No classic, but Swansea City more than happy to take a place in Capital One Cup semis
Swansea City 1, Middlesbrough 0
MICHAEL Laudrup’s dream of leading his team out at Wembley lives on today after Swansea City squeezed past Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup.
Seb Hines was the unlikeliest of matchwinners for Swansea, the Boro centre-back heading into his own net nine minutes from the end to settle what had been a tepid quarter-final.
But Swansea will not be worrying about this patchy performance if they end up walking out under the arch in February.
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Laudrup’s men struggled past Championship opposition, but the fact is they are through to the last four of a major competition for only the third time in Swansea’s 100-year history.
In January comes the opportunity to make a first ever final, with the semi-final draw to come next week.
There were four Swansea changes from the side which started against Norwich last Saturday, with Garry Monk taking over from the suspended Ashley Williams and Dwight Tiendalli in for Angel Rangel at right-back.
Fit-again Leon Britton took over from Ki Sung-Yueng in midfield, while Itay Shechter got the nod to lead the line ahead of Danny Graham.
Middlesbrough, winners of this competition eight years ago, made five changes to the side which began in the league at the weekend, with Liberty old boy Marvin Emnes only on the bench and fellow former Swan Josh McEachran ineligible.
Boro are going well in the second tier, and they were by no means overawed here having won at Sunderland in the previous round.
In fact Boro, who were playing their 12th successive away tie in this cup, settled into the contest much better than their hosts did.
There might have been a dream start for Tony Mowbray’s men when Grant Leadbitter found space in the penalty area inside a minute, but Chico Flores’s covering tackle saved Swansea.
Michu’s long-ranger produced a block which must have stung Hines on a freezing night in SA1, but that was a rare Swansea forward surge in the opening stages.
Laudrup’s team lacked urgency, and a shortage of tempo in their passing meant Middlesbrough’s rearguard were having a quiet time.
There were more concerns for Monk and Co at the other end, with George Friend breaking down the left and pulling back for Leadbitter.
This time Boro’s captain got a shot away, but Gerhard Tremmel made a comfortable save.
Swansea’s full-backs were their two brightest players, and Ben Davies’s cross caused a scare for Boro. Shechter’s header deflected off Nathan Dyer but rolled straight into the arms of Jason Steele.
Dyer then beat a man and let fly from 20 yards, but once more Steele had little trouble in gathering.
The biggest save of the first half came from Tremmel, the German beating away another Leadbitter effort before Davies hacked clear.
Just as had been the case against Norwich, Swansea needed to improve after the break.
There was little sign of progress early in the second period, so Laudrup sent on Luke Moore for Shechter.
The new man was straight into the action, tumbling after a grapple with Andre Bikey when the centre-back was the last defender. Lee Probert might have given a foul the other way — but he opted to do nothing.
Still Boro carried more menace, Leadbitter driving straight at Tremmel from distance before Lukas Jutkiewicz nodded over the top.
Ki Sung-Yueng arrived next from the bench, and he immediately teed up Jonathan de Guzman for a scuffed shot which Steele swallowed up.
Ki’s introduction gave Swansea a much-needed lift, and the South Korean was involved in the build-up when Dyer centred for Michu, whose shot was blocked by Friend.
Dyer’s next surge earned a free-kick on the edge of the box, and de Guzman’s curling set-piece was pushed brilliantly on to the bar by Steele.
At last Swansea were starting to look lively. Ki screamed for a penalty when Hines slid in, then another Michu effort was deflected past the post.
Three corners in a row followed — and the last brought the goal Swansea craved.
Monk could not reach de Guzman’s curling delivery, but his marker, Hines did.
His attempt to clear went horribly wrong, the central defender nodding the ball inside the far post to break Middlesbrough hearts.
There were a couple of scares for Swansea at the death, but the job was done.
Roll on the next round.