It's the most wonderful time of the year – the time for food, drink, football and drink. And food.
This is also the time for reflection. While it's up to you to reflect on your own lives in 2011, I can
help you reflect on the goings-ons of Wales' only Premier League team.
It's as comprehensive a compilation as I could produce, while still making it readable within ten minutes (no detailed match reports here then). If you've noticed anything I may have missed, write it as a comment and I'll include it!
I've also included my “Swansea Team of the Year 2011” at the end for you to disagree with.
“My, my, my... did that really happen this year?” you may gasp as you read the next few thousand words, for this is the story of Swansea City's 2011.
After the snow of last Christmas, Swansea started the year second place in the Championship table.
My earliest blog post fell in the first frosty week of January, where I addressed the lack of fire-power up front (not much has changed). Brendan Rodgers responded by signing Luke Moore and Ryan Harley.
Players also left the club in January: the ever likeable Shefki Kuqi ended his contract by mutual consent, while Gorka Pintado went on loan to AEK Larnaca FC.
The biggest shock of the January 2011 transfer window was the re-signing of Leon Britton from Sheffield United, who returned to South Wales after leaving the club in 2010.
On the field, Swansea won their first home game of the year – 1-0 vs Reading (a team they'd meet again in a slightly bigger match in May), and beat Colchester 4-0 in the Carling Cup, before bowing out to the might of Leyton Orient later in the month.
February saw a great streak of wins, and would've been a perfect month had it not been for the 1-0 loss to Cardiff at the Liberty Stadium. Another game of note was Middlesbrough away; an intense match where the Swans eventually came back from a 3-1 almost-certain loss by winning 4-3.
February also saw me slated for my criticism of Luke Moore, though I stood by my comments: an average player that wouldn't impact the Swans as much as people expected.
Fabio Borini joined the club on loan from Chelsea and really kicked off Swansea's promotion drive, scoring two on his debut. Tamas Priskin joined on loan too, though he was less memorable.
Swansea's form dipped slightly in March, winning just one in four games (3-2 at home against Nottingham Forest).
Elsewhere, the Audio Jacks
podcast was born – a Swansea City podcast presented by myself and Matt Barroccu (albeit under the then title, “It wouldn't happen in Swansea”).
A media ban on Swansea players was issued by Huw Jenkins, who wanted to focus on winning games. However, Swansea continued their bad away form, which began to dent their hopes of automatic promotion – something that looked near certain earlier in the year. However the Swans went on to secure a place in the play-offs after beating Ipswich 4-1.
Tamas Priskin returned to Ipswich after becoming injured, scoring just one goal for Swansea.
A massive month. The Swans played their final league game at home: a routine 4-0 victory against Sheffield United, ending the season in third place in the Championship table.
Swansea were placed against Nottingham Forest in the play-offs, drawing the away leg 0-0, after Neil Taylor was sent off in the second minute. The second leg at the Liberty Stadium was full of entertainment, where Swansea eventually beat Nottingham Forest 3-1, including a wonder strike from Leon Britton and a last-gasp goal from the halfway line by Darren Pratley, securing a place in the Championship Play-off Final in Wembley.
Swansea fans got their first taste of everyone's favourite pass-time: queuing at the Liberty. The first time was for Wembley tickets.
Those 40,000 Jacks with tickets make their way from South Wales to London to watch history in the making. After a first half of sheer bliss and a three goal lead, Swansea make things difficult by allowing Reading back into the game. Thankfully, Scott Sinclair ensured it was Swansea's day with a successful penalty that finally brought the Premier League to South Wales!
The victory is celebrated throughout the city with an open-top bus parade. As the realisation of the Premier League sinks in, it was all change for the Swansea squad.
The first disappointing move was Fabio Borini's exit to Parma, before Darren Pratley left the club for Bolton. More surprisingly Dorus De Vries left for Wolves and a frantic search for a new keeper began. Cedric van der Gun and Albert Serran also said their goodbyes, to shrugs of the shoulder from most fans.
Swansea made a record transfer move, bringing Danny Graham to the club for £3.5 million while Ryan Harley finally joined the club after spending six months with Exeter on-loan.
A second bout of mega-queuing at the Liberty took place, this time for season-tickets.
“How many points do I need... wait do I need to be a season-ticket holder too or... hang on, why does he get priority over me if...” That's right, July was the month we saw the ultra-confusing, always-infuriating Jack Army membership scheme launched. Everyone in Swansea joined anyway, making it seem a little pointless.
Swansea's Premier League home and away kits were also revealed: the home kit was nice as expected, but the orange away kit baffled at first, then annoyed soon after, as people discovered it was no more than an old line of generic Adidas training kits. The third mega bout of queuing took place at the stadium for those after a home kit.
The club played summer friendlies against Neath, Port Talbot and Afan Lido... really preparing themselves for the best in the Premier League! At least it was an excuse for a little summer football.
In the transfer window, Steven Caulker arrived at the club on a season-long loan from Spurs, while goalkeeper Jose Moreira joined from Benfica.
In August, Leroy Lita signed up from Middlesbrough, while Michel Vorm joined the club from FC Utrecht. Gerhard Tremmel also signed at the end of August, after impressing during his summer trial.
Swansea played, and won, friendlies against Celtic and Real Betis at the Liberty Stadium, showing off a few new players, though the first major test was Man City at the Eithad. This was a test Swansea technically failed, though in an impressive way, with wonderful saves from Michel Vorm (the first time many had properly seen him in action), and proof Swansea could replicate their impressive passing game in the big league.
Embarrassingly though, the club lost 3-1 to Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup. Though this allowed concentration on the Premier League, it was a feeble way to exit the competition.
With winnable games against Wigan and Sunderland, Swansea were unable to find the back of the net and ended the month goalless, though quickly showing they were not finding the new league too daunting.
Ryan Harley and Shaun MacDonald both left the club in this month, leaving a very ginger-shaped hole. Elsewhere, Alan Tate broke his leg in what the club described as a "bizarre golfing accident" (aka buggygate).
Transfer Deadline Day saw the Swans sign Darnel Situ from Lens and Rafik Halliche on loan from Fulham, moves that would supposedly boost the club's defensive problems. However, an annoying amount of red tape stopped these from being eligible to play. Fede Bessone also rejoined the club – a shock to many supporters.
On the field, the phrase: “You wait for a bus, then three come along at once” summed up Swansea's first goals in the Premier League. They nabbed their first three goals and a comfortable 3-0 win against West Brom.
This game was sandwiched between two “glamour” ties – one a game Swansea could well have won against Arsenal (instead losing 1-0), and the other a less than impressive performance at Stamford Bridge (at least an away goal was scored in the 4-1 loss).
If September was a step in the right direction, October was a slight step backwards, featuring some of the concentration lapses and cock-ups that we are accustomed to from Swansea City.
Two decent home wins (against Stoke and Bolton) fell either side of two away losses: the first against fellow newcomers Norwich, who scored two early goals and took advantage of poor Swans performance. The second came against Wolves, where Swansea let a 2-0 lead slide into a 2-2 draw after two goals in two minutes from the home side.
The lack of away wins continued.
Though a quiet month thanks to an international break, November saw the
game of the season as Swansea welcomed Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium – a game that stirred up plenty of anticipation and excitement, in addition to irritation and disappointment (again, mainly through the Jack Army ticketing system). Essentially it was a game Swansea could've actually won, let alone draw. However a opportunistic goal from Hernandez ensured United left with a 1-0 victory.
Other games included the exciting, yet frustrating, 0-0 draw away to Liverpool and another 0-0 draw with Aston Villa in a subdued Liberty Stadium fixture.
December packed six games into one month, though the Swans were unable to pick up as many points as expected.
The month began with Yakubu running riot in the shocking 4-2 loss at bottom-of-the-table Blackburn, a game in which two rare away goals were overshadowed by poor defending.
Michel Vorm was again the hero in the 2-0 win against Fulham the following week, while a 'boxing day' match between QPR produced a game of two very different halves – another one Swansea should've grabbed by the scruff.
Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor both picked up fresh injuries in December which, again, highlighted the lack of depth in defence and the need for an established utility back in the January Transfer window. Up front, Rory Donnelly was the main name in Brendan Rodgers' sights, though the young Irishman seemed to be highly sought after...
It's all up to Mr. Rodgers and his men to write what happens in 2012. Will it be the year Swansea face a big relegation battle? Will they get their act together in attack and finish in the top ten? It's an exciting time to be a Swans fan!
Before I sign off for the year, here is my "Swansea City Team of 2011" - including players who have now left/have fallen out of form, but did so much for the club at some point this year.
Team of 2011
Garry Monk (Captain)
Dorus De Vries
I know that this will produce a few annoyed responses! I feel it's about right. I did have trouble with the "Gower or Allen" question - they both had their ups and downs - but Gower just pipped it for me. What's your Team of 2011?
Happy New Year to all readers of the blog. I hope 2012 sees you well. Forza Swansea!