Russell Martin praises Swansea for coming through ‘tough’ Stadium of Light test
Russell Martin was delighted with the way in which his Swansea players quelled a fractious Stadium of Light crowd to claim a 3-1 win at 10-man Sunderland.
The Swans were handed a golden opportunity when Sunderland defender Luke O’Nien was dismissed for an 18th-minute foul on Ollie Cooper, but with the Wearside crowd baying for blood, it took the visitors a while to get to grips with the atmosphere they were up against.
The scoreline was still blank at the interval, but Swansea made their numerical advantage count in the second half as Joel Piroe, Liam Cullen and Cooper all found the target.
Martin said: “I’m really pleased with the players. It’s such a tough place to come.
“We knew it was going to be tough, and they started the game really well. The crowd and the atmosphere here is so good, and there’s been a shift in the feeling towards the club because of the promotion.
“It’s not an easy place to come, but then the game obviously changes on the sending off. It took us a little while to manage the emotion of that because the crowd was so up, and we’ve got so many young players experiencing that kind of atmosphere for the first time.
“It was about settling things down and trying to stay calm, and I thought we did very well in the second half.
“When we were in their half, some of our play was really good. We limited them to very little, and on the whole we’re really pleased. When they went down to 10 men, there’s maybe an expectation that we would go on to win, but I’ve told them to smile a bit because they’ve earned it.”
Sunderland started reasonably brightly, but the Black Cats were always going to be up against it after O’Nien was dismissed for a reckless challenge that saw him clatter into Cooper close to the centre-circle.
The centre-half appeared to have been incensed by referee Keith Stroud’s failure to award Sunderland a penalty for what appeared to be a foul on Amad Diallo moments earlier, but Black Cats boss Tony Mowbray admits O’Nien used excessive force as he threw himself into his ill-advised tackle.
Mowbray, whose battling side had briefly drawn level through Dan Neil’s 65th-minute equaliser, said: “Luke’s a very level-headed kid. Yet I think it’s quite natural to get wrapped up in the game. It felt as if for a spell, the supporters could be our 11th man and make it an even game as such. The crowd can play such an important part, but maybe they overwound Luke O’Nien up a bit.
“My job today was to try to make sure these players played with intensity against this team that were coming to try to dominate the ball, and I thought we did it brilliantly well for however long it was before the sending off.
“Luke was stepping out from a central-defensive position into a midfield area, where their number nine had dropped down, and we’d talked about how the centre-halves had to drop in with them because they play in the spaces.
“It was just an overly-aggressive challenge. I’ve told him that.
“There was no need for that intent, yet you can imagine if he had made real clean contact and the ball had flown 50 yards up the field, the crowd would have roared and it would have kept the momentum going. Ultimately, though, on the back of that decision, the game swung pretty dramatically.”
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