In perhaps our most gritty, determined performance of the season, we scraped past the Swans 1-0 to open up a three-point gap with just one game remaining.
Manolo Gabbiadini, who has been inexplicably poor this season, earned our forgiveness with a sweet but scrappy second-half strike and our defence remained resolute in the face of mounting Swansea pressure towards the end.
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At the final whistle the players flocked to the 2,000 of us who had made the journey to celebrate a result that means, barring a ten-goal swing next weekend in Swansea’s favour, we’ll be staying up at their (or possibly Huddersfield’s) expense.
Only a win would do
Until mid-way through the second half we had been playing well, creating chances and weathering Swansea pressure but if it finished 0-0 we knew Swansea would have the upper hand.
We’d have been level on points but facing the nigh-on impossible task of beating runaway champions Manchester City on the final day, knowing Swansea would have a much more winnable game against Stoke.
A draw would have left us with slim hopes, but still favourites to go down. Swansea were starting to find their feet, and began the second half the way they ended the first – by peppering our box with crosses.
Then within four precious minutes it all changed. Alex McCarthy came out to punch a Swansea cross clear, and clattered Jan Bednarek in the process.
In pole-axing the Pole, McCarthy, who seemed to grow in stature as the game progressed, inadvertently changed the course of the match.
Gameplan or gamble?
Bednarek was clearly concussed and was reluctantly led off. Mark Hughes could have made a like-for-like replacement for the defender, but instead chose to gamble and flung on a third forward – the much maligned Gabbiadini.
It was clearly all or nothing for us. No one thought for a second that the misfiring Italian would redeem himself for a truly abysmal season, but four minutes later he was wheeling away to celebrate poking in Charlie Austin’s rebound and, fickle fans that we are, his season-long folly was forgotten in an instant!
If only we’d played like that from the beginning…
It took Hughes a couple of games to find his feet but by the end of last night’s match he had the team playing with a confidence that belied our precarious position.
OK, much of the game was fraught and fractured, and the defending desperate at times, but the back four looked disciplined and kept their shape and their heads, which they’ve rarely been able to do for 90 minutes.
In Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond and Austin it looked like we had potential match-winners from the start and Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg looked solid in our centre.
In short, we looked more like the eighth-placed team of the last few seasons than a relegation candidate.
How bizarre football is that yesterday I feared the worst and today I have high hopes for next season!
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