Warnock made three changes for the trip to South Wales – Taarabt, Hill and Hall coming in for Wright-Phillips, Connolly and Gabbidon. This left us with a new central defensive partnership, with all three of the replaced dropping to the bench. Swansea meanwhile lined up with two former Rangers players (one an ex-loanee) on either wing, in Wayne Routledge and Scott Sinclair.
Rangers started off the better team for the first ten minutes or so. After just three minutes, following some clever passing play, Faurlin slipped in a good through-ball for Helguson, just for it to clip the back of the Icelandic’s heels to the keeper Vorm. A couple of minutes later and we were on the attack again. Barton crossed it in and Helguson won the ball at the back post and headed it across goal. Mackie jumped with the keeper and just won it, but could only flick it further across the goal-line.
But after that, Swansea started to get on top, playing some neat triangular play, with Routledge starting to turn Traore inside out. He crossed it in, but fortunately Graham just wasn’t able to get his head to it. Next time we would not be so lucky. Routledge again crossed it in to the edge of the box, Graham controlled it (seemingly with his right hand/hip from replays, I couldn’t see it live myself), unmarked having lost Fitz Hall, turned and slotted it into the bottom right-hand corner. Warnock berated the fourth official, but to no avail (obviously) and the goal stood, 1-0 to Swansea after 13 minutes.
A few minutes later, and it was Sinclair’s turn to terrorise his full-back. Ignoring the support of his left-back, he ran down the left wing, with Young scared to dive in. Sinclair put a good ball into the box and it took a desperate lunge from Hill to stop Graham from connecting with it, and surely a second goal. Swansea were starting to get on top and we looked unsure as to how to deal with their passing movements (or incapable of stopping them !) From the resulting break though, Taarabt won a free kick, took it quickly himself and passed the ball to Barton who shot from about 30 yards out. Vorm jumped and (rather theatrically) pushed it over the bar for our first corner of the game, after 21 minutes.
Swansea built another attack from the defence, but within seconds were on the edge of our box looking threatening. Fortunately, Graham had made his run too early and was caught offside, with Hall again stranded by his movement. On 41 minutes, we won another corner, and after a couple of crosses and clearances, the ball fell back to Taarabt on the right wing, who fed Young in behind the defence. He crossed the ball in, it fell almost perfectly onto the head of Clint Hill, but he could only direct his header wide. Some decent play from Rangers though, and moments later we were at it again. Barton this time was the provider, Helguson the target. He could only head high and wide which was a disappointment from someone as good in the air as our top scorer is. And so half-time came, with the R’s showing glimpses of coming back into the match. Half-time: 1-0 to Swansea (Graham, 13 minutes.)
Just five minutes in, and we were starting to see the tide turning. A nice passing move from Rangers saw Barton play in Taarabt, whose shot bounced across the goal and a couple of yards wide, with Helguson and Mackie just too far away to deflect it in. However, the ref had obviously seen a deflection and so gave a corner. Ten minutes in though, and Swansea had their first attack of the half. Routledge found himself on the right-hand side of the six-yard box, with Barton and Hill closing in on him fast. He had a cross-cum-shot across the goal, but it went fairly wide in the end. Both Barton and Hill made contact with him after the ball had gone – perhaps another referee might have seen a penalty in that ? It was to be Routledge’s last action, as he hobbled off to be replaced by Nathan Dyer, with Angel Rangel going off for Luke Moore too. Swansea re-shuffled, but kept the same system though.
The substitutions seemed to work in the R’s favour, as just a minute later we scored. Paddy Kenny punted the ball long and Leon Britton won the free header, but he flicked it towards his own goal. Jamie Mackie beat Ashley Williams to the ball, chested it down, then put the ball through the legs of the advancing keeper and into the back of the net. A goal rather out of nothing, but an equaliser all the same, 1-1 with just over half-an-hour left on the clock.
A couple of minutes later and it could’ve got better. Mackie went on a solo run, headed into the box and slipped the ball between the two defenders, but this time he couldn’t beat Vorm to the ball. Chants of, ‘Walking in a Mackie Wonderland’ emanated from the Croeso Stand. We were starting to feel that we could get all three points out of this. On 72 minutes, Swansea were attacking and played the ball into the box. Traore went to control it, but didn’t realise that Graham was behind him, who went down over Traore’s stuck-out leg. Referee Lee Probert immediately shook his head and Rangers escaped.
A minute later, following some patient build-up play, it was Rangers who were attacking, amongst chants of, ‘We Always Get Shit Refs’ from the Swansea faithful. A clever turn from Taarabt and he was away from his marker. His curled shot from 20 yards went just past the far post with Vorm possibly beaten. Adel was back demonstrating why he was ‘Championship Player of the Year’ last season.
The rest of the match passed without much action of note and so we finished this re-arranged Boxing Day fixture with a point which moved us back into 16th place ahead of Wolves. An improved 2nd half performance, but we can’t afford to be doing this every week, or better teams will (and have) punish us. We need to start taking more of our chances too. So on that note – roll on Arsenal !
Kenny 7 – Not called into action all that much and did what he needed to.
Young 7 – Attacked well and kept Sinclair under control on the whole.
Hall 6 – Graham had the better of him from the start.
Hill 7 – A good defensive tackle saved us from going 0-2 down and did quite well overall.
Traore 6 – Improved after the break. Routledge had him troubled for much of the 1st half.
Barton 7 – Much improved performance than recent weeks. He had a decent long shot which troubled Vorm.
Faurlin 8 – Named MOTM on Sky and well deserved. He passed and moved well, hustled for the ball. Perhaps he should’ve done better with his shots.
Derry 6 – Looked a little outpaced at times, despite the fact that Swansea had pretty much the same midfield as last season. He didn’t make any mistakes though.
Mackie 8 – Took his goal well, could’ve had another soon after and helped Traore by constantly tracking back. He is certainly proving critics wrong at the moment.
Taarabt 7 – Showed some of his usual tricks and could’ve scored (perhaps should’ve got it on target). He lacked some of the hunger that he’d shown against Manchester United and Sunderland at times though.
Helguson 7 – Did well up-front on his own, should’ve done better with his headed chance.
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Gabbidon, Connolly, Wright-Phillips, Smith, Bothroyd
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)