The Swans’ short goal-kick routine has often been the subject of debate among supporters
Steven Benda grasped his chance to shine with both hands as he produced an impressive display during Swansea City’s 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers.
The German was something of a surprise inclusion on the team sheet – with regular shot stopper Andy Fisher dropping to the bench for the clash with Michael Beale’s outfit.
Benda made two notable saves, brilliantly denying Ilias Chair in the first-half before reacting quickly to keep out Wales international Tyler Roberts’ deflected strike in the second-half. And his efforts went a long way to ensuring the Swans kept what was only their second clean sheet in nine matches this season.
Central to the victory was a change in approach in possession as Swansea visibly went more direct from their own goalkeeper against the Hoops when under pressure.
Meanwhile, Benda went short with just two of his five (40%) goal-kicks which is the same ratio as Fisher had at Stoke three days earlier, with the ex-MK Dons man going short from four of his 10 goal-kicks against the Potters.
However, the members of the Jack Army who attended both of the club’s last two fixtures will tell you the outcomes were remarkably different.
All four of Fisher’s goal-kicks at the bet365 Stadium went directly to the goalkeeper’s left to Kyle Naughton on the edge of the Swans’ own six-yard box. But, on each occasion, it swiftly went downhill after that.
The first botched routine led to Lewis Baker rattling the crossbar with a shot from distance before Dwight Gayle’s header from the rebound was clawed off the line by Fisher.
Discounting the two starting passes made between Fisher and Naughton on each occasion, Swansea made just five successful passes from the four short goal-kicks at Stoke combined, crucially, losing possession in their own half from all four of them.
Granted, Stoke had clearly done their preparation to pounce on any errors. Although it’s a routine that always has the nerves of the Swansea faithful jangling, and more than a year into the project, this particular success rate is clearly concerning.
Both of Benda’s short goal-kicks against QPR were quickly taken to Ben Cabango when the opposition were still retreating from their previous attack. Both eventually led to Swansea losing possession, although in the opposition half and after an increased number of passes which were not under pressure in their own half.
Naturally, the change in approach played a role in ensuring Swansea’s possession dipped. Indeed, they saw less of the ball than their opponents on Saturday, the first time this has happened to Russell Martin’s side since the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth in April.
On Fisher, it must be noted that he has merely been attempting to carry out the methods instructed by the coaching staff. His attempt to retain possession late on at Stoke as opposed to going for the Row Z approach led to Naughton conceding a free-kick from which the Potters scored in injury-time.
Indeed, having conceded two own-goals in injury-time against Millwall, Martin urged his players to stick to his methods until the bitter end, although, against QPR, there was a more defend at all costs approach combined with some bravery in possession – as seen when Joel Piroe protected the ball before setting Ryan Manning free on the left late on. The game management was far more sensible.
So what of the Swans’ short goal-kick routine? In total, Fisher and Benda combined have taken 26 short goal-kicks across eight Championship matches this season. Only seven of those (27%) have seen Swansea retain possession directly from the goal-kick and into the opposition half. None this season have led directly to an attempt at goal, either on or off target.
The key concern this term has been the fact that a large proportion of the goals conceded by Swansea have come from their own sloppiness (Stoke’s equaliser, Cameron Congreve’s intercepted pass at Middlesbrough, all three against Blackburn for varying reasons).
The short routine from their own goalkeeper can’t be discounted, particularly as they have shown under the current regime that they can go from back to front and into the opposition net. Fisher in particular demonstrated his qualities as a goalkeeper and as a footballer with a magnificent display in the 1-0 win over Blackpool – coincidentally in a match where Swansea retained possession from a short goal-kick to across the halfway line from half of their six short goal-kicks.
However, it must be accepted that there needs to be a time and a place, with far less scripting, as was the case at Stoke, particularly given the fact that much of Swansea’s downfall this term has been their own doing, which can actually be viewed as a major positive providing that lessons are learned for those errors to be rectified.
It was telling that QPR has just one clear chance to trouble Benda, and that came through Chair after the half hour mark. The heart rates of the Jack Army will have been lower than usual as a result of Swansea’s ability to not invite pressure on to themselves last time out.
The willingness to adapt was also refreshing, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the Swans got their second win of the season in doing so.