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!

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!