Shaky finish, but Swansea survive Euro tremors to reach last 32; SWANS IN EUROPE.
ST GALLEN.............1 SWANSEA CITY.....0 STIRRED by an earthquake in the early hours of yesterday morning, Swansea City suffered further tremors in their quest to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Marco Mathys' close-range volley 10 minutes from time put Swansea's qualification hopes in jeopardy with attention quickly turning to events in Valencia. The Spaniards held a 1-0 lead over Kuban Krasnador at that point but a Russian equaliser meant Swansea were now living dangerously.
Another goal either way at that point - from St Gallen and Kuban - and Swansea would have been left at the mercy of a convoluted process to determine Group A's runner-up.
Thankfully, from Swansea's perspective, it did not happen and all's well that ends well, even if there will be few fond memories from a trip to Switzerland that contained a 12-hour journey on Wednesday, fog, snow and an earthquake measuring four for good measure.
The positive note is that Swansea have made the final 32 of the Europa League, an admirable feat which manager Michael Laudrup was quick to highlight.
"I hope it is huge for everyone in Swansea City Football Club," said Laudrup. "We don't know when Swansea will play in Europe again. You appreciate more when you have a little more distance, maybe two, three or four years. Of course I hope Swansea will play in Europe over the next 10 years but you can't really be sure.
"When we were 1-0 down and Kuban equalised those late goals against Kuban passed my mind.
"St Gallen got a late free-kick and the negative thought that two goals, one here and one there and we would be out, went through my mind. But we have got through and now we can look forward to the draw."
On the downbeat side Laudrup's men failed to win any of their four group games after that blistering autumn start against Valencia and St Gallen and they lost their way again at a foggy AGF Arena.
There is certainly unlikely to be anyone quaking in their boots at the mention of Swansea's name in the Europa League draw on Monday, including the likes of Napoli and Ben-fica who have dropped down from the Champions League and could be potential last-32 opponents.
Much of this contest resembled Swansea's season as a whole: good in parts, poor in others. Roland Lamah had two presentable shooting opportunties in the first half but, as Swansea's attacking threat disappeared like the morning snow, St Gallen always seemed the more likely victors before their vociferous fans.
St Gallen coach Jeff Saibene had promised the incentive of 200,000 Euros for victory would spur on his team and those words were probably ringing in Gerhard Tremmel's ears as he twice denied Roberto Rodriguez in one-on-one situations.
The decibel levels then reached ear-splitting levels when Neil Taylor diverted into his own net, although the full-back was saved by referee Liran Liany's judgement that he was pushed before heading the ball.
Substitute Jose Canas cleared Mathys' header off the line but the Swans were creaking and the striker would not let them off the hook again. Sebastien Wuthrich's cross set up Mathys although, in truth, St Gallen players were queueing up to convert.
It was no less than St Gallen deserved and will no doubt leave Laudrup with plenty of thought when European action reconvenes in February.
Swansea had fought out a 1-1 draw with Hull fewer than 72 hours earlier, so it was no surprise Laudrup shuf-fled his pack once again, especially with Sunday's Premier League trip to Norwich on the horizon.
Skipper Ashley Williams dropped to the bench to allow a Spanish central defensive axis of Chico Flores and Jordi Amat and there were also recalls for Taylor, taking over the captaincy to boot, Lamah, Wayne Routledge, Alejandro Pozuelo and Wilfried Bony.
The latter's presence was a huge boost for Laudrup who had originally feared the Ivory Coast striker would be absent for several weeks after pulling up with hamstring trouble against Valencia a fortnight ago.
With Michu warming the bench - if that was the right word on a desperately cold night when the thermometer plunged into the blue figures - Laudrup was suddenly spoilt for strikers after being without any at all.
The Dane also had the luxury of starting Routledge for the first time for a month and the winger put his recent injury behind him in a bright start. Twice he was involved in quick counter-play, the second occasion ending with Bony's battle for possession falling for Lamah to curl a shot close to Marcel Herzog's far post.
Jonjo Shelvey also had a shot saved as St Gallen took early risks going forward, another opportunity presenting itself through an unmanned mid-field wasted when Jonathan de Guzman dithered in possession.
At the other end concerns were growing down Dwight Tiendalli's right flank, none more so when Emir Lenjani ventured into 20 yards of unguarded territory to fire into the side netting.
Maintaining balance was not always easy in the sub-zero conditions but Routledge's cute back flick invited Lamah to shoot narrowly wide of the post. But apart from a Bony header at the start of the second half, Swansea were on the backfoot thereon. But, as Laudrup added, no-one will remember this result in a few weeks' time. Just that Swansea remain alive in the Europa League.
Laudrup led provincial Spanish club Getafe into the last eight of the Europa League in his time as manager there and he said the club's achievement would be more appreciated in future.
"My experience with Getafe is that it was nice to make the quarter-final and play Bayern Munich," he said. "But now it's five years later it's nice to appreciate it more and remember that game. So let's see what happens in the draw."
Swansea lost to an 80th minute strike from Marco Mathys after the backline had been disrupted by an injury to Chico Flores, who will wait anxiously over his scan results in the next few days.
Mathys 80 REFEREE: Liran Liany (Israel) ATTENDANCE: 16,000 P W D L F A Pts Valencia ...............
6 4 1 1 12 7 13 Swansea ..............
6 2 2 2 6 4 8 KubanKrasnodar..6 13 2 7 7 6 StGallen..............
6 2 0 4 6 13 6
Wilfried Bony challenges St Gallen's Stephane Besle in the air
St Gallen's Muhamed Demiri slides in to dispossess Swansea's Wayne Routledge
Neil Taylor attempts a shot, with St Gallen's Mario Mutsch blocking his path >
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Dec 13, 2013|
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