LONDON – This was the outcome Southampton dreaded on a weekend when all their main rivals for a top-four finish won. Ronald Koemanâ€™s team hogged possession against Swansea City but were punished for the impotence of their domination seven minutes from time when Jonjo Shelvey rammed a majestic shot into the net from 25 yards.
The ramifications of this defeat could go beyond three dropped points as Ryan Bertrand, a key part of their defence this season as well as constant contributor to their attacks, faces a three-game suspension after being sent off for a reckless tackle on Modou Barrow.
None of that concerns Swansea, who will draw encouragement from an accomplished performance that yielded their first Premier League victory since Boxing Day. Garry Monkâ€™s side needed to reassert their defensive solidity after two defeats in which they had shipped eight goals. They also had to demonstrate they could penetrate despite the sale of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City, the suspension of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the injury to Wayne Routledge and the loss to international duty of Ki Sung-yueng â€“ that quarter accounts for almost 80% of Swanseaâ€™s league goals this season. The Welsh side came up trumps on both fronts. Monk was delighted at his team for proving that they can be tigerish defenders as well as tidy passers.
â€œWeâ€™ve been in a difficult moment, especially in the last two games where we havenâ€™t shown that commitment,â€ said Monk. â€œYou can play poorly any time but not showing commitment is disappointing. But this was a very committed display and tactically very clever. We had a game-plan and I thought we executed that very well and were good for the three points. To be a good team you have to be able to adapt to different situations.â€
Southampton came into the game needing to adapt too as they were also without influential players because of injury â€“ Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld. But their start suggested those absences might not hinder them as they quickly took charge. They should have scored after six minutes when Nathaniel Clyne whacked an excellent low cross into the box and James Ward-Prowse met it 12 yards out, but the goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski reacted sharply to turn away the midfielderâ€™s low shot.
As ever the raids by Southamptonâ€™s full-backs and wingers were proving a menace but in the 13th minute, after almost constant pressure by the hosts, Swansea nearly ambushed them on the counterattack. Shelvey flipped a dainty pass through to BafÃ©timbi Gomis who took one touch before flashing a fine half-volley inches wide from the edge of the box.
Seven minutes later Shelvey found Gomis with a quick free-kick and the striker forced a save from Fraser Forster.There was no question, however, that the visitorsâ€™ priority was on defending. They stationed 10 players behind the ball as often as possible. Southampton found penetration difficult despite continuing to dominate.
Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis and Harrison Reed were industrious in central areas but none found the sort of drive or inspiration that Wanyama or Schneiderlin would have been expected to provide. Instead Shelvey was looking the most menacing midfielder as he stormed forward from deep after 60 minutes and rasped a low shot against a post from 25 yards.
That provoked an immediate response from Southampton but neither Graziano PellÃ¨â€™s header nor Ward-Prowseâ€™s shot from 18 yards looked likely to beat Fabianski.
Koeman replaced Reed with Sadio ManÃ© in an effort to give his team more pep and unpredictability. But Swanseaâ€™s resistance remained steadfast and seven minutes from time they lashed out with the counterpunch the home fans had been dreading, Shelvey smashing a superb shot into the net.
Swansea held on to their lead jealously, Ashley Williams twice clearing off the line from ManÃ©. Bertrandâ€™s exasperation then got the better of him as he was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Barrow. PellÃ¨, who had been shackled by Williams for most of the match, had a chance to mitigate the ill-effects of this game in stoppage time but blasted the ball over from 10 yards.
â€œIâ€™m frustrated of course, because I didnâ€™t think we deserved to lose,â€ said Koeman, who is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his side as a formidable posse gains pace behind them.
â€œWe can expect that teams like Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool to win games because they are big teams with good players. For us itâ€™s difficult to keep our position in the table, we know that. We have to be very good in every game. We saw today that if every individual player is not on his best level then itâ€™s more difficult.â€
Man of the match Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City). – The Guardian