Barclays Premier League:
Swansea City 1–0 Everton
A FIRST half header from Fernando Llorente breathed life into Swansea City’s quest to survive in the Premier League as they overcame Everton 1-0 at a vibrant Liberty Stadium.
After a cagey first half hour, Llorente headed in his 13th league goal of the campaign from Jordan Ayew’s cross, and the home side missed further chances before holding firm in a tense finale.
Sunderland’s win at Hull earlier in the day ramped up the atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium pre-kick off, with home supporters and players alike sensing a golden opportunity to finish the day out of the bottom three.
But despite the noise levels exceeding anything else heard at the stadium this season, there was little to write home about in the opening stages as both sides enjoyed spells of possession without fashioning any clear cut chances.
Everton striker Romanu Lukaku headed tamely at home keeper Lukasz Fabianski from just inside the area, while at the other end, Gylfi Sigurdsson wastefully chipped a 30 yard free kick wastefully into the arms of Maarten Stekelenburg – despite everyone seemingly expecting Swansea's talisman to shoot.
Play was briefly held up when one away supporter chose to invade the pitch to embrace Lukaku, but when matters did re-start, the game finally sprang to life.
Sigurdsson was denied a penalty when he appeared to be taken down by Gareth Barry from behind, but it mattered little as seconds later, the ball found its way to Ayew on the right, and his floated ball to the back post was headed in by Llorente.
And the roars from the home faithful had barely settled down when The Swans almost struck again, as Sigurdsson’s cross found its way to Alfie Mawson, but just when he seemed certain to score from close range, his shot was blocked brilliantly by Everton right back Mason Holgate.
The Toffees did threaten when Lukaku’s lay off narrowly evaded Idrissa Gueye in the area - before further good work by the lively Ayew saw Swansea left back Martin Olsson surge into the Everton box before seeing his angled drive deflect over.
Paul Clement’s men then opted to sit back in the closing stages of the half, with even Llorente deep in his own territory, but appeared comfortable in ensuring they held a priceless lead at the interval.
Ronald Koeman opted to introduce Ross Barkley at half time, and his presence appeared to invigorate the visitors in the early stages of the second perios, with the midfielder’s free kick prompting a scramble which the outstanding Leon Britton and Sigurdsson combined to clear.
The home side then blew a chance to double the lead when Ki Sung-Yueng’s miscued shot fell into the path of Ayew, who with Stekelnburg stranded, could only slice his volley against the outside of the post.
For Everton, Lukaku had been kept relatively quiet for most of the afternoon by the again impressive Mawson, and as a result appeared to roam the flanks in search of the ball as the game wore on.
And sure enough, it was his low in-swinging cross that evaded everyone before drifting past the back post, before Fabianski had to get down sharply to gather the striker’s 20 yard shot.
But then it was Swansea who missed two big chances to make the game safe, as Sigurdsson’s corner found Federico Fernandez, whose goal bound header bounced over via the shoulder of Barkley.
And from the corner that followed, the Icelander’s delivery was perfect for the unmarked Llorente, but his header was too close to Stekelenburg and the keeper gathered.
Koeman’s men tried to up the ante in the final stages, but it was the home side who went close again when a flowing counter attack saw Carrol’s low cross met first time by substitute Leroy Fer, but Stekelenburg was again up to the task as he blocked with his legs.
But as the tension grew, it was the Swansea penalty area that saw most of the action as Lukaku skipped inside Naughton before firing a right foot shot into the side netting.
And then Everton fashioned their best chance, as Barkley’s free kick was met by Mirallas, who could only flick his close range header wide.
The Toffees forced two successive corners in the final minute, the second of which the Swans failed to clear, and Lukaku’s driven effort across goal was cleared away by Mawson – before a sliding Fernandez denied the same player as he looked to shoot on goal.
It proved Everton’s last chance, as Swansea held out for the three minutes of injury time – to prompt one of the biggest crowd roars seen at the stadium in recent years.
And now Clement’s men will go to Sunderland next week with their fate in their own hands, lying a point above Hull with two games each left to play.
Swansea City: Lukasz Fabianski, Kyle Naughton, Federico Fernandez, Alfie Mawson, Marin Olsson, Tom Carroll, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Leon Britton (capt) (Jack Cork 73), Ki Sung-Yeung (Leroy Fer 75), Tom Carroll, Fernando Llorente (Borja 87).
Subs not used: Kristoffer Nordfeldt, Jordi Amat, Luciano Narsingh, Stephen Kingsley.
Everton: Maarten Stekelenburg, Mason Holgate (Jonjoe Kenny 78), Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka (capt), Leighton Baines, Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry (Enner Valencia 65), Tom Davies, Kevin Mirallas, Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Ross Barkley half time), Romelu Lukaku.
Subs not used: Joel Robles, Ademola Lookman, Matthew Pennington, Joe Williams.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Assistants: Stuart Burt and Stephen Child.
Fourth official: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 20, 827.