Paul Clement believes Swansea City’s first win in seven games could be the key in the club’s desperate bid for Premier League survival.
Goals from Fernando Llorente and Tom Carroll did the trick on a day when anything less than victory would have left the Swans in even deeper trouble. Yes, Hull City might have beaten Watford to maintain their two point advantage over Swansea, but the manner in which Swansea played and won the game, suggests the nine points Clement felt were required, from the last five games, is well within reach.
“It was the first time I called it as a must win game and I was right,” said Clement.
“Had the gap have gone to five points, it would have been very difficult.
“The big thing for me is that we have put behind us a poor run of form. We have got our confidence back, not just that we won the game, but how we won it. We created chances and although we had some luck with the penalty miss, we went on and won the game.
“We desperately needed that win and I think the momentum swing is with us. It is a vibrant dressing room in there because we played well and won the game. Hopefully it will give us the impetus to go on and finish strongly. We are right behind them and we are breathing down their necks.”
With Clement calling for his side to show character and composure on a day when only victory would suffice, Swansea made the perfect start. Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 10th minute corner from the right found Llorente and the Spaniard beat Jack Butland with a downward header from eight yards.
It was just the tonic and though Stoke enjoyed plenty of ball, it was not until first half stoppage time that they had a genuine chance to score. Peter Crouch headed back across the goal to where Saido Berahino was waiting, inside the six yard box. The former West Brom striker craned his neck but sent his tame header straight into the arms of Lukasz Fabianski.
Buoyed by Berahino’s generosity, Swansea were far better at the start of the second half and played with a confidence that has been sadly missing of late. The crowd, once again, got behind their side until Clement, made a substitution that left everyone aghast. Llorente’s number was held aloft and the Spaniard trudged off to be replaced by centre back Mike van der Hoorn.
“I made a tactical change. He was not injured and his contribution was excellent. There is nothing wrong with Fernando,” said Clement.
Swansea were set to batten down the hatches with Clement reverting to a 5-3-2. It was a brave decision and one that looked to have backfired when Federico Fernandez tripped Xherdan Shaqiri in the box, in the 70th minute. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and the lions’ share of the 20,000 plus crowd held their breath.
Marko Anautovic stepped up and blazed his penalty into the top tier of the stand behind Fabianski’s goal. Sixty seconds later, a second piece of good fortune, for Swansea, settled the issue in their favour. Carroll took aim from 30 yards and watched in delight as his firm, left footed strike ricochet off Joe Allen’s boot and over the head of the helpless Butland.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes said; “I was disappointed with how we started the game because we had spoken about that before the game. They scored with their first corner and that was disappointed because we had our players in the right positions. We just didn’t challenge for the ball.
“It was what they needed and what we didn’t. We were dominant in the second half but the match defining moment was the penalty miss. Had that have gone in it would increase the apprehension in the stadium and we could have benefitted form that.”