Swansea miss chance to strike vital blow in relegation fight
Paul Clement’s side profligate as Middlesbrough dig in for a point in south Wales
Middlesbrough goalkeeper Victor Valdes claws the ball away as his side managed to escape Swansea with a point. Photograph: David Davies/PA
Swansea City 0 Middlesbrough 0
Perhaps it was inevitable that a must-win game for both clubs would end this way. Neither Swansea City nor Middlesbrough had enough about them to pick up the victory they so badly needed. Boro were hanging on in the final 15 minutes, yet Steve Agnew’s side so nearly pilfered three points in injury-time, when Rudy Gestede profligately headed wide.
Swansea looked the more accomplished team, but they were severely handicapped by the absence of Fernando Llorente, their leading goalscorer. Without him they lacked an aerial threat and far too many crosses came to nothing. When they did find a way through, Victor Valdés showed why he is still an outstanding goalkeeper. The Spaniard made a number of important saves, including a terrific one-handed stop to repel a free kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson.
In truth the real winners from this game were Hull City, who are only one point behind Swansea and face Middlesbrough at home on Wednesday. Swansea host Tottenham Hotspur and will hope that Llorente can return to give them the cutting edge that was missing.
Jordan Ayew, standing in for Llorente, forced Valdés into a fine first-half save but the closest we came to a breakthrough during that period was when Leroy Fer picked out Tom Carroll about 25 yards from goal and the midfielder unleashed a superb left-foot drive that flashed inches wide of the near upright.
As for Middlesbrough, Adama Traoré carried a threat whenever he picked up the ball and Swansea had to resort to a couple of poor challenges to stop him, with Fer booked early on and Alfie Mawson a little fortunate to escape similar punishment seconds later. The referee was not so lenient in the second half, when Traoré escaped down the right and Mawson tried and failed to bring him down. Traoré had gone close minutes earlier with a low, angled shot that slipped past the far post.
Two half-decent chances fell to the visitors early on. Gastón Ramírez created the first, beating Kyle Naughton close to the byline and cutting the ball back for Álvaro Negredo, whose shot from about 10 yards was blocked by Mawson. The second opportunity was not dissimilar as Naughton threw his body in the way of Stewart Downing’s effort.
The game desperately needed a goal. Martin Olsson’s cross-cum-shot skidded across the face of goal with no one able to get a touch. Then Sigurdsson, linking well with Carroll, found a pocket of space 25 yards from goal and struck a curling right-foot shot that was arcing towards the top corner until Valdés spectacularly clawed the ball away.
Swansea kept pressing for a winner. In a frantic finish, Sigurdsson’s 20-yard free-kick was deflected over, Mawson saw his goalbound header nodded clear and Gestede headed Negredo’s lovely cross off target. It was that sort of day.