THE Liberty Stadium on Tuesday (Jan 30) saw Swansea take on Champions League hopefuls Arsenal with the charismatic Arsene Wenger, the longest serving manager in the Premier League barking instructions from the dug out.at his team.
The ‘Venga’ boys were out but it was the enthusiastic home crowd who were up for ‘the party’ from kick off.
Referee Mason dished out 3 yellow cards, all to the visitors as the greasy surface drew many rash challenges leaving Mason little time to dream of ‘heading to Ibiza’, a destination the Dutch based Vengaboys’ hit single from 1999 made famous.
Wenger the manager has thumped around in the top echelon of English football for over two decades, winning seventeen trophies during his tenure, including a double in 2003/4 when his ‘invincible side’ went through the season unbeaten, the first time it had been done since Preston North end did it 115 years before.
The Frenchman has calibre and panache and his ability unquestioned from the time he replaced Bruce Rioch, although his side arrived winless away from the Emirates in 2018, with new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan named as substitute.
Carlos Carvalhal, in stark contrast, had been defeated just once in his seven game-reign since arriving two days after he was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday in December, a side the Swans could potentially face for a place in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup if they overcome Notts County in next week’s replay.
The all whites started with a spring in their step, Nathan Dyer creating a half chance for Jordan Ayew inside ten minutes and another when he sprung a fizzing cross to Alfie Mawson at the far post, whose effort was blocked by a combination of former Cardiff City midfielder Arron Ramsey and goalkeeper Petr Czech.
Dyer was an outlet and consistently in space as the all blue away kitted ‘Gunners’ took a while to settle on the front foot despite two thirds possession, escaping again when Leroy Fer put Sam Clucas clear only for Mohammed Elneny to make a goal saving tackle and Ki Sung drove inches wide from 25 meters out. Wenger sat calm and collected in the dugout, having seen it all before whilst Carvalhal prowled with gusto, driving his side forward in a proud blue anorak.
Football is a game studied by many and absorbed by even more, with Wenger an author of his own book of football management, popular in Japan where he managed Nagoya Grampus before he was enticed to London. The written word meant little as Ayew put centre half Mike Van der Hoorn racing away and the innovative corners that followed fell on fallow land.
Lucas Fabianski saved from Alex Awobi at the other end, Ayew miscued a chance he created with a run from the halfway line before the opening goal on 32 minutes moved Wenger from his seat, as a delicate chip from Mesut Ozil to the far post saw full back Nacho Monreal ghost in unopposed.
The lead lasted just a minute, as Mawson beautifully slid in a pass for Clucas to drive the equaliser low passed Czech at his near post, greeted by a volcanic eruption of Hymns and Arias. A pop group genre these supporters do not aspire to be, settled on a mantra for dulcet harmony which stirs the emotion of anyone present, Welsh obviously but even the most patriotic Englishmen would be hard pressed not to have a lump in their throat.
Five minutes before the break Fer broke from midfield and held off the attention of three players before tamely shooting into Czechs waiting hands, Ayew aside him with the goal at his mercy. Boom, boom, boom forced Wenger up, hands gesturing in frustration at both the pace of the subdued visitors play and technical execution.
Swansea work rate off the ball was unquestionable, breezing with freedom when on the front foot as their seven shots in the first half testified when fourth official Roger East signalled a minute of extra time, under no duress from the TV Broadcasters tonight.
The half time music aptly blasted out the David Bowie classic ‘we can be heroes, just for one day’ to greet the players reappearance, where the Premier Leagues bottom side first half performance belied their precarious position.
Mawson has become the drum master for the home side and for the second home game on the bounce they had more than parity against sides chasing Champions League places. Clucas saw his headed opportunity go wide after a pin point cross from Kyle McNaughton where the Swans tactics of a 4-3-3 formation, allowed a spirit to attack.
Both Managers had attacking forces warming up, Arsenal including want a way striker Oliver Giroud in the company of Mkhitaryan, as Mason produced the yellow card out for the first time to Elneny.
An hour into the game and Mkhitaryan replaced Elneny but was powerless as the stadium erupted once more, this time to ‘who are you’ when Ayew struck for a 2-1 lead, rolling in a gift from goalkeeper Czech whose feet got caught under 6’5” frame.
Czech was nervous, flapping in his goal unlike the ‘Big Pole’ who now had a watching brief as the Swans faithful were living the dream and Dyer’s left foot shot beat Czech but not the upright with 20 minutes to play.
Héctor Bellerín went into the referee’s notebook for a naughty foul on Ayew and the Arsenal frustration was compounded when Ozil talked himself into the same book. Wenger’s credibility was on the line as he threw on Giroud, for possibly his last Arsenal appearance, for Awobi with a quarter of an hour remaining in an intense and absorbing encounter.
Ten minutes remaining and still Fabianski remained untroubled, Dyer left to wide acclaim from the stands and high fives from his management team, with Tom Carroll entering the fray. Mawson continued to marshal the assistant referees’ offside signals as the game entered its final phases,
Three points were Swansea’s when Carroll took on Dyers mantle, releasing Ayew who drove into the penalty box and Clucas pinged a right foot shot into the net. A clapping Bony came on for Ayew and the home side were out of the bottom three and the relegation zone for the first time since November, with Routledge coming on for man of the match Clucas in injury time.
The ‘Tinkerman’ Carvalhal has gone from intensive care to the maternity ward at Morriston Hospital as the Club have been reborn. Could Ibiza be the promised land for Swansea? The plane has certainly taken off from Wenger Airways, possibly heading to West Virginia, as that’s where ‘Jacks; belong when they can’t ‘help falling in love’.
The next port of call is Leicester City on Saturday (Feb 3) before Burnley arrive at the Liberty Stadium the week after.
Wanderers edged out by Gowerton
LLANELLI Wanderers came close to victory against Gowerton on Saturday (Feb 16) but were unable to find a winning score as they were beaten 14-18.
Gowerton had taken the lead early on with a penalty and an unconverted try gave them an 8-0 lead at half time.
The Wanderers hit back in the second half with Sianco Morgan going over for the try and the conversion from Lewis Jones brought them to within a point of their opponents.
They then took the lead as Lloyd Thomas went over and Jones again added the extras to make it 14-8.
Gowerton hit back with a converted try of their own and they were back in the lead by a single point.
They then scored a penalty to make it 14-18 with six minutes to play. Try as they might the Wanderers could not find a way through and they had to settle for a losing bonus point.
The Wanderers are next in action on Saturday, March 2, when they travel to Crymych.
Nant hold off Trimsaran
NANTGAREDIG remain unbeaten in League 3 West B after they sealed a narrow 17-18 win away to promotion rivals Trimsaran on Saturday (Feb 16).
The visitors took the lead with an early penalty scored but Trimsaran responded well with a try to take the lead but the conversion was missed and the home side led 5-3.
Nant hit back and got their first try of the game thanks to and the extras were added for a 3-10 lead.
They then extended their lead to 5-15 with an unconverted try and with half time looming, the lead was extended further with another penalty.
Lloyd Williams kicked one conversion and two penalties. Ben Nichols scored a try and Rhydian Evans scored the other.
With the score 18-5 at the break Trimsaran knew they would need to play well in the second half and they very nearly pulled off an excellent comeback.
Trimsaran scored two good tries with the latter try bringing the score to 17-18 setting up a nervy finish for both sides.
However, it was Nantgaredig who showed why they have not lost a game this season as they held on for the win.
They have now won 24 games on the bounce and look favourites for the title and promotion this season.
On Friday (Feb 22), Trimsaran are at home as they take on Penybanc with the game kicking off at 7:15pm.
Nantgaredig are next in action on Saturday, March 2, when they host CR Cymry Caerdydd in the quarter final of the WRU Bowl.
Kidwelly come from behind to win thriller
WITH both sides residing in a similar league position in Division 1 and a spot in the Senior Cup Quarter finals up for grabs, all was set for a close encounter between Kidwelly and Felinfoel on Saturday (Feb 16).
Felinfoel had home advantage and, having already beaten their opponents 3-1 earlier in the season, they were favourites to advance to the next round, but nothing is ever that simple in football.
During the first fifteen minutes Felinfoel dominated possession with much of the play happening in and around the Kidwelly box.
Felinfoel took the lead with twenty minutes gone when a dangerous cross was delivered towards the back post which resulted in a well-taken goal.
After the restart Kidwelly showed signs of resurgence with brothers Connor and Jordan Howells linking up well in midfield and creating problems for Felinfoel.
The fightback, however, was short lived as Felinfoel sent a wide free kick into the box and the ball was headed into the back of the net.
There was not much Kidwelly could have done about either goal as the deliveries for each were superb.
With five minutes left of the first half and Kidwelly not threatening much, they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Winger Rob Hammond sent a superb high ball into the box and Kyle Griffiths, former centre-back turned midfielder, flicked the ball over the keeper and into the net to give Kidwelly a glimmer of hope.
The half time whistle went and even though Felinfoel had the better of the half Kidwelly had shown good resilience and were pleased to be only 2-1 down at the break.
The second half started with both sides playing at a high tempo with Kidwelly in a confident mood having scored before the break and having come from behind to win in other games this season.
As the game continued both teams were battling hard with some big tackle flying in. Kidwelly had far more possession in the second half and created numerous good chances.
Kidwelly were playing some good stuff but it wasn’t until the hour mark when Rob Hammond, Kidwelly’s top goal scorer, latched on to a huge goal kick and delivered a clinical finish to make it 2-2.
Not long after that, Hammond again latched on to a forward pass and with a bit of creativity managed to turn the defender and find the bottom corner with a quality finish to put his side into the lead.
Felinfoel looked to get back in the game and Kidwelly manager Gareth Evans introduced fresh legs replacing hardworking Liam Jones with club captain Luc Fitzpatrick who was returning from injury.
This was an attempt to keep Felinfoel at bay but they threw everything they could at the makeshift Kidwelly keeper Danny Coleman, normally a number ten. However, Coleman made some tremendous saves and put his body on the line on numerous occasions.
Kidwelly survived three goal-mouth scrambles and on one occasion had ten players behind the ball trying to keep it out.
Unfortunately for Kidwelly, during one of those scrambles, veteran Chris Cray volleyed his goal keepers arm meaning Coleman would have to go off injured. He was replaced by striker Aled Giley with Daniel Griffiths, who was having an excellent game, having to go between the sticks for the rest of the game.
Both sides battled until the end with more strong tackles flying in but Kidwelly full backs Tom Hughes and Daniel Fitzpatrick had faced quality opposition wingers and came out on top.
Felinfoel played their part in an excellent cup game but Kidwelly, who have recently won five games on the bounce in Division 1, showed great resilience and team spirit to earn a thrilling win.
On Saturday (Feb 23), Kidwelly are at home as they play Pontlliw in the quarter final of the same competition, kick off 1:45pm.
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