I know all too well how annoying a bad pitch can be, being a keen 'Sunday kick-about on a muddy field' kind of guy, but blaming the pitch quality is no excuse for the way Swansea mentally approached Saturday's disastrous loss against Preston.
I'm not having a go at Brendan Rodgers; after all he has made the club fantastic to support and watch over the last few months, but I did cringe when listening to his hints of groundsman conspiracies after the match. The pitch wasn't the problem I feel. Swansea go into these bottom-of-the-league fixtures seeing the win as 'one in the bag'. I guess with fantastic performances such as the one against Leeds, nobody can blame the Swans for being expected to win. But there is 'expecting to win' by playing good football (no matter how bad the pitch), and then there is turning up with an air of arrogance and expecting the opposition to be terrible, only to find that they are up for a win themselves!
So what happened on Saturday? It seems Swansea did show up with a little arrogance and then paid for it. The media (myself included), the players and the management are all to blame, giving a little too much hype and almost casting Swansea as invincible (with predictions such as 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 from some). Yes, it was unlucky giving away a penalty in the first few minutes, but you only give away penalties when you let the attacking team get well into your box, something a promotion contender shouldn't be doing against a bottom placed side. As commentators then said “it's only early; there is plenty of time for Swansea to win this”, but the Swans looked increasingly harassed as Preston looked to score a consecutive second and third very soon after.
It is odd that Swansea can literally ruin rival promotion contenders such as Leeds, but then consistently slip up against the likes of Derby, Scunthorpe and Preston. In theory this should be great news for the Norwich game on Saturday. Norwich ruined Scunthorpe 6-0, so the way things are going Swansea will step up their game and beat them 3-0! But winning only the home games in style against big teams and “hoping for the best” while on the road is not a strategy that will get them to the play-offs, let alone the automatic promotion spots. They need to up their away game and go into the smaller games with confidence (not arrogance) if they have any hope of getting to, and surviving in, the Premier League.
So, is now the time to panic? Of course not, there are still 7 games to go. The season is far from over. A win on Saturday against Norwich won't see the Swans back in second – they are just out of reach – but would see them hold onto their auto-promotion dreams. A loss would probably see them drop to fifth, and that's when it would be time to start panicking. Swansea can buckle under pressure, as we've seen, so the pressure of being dangerously close to dropping out of the play-offs may be too much. Look what happened this time last season.
Despite not always showing it on the field, all the players do want to win every game and do want to get promoted, just like the fans, so now is the time to really get behind the team and be the 12th man. The word 'believe' is being throw around quite a bit, and I think it is something we all have to do, though the words 'hope' 'they' 'don't' 'throw' 'it' 'away' are all starting to float around.
It is up to the players now, both old and new, to prove Swansea are a Premier League side.