Perhaps it was inevitable that a must-win game for both clubs would end this way. Neither Swansea City nor Middlesbrough had enough about them to pick up the victory they so badly needed, the result leaving both sides in grave danger in a Premier League relegation battle where the momentum lies with other clubs.
Crystal Palace and Leicester City have both climbed clear of the bottom three in recent weeks and Hull City will fancy their chances of doing the same after this result. Marco Silva’s side are now only one point behind Swansea, whose revival under Paul Clement is threatening to run aground after taking only one point from their last three matches.
Frustration was written all over Swansea faces at the final whistle, yet the damage could have been worse for the Welsh club had Rudy Gestede taken the chance that Álvaro Negredo expertly created for him in the second minute of injury time with a glorious pass with the outside of his boot. Gestede profligately headed wide and with that Middlesbrough’s hopes of snatching their first league win since the middle of December slipped through their fingers.
Clement admitted his heart was in his mouth at that stage but also made the point that it would have been “very harsh” on Swansea if they had come away with nothing. On the balance of play the Swansea manager was right in that respect, yet he also knows they need to show much more conviction in front of goal if they are to win this survival battle.
Getting Fernando Llorente back on the pitch is vital. The Spaniard was ruled out with an ankle injury here and Swansea, quite simply, are not the same team without their leading goalscorer. So many crosses were delivered into the penalty area, from open play and set pieces, and it was hard not to think that Llorente would have got his head on the end of one of them had he been on the pitch.
“I think you do miss him because he’s a big focal point,” Clement said. “But that’s not to say that Jordan Ayew didn’t play well, he gave us another dynamic that Fernando doesn’t have. But when you are crossing a lot of balls into the box, Llorente is a miss, of course.”
There is a chance that Llorente will be back for Tottenham Hotspur’s visit on Wednesday, although Clement did not sound overly confident. Middlesbrough go to Hull on the same night and surely must win that match if they are to have any chance of staying up. Steve Agnew’s side were resilient defensively against Swansea, as they have been for much of the season, but never offered enough as an attacking force. The fact they registered only one shot on target says it all.
Adama Traoré looked dangerous every time he got on the ball – Leroy Fer and Alfie Mawson were both booked for desperate challenges on the winger as he tried to scamper clear – but Boro’s threat was sporadic. Traoré dragged a shot across goal early in the second half, Negredo and Stewart Downing both saw early efforts blocked and then there was that wonderful opportunity for Gestede, who replaced the injured Gastón Ramírez in the first half.
Given that Gestede had now gone 39 Premier League games without a win, going back to August 2015, he could be forgiven for lacking a bit of confidence. “Rudy is a terrific lad,” Agnew said. “He’s gone on and you have to remember he had a hamstring injury and came off, then he had a recurrence of that and came off, so he worked hard to be ready for today. He was up to the speed of the game, his movement was terrific and on another day, which could be Wednesday, he scores.”
A breakthrough beckoned on a few occasions for Swansea. Tom Carroll’s 25-yard drive flashed inches wide in the first half, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s curling shot was arcing towards the top corner until Víctor Valdés stuck out a hand to make a superb save and in a frantic finale Mawson’s close‑range header was nodded clear and Fer was thwarted with some last‑ditch defending.
Mawson’s chance came after Sigurdsson’s 20-yard free-kick was deflected behind, with replays showing that the ball struck Adam Forshaw on the wrist. Not that there were any great Swansea appeals at the time.
Clement, rather curiously, decided not to make any substitutions, which seemed strange given that Swansea were crying out for some fresh impetus at times in the second half. He explained that he was worried about “unbalancing” the team, yet twisting rather than sticking may have been the best option at that point.
“We’re disappointed because the objective was to win,” Clement said. “I think there was some nervousness in the stadium today from both sets of players and from the supporters, that’s normal. There’s a lot at stake at the moment, there’s a lot of pressure at the top and bottom. We have to deal with that. We’ve got eight more games now, lots of opportunities to pick up valuable points and why not on Wednesday night?”