Swansea City v Sunderland: Spirited showing earns a big point
Swansea City 2, Sunderland 2
NEIL Taylor's crumpled ankle cast a long shadow over the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The left-back's serious injury is a hammer blow for him and a heavy setback for his team.
Taylor's remarkable progress has now been put on hold as the former Wrexham player sets out on a lengthy period of rehabilitation.
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Swansea City, meantime, face the challenge of continuing to move forward without another of their regulars from the last Premier League campaign.
The loss of Taylor, the one senior player in his specialist position on the payroll in SA1, means another test for the Michael Laudrup regime.
Swansea's new manager must now find the solution to a new problem as he attempts to make a mark in Wales.
So far, Laudrup has done a pretty good job of steering Swansea forward after a difficult summer for the club.
The Dane now has to cope with the loss of one of the shoo-ins for the Swansea teamsheet in recent times.
Ideal the situation is not, but then Swansea have overcome plenty of obstacles of late.
In the short term, Laudrup will hope Ben Davies can continue performing as admirably as he did this weekend.
A little further down the line, Laudrup may have to find a left-sided defender somewhere on the list of free agents to aid Swansea's cause.
It is unfair to expect Davies, the 19-year-old from Neath, to deliver week in and week out in the Premier League.
But the youngster did an excellent job this weekend as Laudrup's Swansea delivered another encouraging performance.
Brendan Rodgers's successor has lost his 100 per cent record in his fourth game at the helm but, in a sense, there was as much to be pleased about after an entertaining draw with Sunderland as there was after the three previous wins.
"Of the four games, this one has given me the most as the manager," Laudrup suggested.
The 48-year-old's pleasure was based on the character shown by his team, the willingness — and the ability — to fight back when things were not going their way.
Swansea had plenty chucked at them on Saturday.
First came the awful injury to Taylor, when he went in firmly on Craig Gardner, then fell horribly and winced in pain as his ankle gave way.
Next there was that rare thing, an Ashley Williams mistake, which led to Sunderland's opening goal.
Swansea fought back to level, then did so again in the second half after Steven Fletcher chalked up his second of the afternoon.
And finally came the sending off of Chico Flores for a needless challenge on Louis Saha.
"This game has shown me many good things about this team," Laudrup went on. "Any good team needs character, and we saw that here.
"We came back after Neil's injury, from 1-0 down with a mistake and then 2-1 down from a goal that came in the seventh minute of stoppage time when there should only have been six minutes.
"Then we had a man sent off. Normally you say this was just a bad day, forget it and we lose 3-2 or 3-1 or even 4-1.
"But we came back to get a draw and that's great to see as a manager.
"It's great to see the players have that character, because we need that.
"During a season there will be games where everything works out and we win, but then there will be games when everything is going wrong.
"Normally you lose, sometimes you lose big, but no, not us. That was great to see."
Swansea had been handsome victors in their first two league fixtures under Laudrup, first at Queens Park Rangers and then at home to West Ham.
Next they eased past Barnsley in the Capital One Cup, but now the run of successes has come to an end.
The irony is that in large parts, their performance against Sunderland was Swansea's best yet this season.
They controlled the majority of the contest, even dominating the ball after Flores's head-high challenge left them a man light for the last 19 minutes.
Swansea looked the team most likely to score almost throughout, and for much of the second half the game was akin to an attack-versus-defence session on the training ground.
Sunderland are an established Premier League club who were able to splash out well over £20 million on a couple of forward players before the transfer window closed.
Yet the Black Cats' threat was almost non-existent for much of the contest, despite Swansea's defensive issues.
They led when Williams, perhaps the most reliable player in home colours, failed to connect properly with an attempted back pass and Fletcher ran on to beat Michel Vorm.
Sunderland's £14 million league debutant got his second when Seb Larsson's free-kick cleared everyone and he edged in ahead of Flores at the back post.
Swansea had cancelled out Fletcher's first goal with a fine equaliser, Nathan Dyer playing a very fine through ball to Wayne Routledge.
The much-travelled winger registered only the second Premier League goal of his career with the sort of emphatic finish you might expect from a player with 100 strikes to his name.
Having gone behind again just before the turnaround, Swansea took charge after the restart.
Leon Britton volleyed over, Dyer saw a first-time effort beaten away by Simon Mignolet at the end of a fabulous move.
Next Jonathan de Guzman's arcing free-kick was pushed out by Sunderland's keeper, before Michu headed the Dutchman's cross narrowly over the bar.
Danny Graham was also snuffed out before the leveller Swansea so obviously deserved arrived, de Guzman swinging in a cross which Michu headed into the bottom corner of the net.
It is now four goals in three games for the Spaniard, whose positive start to life in the Premier League has mirrored that of his team.
Had they beaten Sunderland, Swansea would have been top of the table during the first international break of the season.
As it is they are very nicely placed, and they can be well pleased with their early efforts if a little concerned about the make-up of their back four in the weeks ahead.
"I said to the players, don't think that if we had won this game we would have been No. 1 in the table for a couple of weeks," Laudrup revealed.
"We can be happy with what we have done. After the first two games, everyone was saying how great Swansea were, and that can be a problem at a smaller club.
"Sometimes you can get carried away, but that didn't happen to us. That's another thing we can be pleased about."
There are many more stern challenges ahead for Laudrup's Swansea, many more boxes to be ticked before their second Premier League adventure matches up to their first.
But aside from the gloom brought by Taylor's injury, the opening weeks of this campaign have been bright.