Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

Looking back on the whole year, 2010 brought the Swans a mix of good and bad.

Let's rewind to January. The month we all made, then subsequently broke, our New Year resolutions (come on, I never was going to “give up beer”). Swansea were sitting 4th in the Coca-Cola Championship, despite losing the opening game of the year. Luckily that first one seemed to be a blip (there's that word again) and the Swans went on a nine game unbeaten run. Promotion, via the play-offs, seemed almost certain.

Then things took a stumble. Despite some fancy football, the goals weren't coming and, in turn, neither were the points. Swansea managed to win only three games out of twelve in March and April. This was around the time that Blackpool sensed they may be in with a chance and started to show their true colours (bright orange). I believe their 5-1 hammering of the Swans proved this. The safe position was slipping and only goals could save them! Alas, these goals never came.

Sousa was playing negative football and it began to grate on the fans, who all knew that the formation just wasn't working. Things came to a boil on the last game of the season where the Swans needed two things to happen. Blackpool to lose/draw and Swansea to win. It seemed Blackpool were only too keen to help, drawing 1-1 with Bristol, but Swansea were sitting on their own draw. That one goal they so badly needed never came, despite Sousa finally smarting up and chucking on all available strikers. Well, technically, a goal did come in the form of a last gasp Lee Trundle strike, but the ref rightly awarded handball and blew up for full time, ending the hopes of promotion. It was going to be a long summer of reflection.

It's easy to forget that I am talking about earlier this year! How things changed during the summer. Sousa didn't hang around long enough to reflect on anything, and Britton and Trundle soon left for different reasons. In came Scott Sinclair, Stephen Dobbie (back from newly-promoted Blackpool) and Brendan Rodgers. I won't reflect on the new season much more (check out my mid-season review for that summary).

So here we are at the end of 2010. In walks a fresh-faced 2011. Things to look forward to?

On the 6th February we will see Cardiff at the Liberty for “The South Wales Derby - Part II”. You don't need reminding that Swansea were the rightful victors in November's fixture, and neither do Cardiff - they will be ultra determined to get a win after being embarrassed on their own turf. Swansea will have their own crowd behind them though and, despite the recent dip in overall results, will be gagging to do the double over Cardiff. This must mean something though – if they end up doing the double over the Bluebirds but then fail to get promoted, I can guarantee you those two wins won't mean much.

Then on May 8th we'll have judgement day. The Swans will find out if:
a) they are automatically promoted to the Premier League (cue euphoria and “Closet Jacks” making a reappearance).

b) they join the other four teams in the play-offs, where (if they are able to get there) a Wembley final will see them one game away from the top tier (cue... well, see above)

c) they have missed out on the play-offs (cue good players leaving the club, mass suicide and sacking of Rodgers...)

Let's obviously hope it is point A. Automatic promotion would give the Swans confidence needed to take the first steps with the big boys! Plus they wouldn't have to play three play-off games. Anyway, I'm jumping ahead there...

So plenty to look forward to!

Let me take this opportunity to thank everybody who has read, commented and helped this blog develop over the last few months, it is much appreciated and I wish you all a great 2011 – the year where Swansea will (probably) get to the Premier League!

Happy New Year you Jack bastards!

Sunday 26 December 2010

Swansea City: no longer a blip!

This is the best part of the festive period – after the hectic build up and the big day itself, the week between Christmas and New Year is usually a relaxed affair, with a lot of good sport to occupy your mind, while the beer occupies your belly. Unfortunately, as we have come to expect from following Swansea, today was anything but relaxing!

Firstly, my condolences go to those who travelled to London to watch the 4-0 defeat to QPR – the return trip can’t have been that pleasant.

Annoyingly, in my own state of turkey and beer saturated bliss, I assumed the game kicked off at 3pm. On realising my mistake I quickly tuned in, joining the action to find Alan Tate had just been sent off and the Swans were 1-0 down. Not a good time, though it seems that QPR’s Clint Hill had also been shown red, so at least it was an eye for an eye. Swansea had the opportunity to go even again and maybe take the lead – if only they could put away some of their chances. However, as most who watch weekly will know, this isn’t easy for the Swans.

I guess we can no longer call this a blip? It’s the word that has been posted around recently, but a blip to me is when a team is soaring high, consistently winning by two or three goals, but then lose 3-0 to a poor team. The week after, however, they continue with their good form. That is a blip. It seems that the Swans are passed the ‘blip stage’ and, having only won one game in the last six, have moved into an extended period of unsettlement.

I’m not saying this is the end of promotion dreams because, as this is such an open league, it will only take a few good wins to see Swansea in the top two, but something still isn’t right. Maybe the midfield is the main problem here. Take Sinclair and Dyer out (they are currently the obvious best wing options) and it leaves three spaces for the likes of Pratley, Gower, Orlandi, Agustien and Allen. Which combination is the strongest? It’s hard to choose correctly. In my opinion, it seems the 4-5-1 option may no longer be the best. Or at least it may be wise to try and change it while there is still time in the season for errors. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this for the next game in a 4-4-2 formation: De Vries; Rangel, Monk, Williams, Taylor; Dyer, Agustien, Allen, Sinclair; Dobbie, Beattie.

Either way, Rodgers needs to secure a permanent striker in the transfer window to allow options. Failing that a central attacking midfielder would also help.

Next game is very soon: Tuesday vs. Barnsley (this time it is at 3pm!), so there is little time for reflection – the management and players alike need to brush themselves off and get a vital home win. If they fail to do this, the risk of a downwards spiral becomes higher by the game.

What is the current strongest side that should be played? Which new formation would you like to see tried out? Or is this still just a 'blip'? Leave a comment below

Sunday 19 December 2010

Swansea City: Halfway(ish) to the Premier League!

Saturday's disappointing game vs. Sheffield United marked the 22nd league fixture of the season, which, now I think about it, isn’t actually the halfway mark... So why am I writing the half season report when it isn’t even half season? Because I’ve got nothing better to do.

To clarify, at time of posting, the Swans sit in 4th place in the nPower Championship with 37 points.

(Let’s categorise my report, as I quickly lose focus and end up talking about something completely different)

First few games
As the season began, with a 2-0 loss to Hull, everyone threw their Swans scarfs to the ground and burnt effigies of new manager Brendan Rodgers. However, when the second game produced a 3-0 victory, followed later that week by a 4-0 win over Preston, those effigies were quickly extinguished and apologies were made as things looked brighter. These high scoring / clean sheet matches were only dreams under Sousa last season. Attacking, goal scoring football; it was a joy to watch. The results stayed the same through the starting weeks, with Swansea clocking some great home wins and quickly moved up the table. However, away form was less impressive and it took five games to finally grab a point on the road. Generally, Swansea had the perfect start to a new season.

Cup Matches
The Swans edged their way through a host of uninspiring teams, until drawing Roberto Martinez’s Wigan in the fourth round. Despite an urge from fans to win this game against their old manager, a weakened Swansea side were punished by a 2-0 loss and quickly dumped out of the cup. Rodgers obviously wanted to concentrate on the league, but lost some respect in the process.

As for the FA cup, Swansea are yet to play their first game, which will be against Colchester (another anti-climactic draw) at home on 8th January.

New faces
Naturally the immediate focus in this section will be Scott Sinclair. Much like a hot lemony towel you get at the end of an Indian meal – very refreshing, though goes cold quite quick. He invigorated the side during the first few games, with high entertainment value and goals to match. However he has dipped into “the not really there” category recently, with other teams doing very well to quell his danger and his confidence has dwindled because of it. Overall though he has been a magnificent purchase overall and is still a key man in the fight for promotion.

Marvin Emnes was a fantastic loanee, scoring a great goal on his debut and another against Cardiff. Although he was summoned back to Middlesbrough, he will always be welcomed in Swansea for his part in the South Wales derby victory.

Jermaine Easter, despite outrage from some Swansea ultras, was signed on loan from MK Dons and, as of writing, has only made two appearances in which he looked poor, unable to get any quality time with the ball and not right for the team. I guess time will tell if signing him was the right choice.

The other new face worth mentioning is Kemy Agustien, who, despite looking solid and strong in midfield, hasn’t made as much ground as he would have liked and has ended up as a substitute for the last few games. Would like to see more of him in the second half of this season.

Elsewhere, Frank Nouble came and then went back to West Ham with no impact.

Team Review

Yves Ma-Kalambay joined the Swans pre-season, but will remain a bench warmer while De Vries keeps on performing. Dorus is a key player and has shown, especially in the last few games, why he is the man with the gloves. Injury will be the only thing to challenge his starting spot.
Key Player: De Vries

Swansea are usually prided on their strong defensive line, although there have been a few memorable blips in the past months. If one of the back four are playing bad it seems to reflect on them all. Monk has proved he is a solid captain, though was slightly off form during the middle of the first half of the season. Williams is strong and makes great runs forward, but some lack of concentration from him has gifted the opposition goals. Tate has played a more attacking role this season, but he is under fire for lacking imagination and flair. Elsewhere, Rangel has provided two great goals and Taylor is young but pushing for a starting place, which can only be a good thing.
Key Player: Monk

Generally the midfield are performing as required (if slightly lacking in creation recently). Though a few things to mention:

Nathan Dyer has been a standout player, creating half of Swansea’s chances. He’s fast and awkward to mark, which leads to many crossing opportunities. The only problem with Dyer is his inability to shoot; he sometimes seems afraid to take a shot on goal and will look for the, sometimes wrong, passing option. If he could get more shots on target he would be on the radar for some big name clubs.

Darren Pratley has been severely disappointing. Last season’s hero has scored goals, but he seems to have lost any good form, spending most of his time on the floor or giving away possession. His refusal to re-sign his contract also proved a bad decision with many supporters, peeved at the arrogance.
Key Player: Dyer

The major problem has been finding a striker. With Pintado still injured and Kuqi out on loan to Derby, Swansea were only left with the injury prone Beattie and Dobbie, who have both managed to score, though maybe not as many as they would have liked. Kuqi has returned now, but, despite a great attitude, does not have the speed or technical ability to consistently score.

The January transfer window needs to see a permanent, goal scoring, in-form striker come to the club (we don’t ask for much do we). This will allow competition for the striker spot, as well as options if Rodgers wanted to change formation.
Key Player: Beattie

Final opinion
Things have definitely taken a turn for the worse over the last few weeks, there is no denying. The team have come away with only one win in five games. Maybe pressure has caused this? The pressure is immense. This is the season that the Swans have to get promoted, otherwise they risk many players leaving to have a stab at the Premier League with another club. They only missed out on the playoffs by one point last time, and missing out again this season would create a great depression among players and fans alike. The fans expect promotion, the Swans have to deliver.

All it takes is a few bad games and the Swans will find themselves sitting in the mid-table, depressed and out of ideas. Fear not though: a run of good games (and, more importantly, wins) over Christmas and there is actually no reason why they can’t actually win the Championship come the end of the season!

Let’s do it!

Saturday 11 December 2010

To boo, or not to boo?

Ah the age-old question (not really) that I will look to answer after outlining what went so wrong in last night’s game, vs. Millwall. I find it’s always easier to give my thoughts on a match when it has been a complete shambles and luckily, for blogging sake, last night was just that!

The game saw Swansea slowly fall apart after another fantastic opening goal courtesy of defender Angel Rangel. Soon after the goal though the Swans began to look like a lower league side and seemed unable to cope with being ahead so early on. Nearing the half hour mark a terrible defensive blip led to the Millwall goal. Panicky clearances and a chaotic few seconds in their own box, where many Swans were unable to hack the ball away from the goal mouth, allowed Mkandawire to slam home the equaliser.

The general defending by the whole team was poor in my opinion, with Williams and Tate looking shaky at times and the whole team casually giving the ball away. It seemed hard to get the basics right. Most players appeared to already be figuring out how they’d create a goal scoring opportunity before they actually had the ball. Millwall intercepted endless loose passes, and throw-ins weren’t getting to intended targets.

Going forward and Scott Sinclair, despite a few flourishes and a great off-target shot, was kept quiet and seemed to lack the confidence he needed to make many surging runs. On the other wing, Nathan Dyer showed why he hasn’t yet been signed by a Premiership club – absolutely fantastic pace and mesmerising runs, but the total lack of shooting ability stops him being the all round player that we need. I recall him waltzing past three defenders into a perfect shooting opportunity, but instead of having a go himself he looked for someone (eventually no one) to pass to and the opportunity petered out. If he learns to shoot consistently on target, he could single handedly get us into the Premier League! Elsewhere in attack Beattie was nonexistent.

After halftime, the introduction of controversial signing Jermaine Easter was no help to the Swans attack, barely touching the ball and I don’t recall him shooting once. Darren Pratley was the second sub, though his stint on the bench didn’t help kick his form into gear and once again showed a lethargic display. When Dobbie came on he was as nonexistent as Beattie.

So then, after that, any positives? Well the draw, which Swansea probably didn’t actually deserve in the end, is a point and a good point to walk away with. The Swans are currently sitting third (there is no such thing as joint second) just below Cardiff, which is still a fantastic position to be in. Other positives? De Vries showed how solid he can be at times and stopped a hammering, rightfully claiming the Man of the Match award. Brendan Rodgers also showed he has the intelligence to throw on attacking players when things are getting static.

So back the question: to boo or not to boo?

If you are a diehard fan of a team, no matter how much they hurt and disgust you at times, no matter how much you pay for a ticket, you shouldn’t boo them. It’s like booing yourself. How many times have you argued with rival supporters, trying to get across that YOUR team is the best? What would they think if they saw you on national television booing your own players? How they’d laugh.

On a national scale, I support Italy and would defend them with my life. However, during the 2010 World Cup they shamefully bowed out of the tournament after two lacklustre draws and a loss. I shouted, I threw things at the TV, I held back a tear, but, had I been in South Africa, I wouldn’t have booed them. They are basically an extension of me, and that is what the Swans should be to those fans who booed last night (fair enough, the few at the front who gave the team a standing ovation could probably have held back so much praise). At the end of the day, Swansea City are in the best position they’ve been in nearly 30 years, and that’s nothing to boo about!

So next home game is a festive 28th December fixture against Barnsley. I’ll be summing up Swansea’s mid season performance in a blog soon, so stay tuned for that!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

How to make a Swans fan!

This Saturday the Swans will be in Ipswich, playing Ipswich and I will be in London, drinking beer.

As I will not be in Swansea, I had already resigned to the fact that I would have to check the Swans score on my phone, as listening to Swansea Sound or BBC Wales is out of the question unless you are in Wales (even digitally it isn’t allowed for some reason...). However, imagine my delight when I found out that this game will be shown live on Sky Sports! I can find a nice pub with a large TV screen and watch the game from start to finish! Perfect. Or is it...

Currently I face another problem. The reason I am in London is to visit a friend. Unfortunately, this friend openly frowns upon football. He actually hates it. So how do I convince him to watch it with me? The last football match I persuaded him to watch was during the World Cup - England vs Algeria. Okay I knew it wouldn’t be as good as a match like, say, Spain vs. Brazil, but there were bound to be either lots of goals from England, or a big exciting upset from Algeria! Unfortunately, however, as we took our seats in front of the pub TV, we were treated to the most boring game known to man. Nil-nil. He smiled smugly. He knew he was right. I knew he was right. Football was shit.

So how do I now convince him to watch the Swans? This isn’t the World Cup! This is just a Championship match! I think he may have even heard me moan last season about how boring some of the matches were (take your pick from any of the Swans’ nil-nil’s under Sousa). This is where the idea of collating an entertainment value from real football fans came to me.

I would set last year’s Swansea City Entertainment Value at about a 4.5. The aforementioned nil-nil hair pullers contribute to this low score (it would have been a 4 actually, but Shefki Kuqi’s open-goal miss (vs. Barnsley) adds a ‘.5’ to the season as it really was entertaining (if excruciatingly painful to all Swans fans watching)! This year, however, I would personally set the entertainment value at a 7.5. It seems that many fans agree with me (thanks to all the Tweeters who helped collate this data)! Scott Sinclair’s first few games added a good 2 points, but the overall performance of the team has been superb for the majority of the season (alright, there have been a few woeful moments, but generally very entertaining).

So this Saturday I will be watching the Ipswich game in a London pub. I will run through this entertainment data with my friend (he likes data) and will convince him that many Swans fans cannot be wrong! He will enjoy and he will be singing and he will be cheering. So, please, Mr Rodgers; don’t give him any ammo to hate football with (England sorted that out). Keep making them play as they have been playing, and give us some goals. Who knows you may end up with a new recruit to the Jack Army (it is a big ask)!

I will post a blog after the match with a roundup of what happened and maybe my football-hating mate can give us his own Swansea City Entertainment Value rating!

To entertain you all until then though, I present you with Shefki Kuqi’s entertaining (yet painfully annoying) goal miss from last season. Don’t close your eyes!