REPORT: Wales Online
A MOMENT of magic and a moment of misfortune – add them together and Swansea City just about got what they deserved at Middlesbrough yesterday.
Much like pantomimes, football has always been a place for heroes and villains. It only takes one finish of pure quality to become the former while one simple mistake can easily make you the latter.
For Paulo Sousa’s Swans, it was striker Gorka Pintado and goalkeeper Dorus de Vries that occupied either end of the spectrum at the Riverside. Pintado’s superb strike, his second goal in as many games, was the highlight of the day for the 300 members of the Jack Army that had travelled to Teesside, while a rare error from de Vries provided a moment everyone involved with the club would want to forget in a hurry.
It took little over 10 second-half minutes to make the transition from the sublime to the ridiculous. As good as Pintado’s effort was, coming at the end of a brilliant team move, it was matched by the sheer fluke of former Cardiff winger Willo Flood’s equaliser, crossing from 30 yards out only to see his shot drift goalwards and embarrass the Swansea keeper.
The two moments combined to ensure the two teams left the Riverside with a share of the spoils. And, on a day where Swansea played down to their surroundings – the attendance was the lowest ever recorded at the Riverside, it was a result Sousa was happy to take.
While their second-half performance was much improved, the Swans simply couldn’t find their stride early on. Touches were poor, passes missed their targets and some moments of indecision certainly got the nerves jangling.
Unsurprisingly, with the exception of a Pintado effort that went straight at Danny Coyne after 50 seconds, their struggles saw Boro dominate. And, had Leroy Lita made the most of a hat-trick of good chances within the first 15 minutes, the story of the day would have been very different.
After slicing a fourth-minute effort well-wide, the striker was then denied by de Vries when through one-on-one. Two minutes later he headed wide when perfectly placed in the box, which was more than enough to suggest this wasn’t going to be his day.
The Swans, looking uncharacteristically disorganised, certainly weren’t making life easy for themselves. Some poor passing and positioning was simply inviting the Middlesbrough pressure at times.
Eventually, having weathered the early storm, Sousa’s men forced their way back onto level pegging. Boro’s chances dried up while the Swans started to impose themselves going forwards.
But, as they failed to reach top gear, the occasional sloppiness continued. And, as the teams went in level at half time, Sousa was definitely the manager with more talking to do.
Whatever the Portuguese said, it obviously worked, as his team took the lead within two minutes of the restart.
Having struggled to find their stride in the opening 45 minutes, the fact it was a goal of pure class made it all the more sweet.
Darren Pratley made amends for a below-par first half, holding the ball up before threading a perfect ball for Joe Allen to surge into the box. The Welshman selflessly pulled the ball back for Pintado and, clearly brimming with confidence, the Spaniard produced an unstoppable finish into the top corner.
The lead was to only last 10 minutes though. And, if the Swans’ goal was all about collective skill, Boro’s equaliser can only go down as an individual error.
There seemed little danger as Flood miss-hit a hopeful cross from way out on the right by-line. But, losing the ball in flight as it drifted goalwards, de Vries got himself in a terrible mess and ended up palming the ball into his own net.
Unsurprisingly the equaliser was a huge sucker-punch for the visitors. It came out of nowhere and, having battled their way into a lead, to be pegged back in such a manner must have been galling to say the least.
To their credit, the Swans continued to try to push for a winner, with David Cotterill in particular trying his luck from range on a couple of occasions. But, buoyed by the unexpected nature of their equaliser, Boro also looked intent on securing all three points and started to put their foot on the gas.
As the final whistle approached, it soon became clear that the Swans were willing to settle for a draw. The hosts had the best chances late on and, if there was going to be a winner, Gordon Strachan’s men looked the more likely to get it.
But, with Chris Killen heading just over from close range, a third goal never game.
And, while it wasn’t the best performance from Sousa’s men, they held on for a hard-fought point – something they definitely would have settled for at the start of the day.