Swansea City emerge with three points from St Gallen clash
SWANSEA City’s Europa League group campaign draws to a close in Switzerland in December.
By then Michael Laudrup’s men may already be planning for the post-Christmas knockout stages after they came through a nervy 90 minutes to make it six points from six with victory over St Gallen night.
Wayne Routledge was Swansea’s matchwinner, the winger netting from close range to secure a hard-earned victory against opponents who would not go away.
Laudrup had warned his team that despite a lack of star names, St Gallen would have the stomach for a fight.
The Swansea manager was right.
The men from the Swiss Super League troubled Swansea until the end, and relief reigned at the Liberty when the final whistle came.
Swansea were short of their best in large sections of the contest, but they edged over the line to pull clear in Group A.
Home has not been a happy hunting ground in the Premier League as yet this season, but Swansea had swatted aside Malmo and Petrolul Ploiesti in their two previous Europa League fixtures on their own patch.
The task here was to build on victory in Valencia last month, with Laudrup well aware that a second pool win would put Swansea within touching distance of the last 32.
He picked a side which reflected the potential significance of the fixture, with Wilfried Bony starting alongside Michu for the first time since that magical night in the Mestalla.
Leon Britton was suspended in Spain, but he returned to lead Swansea out against a St Gallen side who had not lost in 12 games coming into this one.
Some 1,200 Swiss fans were making a right old racket — and lighting numerous flares — at kick-off, and they had plenty to shout about in a first half where the underdogs were unfortunate not to go ahead.
Swansea were sloppy, not taking care of the ball as they normally do and thus allowing St Gallen to get numbers forward.
Laudrup’s men had their moments nevertheless, and the story of the first half might have been different had Michu taken an early chance.
His long-ranger was comfortably saved by Daniel Lopar, then the Spaniard headed over when Jonathan de Guzman’s corner missed everybody.
St Gallen grew in confidence after that scare, and they ought to have been in front when Dwight Tiendalli blocked Roberto Rodriguez’s 14th-minute cross with his arm.
Tiendalli may not have intended to handle, but the Portuguese referee pointed to the spot.
Happily for Swansea, Goran Karanovic hit a dreadful spot-kick, shooting so weakly that Gerhard Tremmel was able to hold on to the ball.
Swansea got off the hook again two minutes later, when Rodriguez picked off Chico Flores’s loose pass and sent Marco Mathys through on goal.
This time Tremmel watched in relief as the striker shot wide of the upright.
With St Gallen pressing high up the pitch, Swansea were struggling to get their passing game going.
Yet there were further home chances, Jordi Amat meeting Ben Davies’s free-kick with a flick header which Lopar tipped on to the post.
Swansea thought they should have had a spot-kick of their own not once but twice, first when Michu was caught late and then when Stephane Besle’s high boot left blood dripping from the forward’s head.
Michu’s appeals were ignored, and he was left shaking his head as he spent almost ten minutes spent on the sidelines getting treatment on a wound left by Besle’s studs.
Mathys drew another save from Tremmel before the break, and Swansea turned round happy to be level.
An improvement was required in the second period — and Laudrup’s team duly raised their game.
Home nerves were settled seven minutes after the restart, when some midfield composure from Britton started the move which brought relief to his team.
Swansea’s skipper danced between two Swiss challenges before feeding Alejandro Pozuelo, who picked out Bony in the inside right channel.
When his cross-shot was only parried by Lopar, Routledge tapped home his third goal of the season from a yard.
Still the travelling fans sang — and still their team would not lie down.
Swansea kept the ball better as the contest wore on, but they were almost exposed when Besle launched a long ball at Alhassane Keita.
The substitute controlled beautifully, but his lob looped over Tremmel and on to the roof of the net.
Swansea responded, with Britton showing his class in midfield to prompt another home attack.
Michu fed Alvaro Vazquez, whose first touch of the ball after coming on for Bony carried him in behind the St Gallen rearguard.
With the angle tight but support minimal, the on-loan Getafe man curled a shot narrowly wide of Lopar’s far post.
A goal there would have killed St Gallen off. As it was, tension remained in the Landore air as the clock ticked down.
Swansea almost lightened the mood with 11 minutes left, when Jonathan de Guzman drove forward from midfield and fed Pozuelo on the left.
Substitute Nathan Dyer met his deep cross with a vicious volley, but Lopar scampered across his line to make a fabulous save.
Back came St Gallen, Stephane Nater unleashing a 30-yard piledriver which hit the outside of Tremmel’s post.
Laudrup paced the touchline, and there was another fright when Davies hacked clear with Keita lurking.
The Dane was hoping for a more comfortable night than this.
In the end he was delighted that Swansea were able to hold on.
Just one more win may be enough, after all, to ensure European football comes to the Liberty in the new year.