Andre Ayew scored the winner but Daryl Dike scored with us all. This was such good fun.
There are cult heroes and there’s Daryl Dike. This was the first opportunity the Barnsley fans have had to pay homage to their 6’1”, 220 pound Oklahoman, and boy, did they make the most of it. They arrived at Oakwell with their Star-Spangled Banners, chanted his name and aimed Wayne’s World “we are not worthy” gestures in his direction.
In short: they love him because he bloody loves it. Bulldozing into the backs of defenders and looking at them on the floor with disdain, waving his arms in frustration as he’s penalised for the latest assault, and smiling all the while, clearly loving every second of it.
If Youri Tieleman’s strike on Saturday secured his side’s status as the people’s club of the Premier League, there’s a stong case for Barnsley being the Leicester of the Championship. There’s a lot to like about them, from the improbability of a promotion push having stayed up last season through an injury-time winner, to their enigmatic manager, Valerien Ismael, and the manic football he has them playing. Add Dike and the raucous Tykes fans in the mix and you’ve got quite the soulful soup to warm the cockles of the neutrals.
And it felt a bit like the FA Cup final. Just as it was Chelsea vs all, very few people watching will have been rooting for Swansea. It may well have been begrudging admiration which met Andre Ayew’s goal, but it was well earned.
To describe the game to that point as ‘bitty’ would have been kind. It was great fun – Dike and the crowd saw to that – but the standard was pretty poor.
It was Kyle Naughton and Ayew – with over 250 Premier League appearances between them – who combined for Swansea. Naughton clipped a clever ball in behind for Ayew, who had dropped back to get onside, before the Ghanaian cut inside onto his left foot and curled the ball into the far corner. It was a beautifully composed finish in a game of *looks up antonym of composure* agitation.
That’s the way Barnsley like it. They thrive on the blood-and-thunder football; every game feels like a cup tie. Lots of long balls to the big man, with bodies in and around him to pick up the second balls and short shrift for opposition players who dare to try and play what most would now consider ‘normal’ football.
But a 20-minute spell at the start of the second half besides – in which Barnsley did come close to pummelling the door down – Swansea coped very well.
Their pair of 20-year-old centre-backs, Ben Cabango and Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi, dealt brilliantly with Dike; they engaged in just the right amount of shithousery. And Newcastle loanee Freddie Woodman relieved pressure superbly in goal. It was a professional Swansea display against a side who have consistently made the teams they have played against this season stoop to the realms of amateurism.
Dike, Barnsley and their fans made this game, Swansea won it; it was impossible not to enjoy it. Here’s to more of the same.