Swansea City: A supreme smash-and-grab raid on another unforgettable night
HALF-TIME, halfway there.
Swansea City have their big toe in the door to Wembley Stadium after pulling off one of the greatest results in the history of the club last night.
Michael Laudrup's team were given almost no chance of securing a first-leg advantage in their Capital One Cup semi-final with Chelsea.
Yet Swansea produced an extraordinary smash-and-grab performance at Stamford Bridge, nicking the lead through Michu and then making it 2-0 in stoppage time.
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With 90 minutes to come in this tie – and perhaps an extra half hour – another huge shift is required if Swansea are to make the final.
But they could not have dreamed of giving themselves a better chance of progressing than they have.
This, after all, was Goliath hosting David, the European champions welcoming a club who are normally out of this competition long before Christmas.
Chelsea are aiming for an 11th cup final in ten seasons at Wembley next month, while Swansea are hoping for a first ever — unless you count the Football League Trophy.
The plan here was to stay in the tie ahead of the second leg in a fortnight — and ideally to net an away goal.
Laudrup sent out what he regards as his strongest possible side, with the exception of the goalkeeper, and in the first half everything fell into place.
Swansea spent the vast majority of the opening 45 minutes on the back foot, yet they turned around 1-0 up.
The visitors looked a little nervy early on, with the the size of the occasion — only Swansea's third major semi-final in 100 years — taking its toll.
Laudrup's men were nervy on the ball, with only the super-cool Leon Britton displaying his usual certainty in possession.
Swansea could not get their passing game going, so that meant they had to get their defending right against Chelsea's glittering £130 million front four.
The home side's star names were soon making their mark, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Oscar and Fernando Torres all having a hand in a delightful move which ended with Ramires racing into the box.
The Brazilian cut inside two Swansea challenges, only to poke a shot too close to Gerhard Tremmel.
Mata, predictably, was a big influence, the Spaniard seeing his drive blocked by Ben Davies before Cesar Azpilicueta dragged the rebound just wide of the post.
Swansea were creaking, and Chelsea should have been in front on 26 minutes when Eden Hazard was allowed to advance down the left.
The Belgian squared for Mata, who had only Tremmel to beat but shot weakly into the German's arms.
Chelsea came again, Oscar's neat backheel teeing up Mata once more. Once more Pablo Hernandez's old mate from Valencia let Swansea off the hook, pulling his shot across the face.
Swansea's threat had been close to non-existent in the opening half hour, with Michu's long-ranger, which was comfortably saved by Ross Turnbull, their only effort of note.
Yet it was the visitors who scored the first goal of the tie on 39 minutes, and the goal was made in Chelsea.
Turnbull played the ball out to Branislav Ivanovic, whose clumsy touch allowed Jonathan de Guzman to pounce.
He fed Michu, who steadied himself — as ever — before curling the ball beyond Turnbull and into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the area.
Ivanovic almost made amends within four minutes, but his drive was parried by Tremmel and Swansea celebrated a job well done. So far.
Now the onus really was on Chelsea to attack, and the second period began with Rafael Benitez's team on the front foot once more.
Luiz, surprisingly, was Chelsea's chief threat, the holding midfielder rattling a couple of free-kicks just off target before meeting Hazard's pull-back with a powerful left-foot drive.
The locals rose in unison to celebrate the equaliser, but Tremmel leapt to his right and just did enough to preserve Swansea's advantage, trapping the ball under his rib cage.
Benitez answered the demands of the crowd by sending on Frank Lampard, whose first notable contribution was to gift possession to Britton, once a stable-mate at West Ham.
Laudrup sent on Dwight Tiendalli for Wayne Routledge as Swansea set about to holding what they had — and Chelsea's threat began to fade as the contest wore on.
Michu might have had a second but was rightly flagged offside, while his ambitious scissor kick flew into the crowd.
At the other end Ashley Williams was immense, heading, blocking and getting in the way.
With Chico Flores in equally defiant mood, Benitez sent on new recruit Demba Ba for the final nine minutes.
The substitutes almost had a say, Lampard firing a long-ranger down Tremmel's throat before Ba rose highest to meet Ivanovic's centre with a firm header.
Once more, Tremmel was on hand to make the save.
There was another mighty scare in the first minute of stoppage time when Ba tumbled as he competed for a loose ball with Tremmel — but the referee booked the Senegal man for diving.
Then came a scarcely believable second goal for Swansea — and once more Ivanovic provided the assist.
The Serbian central defender tried to play the ball back to his goalkeeper but was unaware that substitute Danny Graham was lurking on the edge of the area.
Swansea's in-form striker danced round Turnbull before drilling his fourth goal in as many games into the net.
There was still time for Ba to have a goal disallowed for the tightest of offside calls, and with that Swansea could celebrate victory by two goals.