Liam Cullen was the hero as Swansea City Under-23s began 2020 with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Stoke City in Premier League 2 Division 2.
The Wales Under-21 international scored what proved to be the winner with a 19th-minute penalty at Harrison Park, after the returning Oli Cooper had been brought down by William Forrester in the box.
For Cullen, it was his eighth goal of the season in all competitions and first since netting twice in November’s 4-2 defeat by West Ham.
It proved to be enough as Swansea made it seven points from their last three league games – following the 2-1 victory over Norwich and 1-1 draw with Aston Villa before Christmas.
Interim boss Jon Grey made four changes from the Villa game and there were recalls for goalkeeper Josh Gould and Jake Thomas in the heart of defence.
Meanwhile, Cooper returned from injury for his first league appearance since he scored the late winner in September’s 1-0 win at Newcastle.
There was also a place in the starting line-up for Tivonge Rushesha, who last began an under-23s fixture against Manchester United in October.
Both sides threatened early on with Simon Paulet blazing over for the Swans, while Scott Hogan’s dangerous cross was importantly gathered by Gould at the other end.
Forrester and Ryan Corrigan also went close for Stoke, but it was the visitors who landed the first blow in the 19th minute after Cooper was brought down by Forrester in the penalty area.
Cullen stepped up and made no mistake from 12 yards as he netted his fifth league goal of the campaign.
Stoke looked to respond before the break. Hogan shot just wide from outside the area, before Tre Pemberton hit the bar following a terrific run.
Hogan was inches away from finding the top corner in the early stages of the second half, while Gould did well to keep out James Jennings’ header from a Corrigan corner.
At the other end, the Swans pressed for a second goal and breathing space as Cullen curled a shot just over the bar, and Jack Evans saw an ambitious effort from distance drift narrowly wide.
The visitors had to dig deep in stoppage time but held out for the clean sheet and a huge three points at Harrison Park.
Stoke City U23s: Blondy Nna Noukeu, Tre Pemberton, Ryan Corrigan, Scott Wara, William Forrester, Lewis Macarai, Jake Dunwoody (captain; Daniel Jervis, 41), James Jennings (Okera Simmonds, 54), Scott Hogan (Mo Sankoh, 75), Patrick Jarrett.
Subs not used: Conor Robson, Edward Jones.
Swans U23s: Josh Gould; Tivonge Rushesha (Ryan Bevan, 74), Cameron Evans, Jake Thomas, Matthew Blake; Jack Evans (captain), Kees de Boer; Oli Cooper (Mason Jones-Thomas, ht), Simon Paulet (Morgan Clarke, 85), Keiran Evans; Liam Cullen.
Subs not used: Tyler Evans, Arnor Gudjohnsen.