Swansea survive second-half onslaught to edge past Everton

Swansea City striker Andre Ayew (L) celebrates with midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng and defender Neil Taylor (R) after scoring their second goal.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Call it the Italian Job: manager Francesco Guidolin got a win in his first match in charge of Swansea Sunday, beating Everton 2-1 thanks to an Andre Ayew goal. The result put the Welsh side four points clear of the drop zone, and piled more pressure on a sagging Everton side that now have won just one league match in their past ten league outings.

Guidolin, the highly regarded former manager of Udinese, among others, cut an owlish, nervous figure on the sideline, but his presence seemed to galvanize two players in particular: Neil Taylor, who was dynamic all day long; and Andre Ayew, Swansea’s erratic and underperforming striker.

PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS

Everton, on the other hand, came into the game having won just one of their last nine in league play (they are notably better in the cups, holding a lead in their League Cup semifinal tie over Manchester City) and are slipping inexorably toward the bottom of the table. If Swansea are a disappointment, then what does that make Everton? They are not close to realizing their potential, and seem badly out of balance, a team that can pass and attack but too frequently switch off on defense.

Today, it was two of their key players – John Stones and Tim Howard – who actually did the most damage. Stones, a young defender who is being hyped in the media as the most sought-after man in Europe, with everyone from Real Madrid to Motherwell interested in his service, endured a torrid afternoon and was culpable on both of Swansea’s goals.

Stones made a needless backpass in the 17th minute, failing to see Ayew racing in on Howard’s net. Ayew nipped in, and Howard cleaned him out to concede a penalty kick. Trouble seems to follow Howard this season, and while he was put in a poor position by his defender, he also seemed unaware of the danger. He has now conceded five penalties, far more than any other keeper in the league, and Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up and buried it.

Howard would be taunted by the home fans for the remainder of the match, a sign that patience is wearing very thin at Goodison with the American. Ironic cheers greeted him when he came for routine balls, and there was a real feeling of discontent rippling about the ground.

But Swansea aren’t a great team either, so when they conceded an own goal barely ten minutes later, it was hardly unexpected. A shambles on what was truthfully a poor corner kick, Swansea allowed Gareth Barry to peel away from the pack and stab at a ball with a Zola-esque flick. It caromed off Jack Cork and in past Lukasz Fabianski, and we were level.

MIDSEASON BEST XI

Parity would not last. Everton would cough the ball up in the middle of the field, allowing Taylor time out wide to find Ayew, and his shot took a cut off Stones to loop past Howard. There appeared to be a handball in the buildup, with Ashley Williams parrying the ball to stop an Everton attack, but ref Anthony Taylor was right on top of the play and did not give it, much to Roberto Martinez’ disdain.

Tension rose through the second half as Everton attempted to clamber back into the match, but despite some superb service from Gerard Deulofeu, there was never a man getting on to the end of his crosses. Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman both had late efforts, but not on frame.

The Toffees took two more hits as well today with Muhamed Besic and Kevin Mirallas both walking off injured inside a half hour, constraining Martinez’ side even further. They are in deep trouble.