behind Maxime Colin before tucking the ball under the suspect Lee Camp.

After that opener, Swansea rarely played forward without having a numerical advantage in the recipient’s vicinity, with centre-backs Mike Van Der Hoorn and Cameron Carter-Vickers, plus Matt Grimes who dropped next to them, recycling possession to tease out Blues’ front-two of Lukasz Jutkiewicz and Che Adams. The problem was that Blues had been punished for over-committing to the press in their 3-1 loss at Norwich in the previous game and thus were more protective of their defensive shape.

Maghoma’s moment

Jacques Maghoma has faced criticism from some quarters of Blues fans for recent performances, but he went some way to defying his doubters at the Liberty in a two-minute spell just after the half-hour mark. After making an important defensive intervention to block Dyer, following Matt Grimes’ outstanding cross-field pass, Maghoma put Garry Monk’s side level.

The former Sheffield Wednesday man cut in from the left after a pass from Craig Gardner, before drilling home, albeit with one or two question marks surrounding goalkeeper Erwin Mulder.¬†Blues grew in confidence after the goal; they applied more pressure, got to more second balls and got more players forward including Harlee Dean, who hit straight at Mulder from just to the left of the ‘D’.

Monk’s response to the red

Kristian Pedersen was sent off on 45 minutes for a second yellow card, following a late foul on McBurnie. Visiting fans were not happy with the decision, which meant Blues came under the cosh and needed Camp to impressively tip away Grimes’ free-kick. At half-time though, Garry Monk made the right decision to sacrifice central midfielder Gary Gardner for Wes Harding, who moved to right-back to facilitate Maxime Colin’s switch to Pedersen’s left-back position.

Perhaps, Harding might have done slightly more to stop fellow substitute Jefferson Montero crossing from his right-foot on 65 minutes, although McBurnie did well to get plenty of loop on a header much closer to the edge of the box than the goal-line.

However, Monk’s decision to keep all four of his attacking players on the pitch in a 4-3-2 of sorts was vindicated on 67 minutes, when Jota’s right-wing cross was headed home by Michael Morrison, albeit via a fortuitous deflection from Grimes. Then, on 71 minutes, Che Adams cut in from the left to fire his 15th of the campaign into the bottom right-hand corner, giving Blues an unlikely lead.

Pressure pays for Potter’s side

Swansea then launched wave upon wave of attacks down the right hand side, where arguably their brightest performer, Daniel James, caused havoc, with one drilled cross tapped narrowly wide from close-range by midfielder Jay Fulton, who had replaced the injured Fer early on.

Blues appeared to have done enough to gain the three points few could have begrudged them for their second half spirit, only for Mike Van Der Hoorn to get on the end of Montero’s cross and enable McBurnie to turn home 15 seconds from time.

Consolidation for Blues?

The late goal pushes Birmingham’s feint hopes of a play-off challenge a little further away; it will be very difficult for them to close the six point gap, especially having played 29 games rather than 28.

To reach the standard 72-point mark, they would need an unlikely return of nine wins from their final 17 – and that is assuming they do not suffer a points deduction. A more reasonable challenge for them is to get to get to 62 or 65 points, so that they are in no danger of suffering relegation if there is a penalty from the authorities and in that sense a point in South Wales does them no harm.

Although in the aftermath, this does not feel like a good result for Blues, in the cold light of day, their night’s work can be seen as a small step towards achieving the most realistic target for the campaign.

Work in progress in South Wales

Swansea, 9/4 with Ladbrokes app to win at Bristol City this weekend, appear to share similarities with the team Norwich had in the previous campaign.

They had 74% possession but, despite strong individual performances from James and McBurnie, sometimes had difficulty changing the tempo and direction of play. One might question whether, had Pedersen not been sent off, they would have been able to score three times

Grimes, for example, is growing in confidence as the season progresses and completed 93% of his passes, but only hit one or two telling cross-field balls, when this time next season that number might be three or four.

It will take time for Potter to build a Swans side with the range of technical qualities he requires as well as improvements in terms of tempo and aggression but, with the budget he has been given, he continues to do a fine job.