From The Vault: Hull v Swans
30th March 2014
As part of our weekly 'From the vault' feature, we take a look back through the archives from past matchday programmes.
Ahead of next week's trip to Hull, former Swans player Michael Howard looks back at a classic clash against the Gunners at Highbury in October 1981...
Whenever Swansea meet Hull, thoughts inevitably go back to the final day of the 2002-03 season and a meeting between the two clubs in the old Third Division.
Going into the game on May 3, 2003, the Swans needed to match or better the result of Exeter City, who were at home to Southend United that same afternoon, in order to stay in the Football League. The only thing guaranteed for everyone connected with Swansea City was that an emotional 90 minutes were about to unfold.
"Obviously there were some nerves going into the game," said Howard, who started the game. "We'd won 2-1 away at Rochdale the week before and we thought we might have done enough then to guarantee our place in the Football League. But as it was, we still needed to get a result going into the final game of the season.
"I have to say the experienced players and the manager were both very good in the run up to the Hull game, keeping everyone pretty clam and focused."
A crowd of nearly 10,000 packed into the Vetch Field for Swansea's day of destiny back in 2003, with the South Wales Evening Post reporting that a passionate home following "sang and chanted, roared and cheered". The Swans were up against a Hull City side whose early season promise had faded and were in mid-table.
"I guess it was better to be playing a team not involved in either in a promotion or relegation fight on the last day," he said. "They'd started that season as one of the favourites for promotion and underachieved in many people's eyes, given that they'd spent a decent bit of money too. They had some good individuals and they were dangerous from the perspective that we didn't really know how they would approach the game."
Local boy James Thomas gave Swansea the perfect start after just six minutes, converting a penalty after Leon Britton had been fouled.
"James was reliable from the spot and did really well to forget the occasion and slot that penalty away," said Howard. "He was in and out of the side a bit towards the end of that campaign but obviously it would be his day that day. I certainly fancied him to score when he stepped forward to take the penalty."
A bright start faded though and defensive errors would allow Stuart Elliott and Martin Reeves to put Hull 2-1 up after 25 minutes. Indeed, goalkeeper Neil Cutler had to put off a string of good saves to keep Swansea in the match. Luckily though, Thomas was on hand again from the penalty spot to level matters just before half-time.
Howard said: "It was perfect timing for James to pop up and score the equaliser. It gave us the lift that we needed going into the changing room. The message for all the players at half-time was to put the individual mistakes behind us and keep going. We'd actually played some very good football that day, in difficult conditions with the rain and so much riding on the outcome. It was one of our better performances of the season without doubt."
After the break, it was Lenny Johnrose who was on target to put Swansea 3-2 up after a neat flick-on from Thomas from a Roberto Martinez free kick. Johnrose, who played a total of 40 league games for the Swans between 2003 and 2004, was a popular figure in the changing room and richly deserved his goal according to Howard.
"Lenny was a great lad," he said. "He was a tough tackler, indeed I don't think I've seen anyone go in for crunching tackles the way he used to. He didn't use to train that often as he lived in the north of England and used to travel down. Even with that commuting and not training that much, he never let us down and his performances were always spot on."
While Johnrose was a popular goal scorer, the day would of course belong to James Thomas, who confirmed the Swans' 4-2 victory and completed his hat-trick on 57 minutes. His fine lob over Hull goalkeeper Alan Fettis was greeted by a huge roar from the Vetch Field faithful.
"When the fourth goal went in, I did get that feeling that we were safe," says Howard. "The team was playing with confidence and Hull weren't the challenge to us in the second half that they were in the first.
"It's said so often, but it was obviously fitting for a local lad to score the hat-trick that kept us in the Football League and get such a fantastic winner. James was so down to earth and not one to hog the limelight, so he deserved that moment. Even with injuries he suffered later in his career, no-one can ever take that great moment away from him."