Report | Swansea City 0 Norwich City 1
Swansea City resumed Championship action with defeat to Norwich City as Teemu Pukki punished a sloppy start by scoring the winner inside 60 seconds at the Swansea.com Stadium.
It had already taken last-ditch defending to deny the Finland striker, even before he arrived at the far post to meet a flick-on and open the scoring in the first minute.
From that point on the hosts were the better side, enjoying dominance of the ball and having double the number of shots on goal and shots on target of the visitors.
Kyle Naughton, Joel Piroe and Ryan Manning had the best of the home side’s chances, and there will be plenty for Russell Martin and his coaching staff to take from their performance against one of the pre-season promotion favourites boasting a squad littered with Premier League and promotion-winning experience.
But there will also be frustration at how a sluggish opening proved so costly against the club whom Martin served with such distinction across nine years as a player.
The Swans had shown three changes from the draw at Huddersfield four weeks previously, with Naughton, Luke Cundle and Jamie Paterson the trio to come into the team. There was also the welcome sight of Joe Allen on the substitutes bench following his hamstring injury.
Swansea had spoken of wanting to hit the ground running after the World Cup break, but instead they made a terrible start.
From the kick-off a poor pass nearly allowed Pukki in on goal, with Ben Cabango making a superb covering challenge to put the ball behind from a corner.
The first set-piece was cleared for another corner, and from there the opener arrived.
Gabriel Sara’s delivery was flicked on by Kenny McLean and Pukki was on hand at the back post to find the net.
It was a nightmare opening, but Swansea did respond well by taking the game to the Canaries, with Paterson among those looking lively as one surge from the midfielder forced Ben Gibson into a cynical challenge that earned him a yellow card.
Piroe then had a deflected shot just about saved by Angus Gunn after a clever shift from a free-kick, and Swansea’s renewed purpose was highlighted by a superb tackle from Jay Fulton to win a 50-50 against Isaac Hayden in the middle of the park.
Manning was having plenty of joy down the left and his fizzing volley cannoned wide off Piroe as Swansea pushed again on the 20-minute mark.
Naughton volleyed over after his own lovely turn had kickstarted a Swans attack, and Paterson was then denied by Gunn as the keeper blocked away his volley from an acute angle.
The visitors had barely threatened since their goal, but it took more excellent work from Cabango to prevent them doubling their lead on the half-hour as Sam McCallum set himself from near the penalty spot.
Play was soon back at the other end, Piroe dragging a right-footed effort wide after Joel Latibeaudiere had popped up to make the extra man in attack.
But Norwich finished the half with two good opportunities, top scorer Josh Sargent dragging wide after breaking from a loose pass, before being unable to turn in Sara’s cross.
Trailing at the interval, Swansea started the second period with purpose, a Paterson pull-back failing to find a white shirt after a fine pass from Cundle had freed his fellow midfielder.
Outstanding play from Fulton started another promising attack, with Piroe, Cundle and Paterson all involved, with the latter seeing his final effort blocked.
Martin sent on Ollie Cooper and Olivier Ntcham from the bench in place of Paterson and Cundle on the hour.
The pressure kept coming, Latibeaudiere’s cross found Naughton arriving at the back post to power a header into the ground which Gunn tipped over as the ball climbed back towards the roof of the net.
Naughton was soon involved again digging out a superb ball across the six-yard box that was crying out for a touch that never came.
Cooper then stole the ball from McCallum and lifted in a cross that was just too high for a stretching Piroe with keeper Gunn scrambling.
Ntcham joined his fellow substitute and got in on the act by skipping away down the left and forcing Norwich to nervily clear his cross as Piroe and Cooper eagerly awaited at the far post.
Still Swansea pressed, Piroe steering wide from Manning’s inswing free-kick as time began to run out for the hosts, and there would be no later leveller despite Manning forcing Gunn into another save with a free-kick.
Swansea City: Steven Benda; Nathan Wood, Kyle Naughton (Armstrong Oko-Flex 80), Ben Cabango; Joel Latibeaudiere (Joe Allen 71), Jay Fulton, Matt Grimes (captain), Ryan Manning; Jamie Paterson (Ollie Cooper 60), Luke Cundle (Olivier Ntcham 60); Joel Piroe.
Unused Substitutes: Andy Fisher, Harry Darling, Liam Cullen.
Norwich City: Angus Gunn, Max Aarons, Grant Hanley (captain), Ben Gibson, Isaac Hayden, Sam McCallum (Dimitrios Giannoulis 74), Gabriel Sara (Liam Gibbs 74), Danel Sinani (Kieran Dowell 67), Teemu Pukki (Adam Idah 80), Kenny McLean, Josh Sargent.
Unused Substitutes: Tim Krul, Andrew Omabamidele, Onel Hernandez.
Referee: Stephen Martin