Swansea City labored to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in a rain-drenched Boxing Day affair at the Liberty Stadium, courtesy of a world class free-kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Gabby Agbonlahor, who started the match after having had his red card against Manchester United last week overturned, had the first attempt at goal of the game at 10 minutes, going just wide of the post after a cross from Aly Cissokho picked out the Villa forward on the edge of the box.
Swansea made a swift rebuttal as a surging run from Jefferson Montero caused Villa defender Jores Okore to trip the winger on the edge of the box, with referee Roger East pulling play back for a free-kick in a dangerous position.
Known for his penchant for long range efforts at goal, Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up to bury the free-kick in emphatic fashion, blasting his shot right through the flailing Brad Guzan after 13 minutes.
Making his 100th appearance in goal for the Claret and Blue, Guzan seemed to have his goal covered as he prepared to dive to his left, but the sheer pace and power of Sigurdsson’s shot saw the Villa keeper scramble mid-air in his efforts to get a hand to the ball.
Having played a part in nine of the 15 goals scored at home this season, the Icelandic attacking midfielder’s long range effort is his fourth goal of the season.
Villa fail to find equaliser
Villa would then have a free-kick opportunity of their own after 31 minutes, as Ashley Williams fouled Christian Benteke just outside the penalty area, only for the Belgian forward to see his shot flash just wide of the post.
Villa would go on to dominate the second half, seeking a goal that seemed well-deserved as much as it was elusive.
A tidy passing display between Tom Cleverly and Andreas Weimann, that saw the Austrian forward weave past the Swansea defense with a surging run, ended anti-climactically as the Villa forward couldn’t get enough power on his shot, with Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianksi collecting the ball comfortably.
Striving to make the break through and finding a well-deserved equalizer, Villa had a penalty appeal turned down by Roger East on 71 minutes after Gabby Agbonlahor latched onto a lobbed pass from Christian Benteke, only to be bullied off the ball by Ashley Williams in the penalty area.
Swansea looked to solidify the three points on 79 minutes, after a surging run from Wayne Routledge down the left flank saw him link up with Marvin Emnes, finding Nathan Dyer in space in the penalty area, only for Brad Guzan to collect it with ease after attempting to bury his shot with an overly tame effort.
With time running out and numerous chances gone begging, Paul Lambert’s side relentlessly sought to salvage something from the match as the officials declared four minutes of injury time to be added to the clock.
Adding to the tense conclusion of the contest, Villa had two headed efforts from the heads of Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor saved thanks to the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski deep into stoppage time.
Garry Monk’s men would hold on to collect their first Boxing Day victory since 2007, further cementing their place in upper half of the Premier League ladder in 8th place.
Monk was pleased with his team’s efforts in the final third, along with the defensive display of his side in a hotly contested encounter, speaking highly of Lukasz Fabianski’s performance in goal.
Monk: It was a tough game
In his post-match interview with the BBC, Monk said "It was a tough game. In the first half we played some lovely stuff, had an early goal and could have had one or two more.
"We showed great defensive qualities, and there was a great save from Fabianski in
the end. It was a great stop at a crucial point of the game.”
With their second consecutive 1-0 victory after last week’s victory at Hull City, the
Swans travel to Anfield to face Liverpool on Monday, who sit three points below
them in 9th place.
Despite coming away with nothing, Villa looked much more lively and potent going forward, creating chances often but ultimately lacking that killer instinct in front of goal; a problem that has sealed their fate all too often this season. They have not won on Boxing Day since 2005 and remain the lowest scoring team in all four tiers of English football with 11 goals, dropping down to 13th place on the ladder.
Villa manager Paul Lambert was optimistic after his side’s display, noting that a recent tweaks to their style of play has come through positively in recent matches.
Lambert pleased with performance
Speaking to the BBC after the match, Lambert said, "We're very pleased with how we
played. I thought we were fantastic throughout the game. I thought we passed
the ball excellently and the goalkeeper kept them in the game.
"If you ask the lads in the dressing room, they want the games to come quickly because
they're playing well."
"The way we're playing is really pleasing. We've changed the way we've played over
the last three to four weeks and the lads have been brilliant with it."
With two defeats in three matches, Villa host Sunderland on Sunday, who are equal on goal difference and sit a single point below them. Anything less than a victory could see the visitors leap frog them on the ladder, furthering their descent down the table.
Villa won the corresponding fixture against Gus Poyet's side last season thanks to a single Gabby Agbonlahor goal, but the Villa forward misses the next match through suspension after accumulating five yellow cards.
With a good portion of their squad unavailable due to either suspension or injury, Lambert will be hoping that he can hang on to star striker Christian Benteke as the January transfer window nears, and that he can recapture the form that has generated so much interest in him in recent seasons.