Saturday 27 November 2010

From hot to cold: What have I missed?

This time last week I was sipping an ice-cold beer by the pool under the American sun. Now though, as I place my laptop in front of the fan heater and sip a steaming coffee, I forget about my holiday and concentrate on the Swans. It’s been a while since the last blog, so let’s make up for it!

Before I give my thoughts on last night’s shocker against Portsmouth I ask myself: What did I miss while I was away? Well, technically, I didn’t actually miss anything. As this is the age of WIFI, iPhones and Twitter, most of the Swans news was easily accessible but, for arguments sake, what would I have missed if none of these were to hand?

Swans vs. Doncaster
It was nice to read that Swansea had some luck through Rangel’s last gasp goal and came away with a much needed point. It’s usually the other way around (well, certainly last season) where Swansea would score the goal and some odd referee would decide to play an unnecessary 5 minutes injury time where the opposition would then score and three points became 1. So, well done Rangel and thank you to the 93rd minute; a minute who rarely delivers.

Pratley refuses to sign a new contract
With Pratley’s current contract expiring in the summer, Rodgers has basically issued the sensible ultimatum: re-sign or be sold. While some fans may not want to see the likes of Pratley, Rangel or De Vries leaving Swansea, it’s better for them to go for a good price than for free. I’d hate to see De Vries go, and the same goes for Rangel – both performing well – though Darren Pratley seems to be annoying fans at the moment. He isn’t the rock that he was last season and has crumbed slightly, maybe in the shadow of great performances by Gower and Sinclair. Time for him to go? If he finds his form again, it will be worth keeping him as he is a great player. If he stays as uninspiring as he currently is, Swansea would be better off without him.

Rodgers signs Easter on a month loan
With rumours of Swansea looking to sign, amongst others, Daniel Sturridge and Carlos Vela, fans rejoiced! “We can win the championship, get promoted and win the Premier League if we start signing players like these!” Then came the announcement that Jermaine Easter had been signed on loan...

A known Cardiff fan coming from League One MK Dons (and currently a little bit injured) seems a bit of a non-starter in attempts to add depth to the strike force. I hope I’m wrong, because Brendan Rodgers has proved me very wrong in the past, but it’s like being promised a PS3 for Christmas, only to unwrap a second-hand GameCube. Cue bursting into tears, kicking the cat, and then drinking the rest of the day away (I love Christmas...)

So onto last night’s game. I didn’t brave the trip to the Liberty, mainly due to travelling home all day, so decided to listen on the radio from the warmth of my house. From the first minute it appeared that I had made a mistake – the Swans were going to hammer Portsmouth 5-0 and I was going to miss it! Suddenly (well around the time Portsmouth had their first goal disallowed), the momentum changed and Swansea began to slowly fall apart. Not even a Brendan Rodgers triple substitution helped as Pompey got behind the ball and shut out the game. All credit to the boys in black (unnecessary third kit), they deserved their three points.

So what happened to Swansea? Did they buckle under the pressure of the largest crowd (17,000+) this season? The underlying strain of being in the top three? The expectation of always having to win at home? Or maybe it was just an off day? If it was pressure that got to them, they’ll need to learn to cope as the Premier League will create more pressure than they’ve ever known. If it was an off day, fair enough – everyone’s allowed an off day. But one a season is more than enough. The way things have been going, off days may be more of a regular occurrence.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Instant Blog! Swansea 0 - 1 Bristol City

A blip is a good way to describe what happened in tonight’s game. On an icy cold night in the Liberty Stadium (a night that I really should have worn a hat), Swansea began the game as usual. But just 6 minutes in, Bristol snuck a goal and things went downhill from there.

A usually solid defence seemed less so than usual, with Tate letting defenders get by him too easily, and Monk and Williams arguing over various defensive positions. At one point in the second half Campbell-Ryce (Bristol) ended up with the ball deep in the Swans half. Williams and Monk both pointed at the attacker but neither moved, until the 14,000 Swans fans in unison screamed “someone get him!”, leaving Rangel to eventually clean up the mess. A poor night for usually the best defence in the league.

Defensive issues aside, the midfield was no better. Pratley was rightly subbed at halftime – perhaps missing the Cardiff game made him rusty as opposed to rested, because he looked unsettled and unable to get his first touch right or to keep possession. Agustien looked strong initially, but towards the end of his game was tackled much to easily and sent numerous long balls up field with no accuracy, resulting in, again, a loss of possession. The appearance of Gower and Allen certainly sparked the Swansea attacking game, but still made no real dent in the Bristol defence.

So, to the attack. Sinclair was decent, with a couple of good runs creating a few of Swansea’s chances. Emnes didn’t show his quality and took too many bad touches, a poor final game (...for now?) in a Swansea shirt. Dyer, however, was fantastic, showing unequalled pace and great control. Had all the team played like Dyer we would have won, no doubt. Annoyingly, before the game, I bumped into Nathan Dyer in the car park, where I asked him if the Swans would win. He said yes. Now, I feel like my question jinxed it. Sorry everyone – my bad!

Positives? Nathan Dyer, but otherwise not that much tonight. But worry not – it is only a blip. Luckily with Cardiff only picking up a point tonight, Swansea’s position in the table has not changed (still 3rd, above Derby and below Cardiff). However, it could have been so much better as a win would have taken us within a point of the Bluebirds.

Roll on Sunday, where every player will be looking to redeem themselves against Middlesbrough! Right, I’m off to eat a Cherry Bakewell and defrost in front of my fan heater!

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Savage, Swansea and Sundays!

I’m not going to give a match report for the Swans’ victory over Cardiff on Sunday because:

1) It would be a really late report after two days,
2) 99.9% of you reading this will have watched the match either in the stadium or on the BBC, so you know exactly what happened.

While I mention the BBC, can I ask why they felt the need to let Robbie Savage commentate? He sounded like he’d won some sort of competition to ‘have a go at commentating’! Chipping in with Cardiff bias comments and, at times, unnecessary points of view didn’t make the experience any more enjoyable. I’d have preferred silence. As a football commentator myself (I commentate for Swans matches for a hospital radio station), I know it’s not always that easy to come up with something insightful. However, I also know that if I have nothing worth saying, it’s best to just shut up. On Sunday I can safely say I would have done a better job!

The match itself, as usual, didn’t fully live up to the hype, mainly because Swansea were the only team actually playing! For a top of the league club, Cardiff looked very mediocre and only half-up for the match. Michael Chopra, usually a decent player, looked amateur and dirty after the series of leg-breaking tackles he committed. Swansea on the other hand did everything as they have been doing over the past few months, which was playing good football. They kept possession and, despite Dave Jones’ opinions, used it to create chances and eventually score the goal that sealed the derby victory. Alan Tate, Nathan Dyer, Ashley Williams and Joe Allen all put in solid performances with the rest of the Swans all above par. Swansea talked up the importance of the derby before hand and put in a performance to match.

It’ll be a shame to see Emnes go back after his wonder goal. He has one more game for the Swans, and then he leaves. I’m not too sure of the terms of his loan, but I wouldn’t want him playing against us on Sunday when Middlesbrough travel to the Liberty! Hopefully (at the risk of sounding selfish) things won’t work out for him up North and he’ll rejoin us during one of the next few transfer windows!

My final note is regarding the bout of Sunday games. Firstly, there are no Saturday home games until January, which is crazy! Just because Wales are playing a series of test matches (come on, just call them ‘friendlies’...) on Saturdays in November, the usual football schedule is thrown into disarray. I know many people like rugby, and I know many Swans fans will want to watch the rugby as well as the footy, but why does the rugby have to take priority? Football is played week-in week-out and should have first say. People of Wales should be wanting to see the Swans charge towards the Premier League! If any WRU members are reading – move the rugby to Sunday! Saturday is for FOOTBALL!

So, onto the Bristol City and Middlesbrough games on Wednesday and Sunday (arrgh) respectively where six points will be up for grabs and probably in the bag for the high flying Swans!

Monday 1 November 2010

The South Wales Derby!

In the match against Crystal Palace, where Swansea didn't sparkle, yet still managed to walk away with the best away win in almost three years, I feel reassured. What will happen in a game when they don’t just sparkle, but fully explode?

Well, a great time for this explosion would be on Sunday – Swansea vs. Cardiff. The derby. Up there with the worlds’ most famous sporting rivalries: Wales vs. England, Italy vs. Brazil, Liverpool vs. Everton and Shenzhen Xiangxue Eisiti vs. Guangzhou Pharmaceutical F.C. (yes, that’s an actual derby, though maybe not as celebrated as the others).

The South Wales Derby promises to be a fine spectacle as usual. With many Jacks travelling to Cardiff, the atmosphere should be electric and will create one hell of an arena for the players to battle on. Firstly, let’s hope for a trouble free day (the bubble should sort out most of it, we hope). Now, down to the match itself.

It’s worth mentioning the obvious exclusion of Darren Pratley and Jay Bothroyd for Swansea and Cardiff respectively. The question has already been asked: should Pratley have been subbed before he got the yellow card during the Palace match? Why didn’t Rodgers take him off? I believe, in these circumstances, the onus is on the player to avoid putting themselves in the position where they will be penalised. Pratley knew he was on a warning, and with less than ten minutes to go, should have kept off the ref’s radar. The booking is in the past now, but the Cardiff game is yet to come, so who will fill in?

Thankfully Kemy Agustien is back training, so he will slot nicely into the Pratley-shaped hole (this may well be a long term solution after more speculation today over Newcastle and Wigan after Pratley, but that’s another story). Agustien combined will Allen and Orlandi, should keep the midfield ticking over nicely. Cardiff will be suffering just as much, if not more, with the loss of their goal machine, Jay Bothroyd after a similar one-match suspension, where he received a yellow card against Norwich on Saturday.

Upfront, Swansea have more fire power than last year – Sinclair the obvious target man, but we will have Emnes ready for action (still a Swan until he’s back in Middlesbrough), who we know is goal capable. With Dobbie and Beattie also available, as well as Dyer on his wing, Swansea have many attacking options so goals shouldn’t be a problem (please don’t quote me on this though!).

Despite losing Bothroyd, Michael Chopra is back in the Cardiff squad. Chopra is very dangerous when on form, so Ashley Williams and co. will still have a lot to deal with, but it’s nothing they haven’t dealt with efficiently before. I haven’t mentioned Bellamy yet, who will provide a massive challenge to the Swans back four too. However, he is just another test that the Swans defence will relish, especially as its all practice for the Premier League next year.

So, some early predictions? If Swansea play like they have in the past weeks, I feel a sneaky 2-1 win could well be on the cards. However, Cardiff are top of the table, performing very well and also have the home advantage, which makes me think a draw is more likely. I’m going to go for 1-1, which, despite the passion to win the derby match, is a result I think most Swans fans would take.

My money may be on the draw, but its money I’d rather lose to see Swansea claim the bragging rights!