Sunday, 30 January 2011

With a bit of luck!

In case you somehow missed it, Swansea are out of the FA Cup after losing 2-1 to Leyton Orient. But what happened? I was at the match, throwing my hands into the air as Alan Tate's goal went in. It was an own goal though, and my hand throwing was not in celebration.

As has been the case for the last few games, optimism before the match was high, with my own prediction a comfortable 2-0 to the Swans, though many other fans had ideas of 4-0 or 5-0 victories. And why not? Swansea are around 30 or so places above Leyton Orient in the league (if the leagues all rolled into one), so it should be a straightforward victory. How wrong we were again.

Though many will argue the team Swansea played was essentially a second string side, it quite clearly wasn't. Williams, Tate, Allen, Moore, Sinclair, Orlandi – these are all first team players! The likes of Alfei, van der Gun and MaKalambay were the only real “second team” players on the pitch, with the rest making several league starts this season. Not reassuring.

Leyton Orient weren't that convincing either, and showed why they are a League One side, but they won because they were able to make something out of the few opportunities they had. Still, their counter-attack was slow and their defending allowed Swansea ample opportunity in front of goal. Unfortunately, as has been the running story, they couldn't do much with their time in the box. Swansea have been able to win games in the past, despite not taking all their opportunities, so what went so wrong on Saturday?

Orient's first goal was thanks to poor goalkeeping. MaKalambay doesn't ooze confidence, and this game showed why he will always be on the bench while De Vries is still capable. He looked nervous when it came to corners (the first goal proved this) and uncomfortable when dealing with some clearances. In my eyes he was the weakest link yesterday. Generally the rest of the team played fine for the most part, keeping possession and moving the ball well up the field.

So if they played well, why did they not win 4-0? Sadly, it's the same old story. They can string together fifty passes, but when it comes to shooting they just don't do it. Kemy Agustien tried to prove me wrong, with a number of shots, but when these are just drilled at the defence, there is little point to them. Luke Moore, again, didn't score, but its no wonder as he just seems so isolated at times. I don't think I clocked that he way playing until about half an hour into the match - very invisible.

Teams can play as well as they can, but without a little luck the result won't always favour their performance. It seems luck was not of the side of the Swans on Saturday. Darren Pratley's 'goal' was unlucky not to be given after being deemed offside, though was that bad luck? Did he actually need to be there? The goal may have gone in without his interception, but I guess he wasn't to know that. If that had been a goal, Orient would have been hard pushed to find an equaliser, so it was an unlucky moment in the match, which could have seen the Swans in the next round.

On the subject of luck, I will, naturally, have to mention Swansea's gift to Orient of an own-goal hand-delivered by Alan Tate. I've always thought Tate deserves his place in the squad but after yesterday... I still do! You can't really blame him as, though he did ultimately lose the match for the team, it was clearly an unlucky slice that went wrong. He doesn't score own goals that often so we can forgive him. Those who are unable to forgive him need to look at what he has done for the team in the past.

So all credit to Leyton Orient who deserved to win, despite being the poorer side. Swansea had their opportunities and didn't take them. Orient will now play Arsenal at home in the next round. Some may think: “bugger, that could've been Arsenal down the Liberty”, although, as many have pointed out, with Swansea's luck they probably would have drawn Crawley Town. Away.

So the Swans bow out of the second cup this season. I guess it's good because they can now concentrate on the league? Still, wouldn't it have been nice to see the Swans lift the Championship trophy and the FA Cup? Other teams have done the double before, why not Swansea? I guess we won't find out until next year if this is possible. Swansea winning the Premier League and the FA Cup next season! Now I wonder what the odds of that happening are if the original odds for Swansea to win the FA Cup this year were 150/1!

I guess a bit of good luck and it could happen.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Barnsley and Britton (a lazy title)

I hope the videos from my last blog were to everyone's liking, but now it's time to get some of my vague text-based thoughts back out there!

As many fans, I wasn't at the Barnsley game on Saturday, though I did listen online where it's sometimes hard to visualise the game. It was easy, though, to understand that Swansea were an immediate mess. I don't know if I am a jinx, but the moment I managed to finally tune into the radio coverage, Barnsley scored. I like to think this is a coincidence, but it's happened too many times for me to let it go unnoticed!

Anyway, Barnsley's early goal proved that the confidence of victory before the match was unrealistically high from the fans. Even I, a well known pessimist, predicted a comfortable 2-1 win to the Swans. Some were throwing 3 or 4 nil victories around, but were quickly realising their mistakes. We should all know by now: if Swansea have the chance to go joint top of the table, they won't take it!

This match was a good example of the games that they should be winning. Mid-table sides shouldn't really pose much of a threat to the potential champions of the league. Barnsley were 16th in the table where Swansea were just one from the top. Now the Swans have dropped back down to 4th. However I think it's safe to put this down to a one-off bad day. Alarm bells shouldn't be ringing because there's plenty of time to go until the final push, so 4th in the table is not that bad.

But it could have been so much better.

An inspired Stephen Dobbie was the saviour of Swansea, sparking some much needed creativity in that attacking midfield position, though it was Sinclair who eventually went down in the box and won the penalty. Though it did gloss the overall performance, the goal and the point were deserved of Swansea's last fifteen minute of football. I am speaking like the Swans lost, but it did feel like a bit of a loss, didn't it? As we've seen numerous times before they left it until the last few minutes to turn up the heat, where, had they done this twenty minutes earlier or, dare I say it, from the start of the game, it would have been a certain win. Disappointing, but true.

Putting that game aside, I haven't really commented on the Leon Britton situation. He obviously, as he admitted himself, made a mistake leaving the club, but the reasons were understandable (Sousa playing a big part). Britton is a fan favourite and a good midfielder, so the move isn't as odd as it first seemed. He did play on Saturday, but somehow I missed when he was subbed on and didn't hear much about him in the last fifteen minutes. He won't feature against Leyton Orient as he is cup tied, but it would be a good to see more of him against Bristol a few days later.

The only other issue to address is the signing of Ryan Harly. Initially I was dubious, thinking the signing of another midfielder was just adding unnecessary wage payouts to the side, but when I realised he was heading back to Exeter until the end of the season it seemed a better plan.

Though he doesn't have a great goal scoring record (22 in 118 appearances for Exeter) he is a creative play-maker, something Swansea always need plenty of. If he can create goals for the strikers that's all anyone should care about. I'd rather no midfielder ever score, but consistently set up goals for the strikers. Harley will be a good option if/when players like Pratley and Cotterill leave in the summer.

So a week off for the Swans before their home cup fixture against Leyton Orient on Saturday, before travelling to across the border for the Bristol City game the Tuesday after. Both important games, though victory in the League fixture is more vital than the cup match; that would just be a bonus. Neither games are as big as the one the week after: The South Wales derby Part II...

But that's another blog.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Something different: Swans on film!

I'm taking a little break from the ordinary text-based blog to bring you some of the best Swansea City related videos on the net. Most of my weekend was spent drinking wine and sifting through, where I eventually narrowed down my favourites to the five you are about to watch. These are in no particular order (though, in my opinion, I have saved the best for last), so take a break from your day and enjoy!

(NB: I didn't film, edit or upload any of these videos and am not the owner, neither do I own any of the music - no copyright infringement intended!)

1) The South Wales derby - "A Tale of Two Cities"
I remembered this as soon as I decided to do a video based blog: the montage that started the BBC's coverage of the South Wales derby last November (you all remember that game surely). Sometimes these promo films can be a little cringe-worthy, but this really captures the rivalry between these two cities. Gives you goosebumps if you are in the right mood!

2) Last game at the Vetch
A tribute to the Vetch field couldn't be left out! There were, to my surprise, hundreds of Vetch videos, all with different themes, but I've decided to include this one: the final league game against Shrewsbury town in April 2005. Clear blue sky, everyone singing, football about to kick off - perfect! Not much happens in the video, but should evoke some feelings of nostalgia!

3) Lee Trundle: Magic Man
If I didn't include a Lee Trundle video in this blog, I'd be missing out on some entertaining stuff. Swansea's answer to Ronaldo (the Portuguese one, not the fat Brazilian), Trundle's trickery and show-boating made him a fan favourite. Fair enough, Trundle didn't have the greatest final season with the Swans - almost a shadow of his former self - but he will always be remembered for the kind of skill this video collates.

4) Swansea's first season back in the Championship
This is a selection of moments from Swansea's first season back in the Championship after being promoted from League One in 2008 and contains goals from Ferrie Bodde and Jason Scotland, as well as the Darren Pratley "Swim Away" celebration vs. Cardiff, all set to epic battle music. It's recent history and foundations to where we are now - on the brink of Premier League football once again: the only way is up!

5) Swans fan scores at Anfield
I've used this video in a previous blog, but still can't watch it without laughing. Taken during the 8-0 loss to Liverpool in 1990, a Swans fan, "Ciro", jumps over the barrier and proceeds to score a goal (I absolutely love the fans reaction as hammers the ball in). "Ciro" then runs around the pitch, avoiding pouncing stewards, much to the joy of travelling Jacks and Liverpool fans alike! A perfect video to show that, even when the Swans are 8-0 down, Jacks can still have a good time!

Naturally there are other videos out there that didn't make the top five, but if you have any suggestions for those that I may have missed, leave links below in the comments box (you no longer have to sign in - anonymous comments welcome) and I'll check them out. If I get enough I'll make another video based blog later in the year!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Transfer Window and the FA Cup

The Transfer Window

As we all finally emerge from our festive, sherry-soaked hangovers, the transfer window is fully open. Brendan Rodgers now needs to grab what new talent he can, before that window is slammed shut, jamming his little fingers.

It's not a new topic: The Swans are struggling with a lack of fire-power, so the main outcome of this transfer window has to be the acquisition of a new striker. Currently Stephen Dobbie seems better suited to the centre forward role as opposed to sole striker as he can create brilliant opportunities, but finds it hard to finish them. Craig Beattie has produced some great goals (vs. Ipswich a few weeks back – I likened it to Fabio Quagliarella's World Cup super chip), but again, isn't the 20-goal-a-season striker Swansea need. Jermaine Easter has finally scored, but doesn't look the complete package. Elsewhere Shefki Kuqi will probably go (a nice guy, as many seem to think, but no longer fits in with the speed of Swansea's game) and Gorka Pintado... well, I was never really a fan, but it seems that he is off to AEK Larnaca on loan anyway, and probably won't return (all the best Gorka, may goals come naturally to you in Cyprus).

So a striker is still needed, but who? Luke Moore is in Brendan's cross-hairs with an offer being placed for him to join on loan, but at £20,000 a week will he be able to do the job needed or will he be another “three-goals-a-season” striker? His track record isn't amazing for a front man; he scored a meagre 5 goals in 47 appearances for West Brom (thanks Wikipedia) and, more recently, 4 goals for Derby out of 13 games. If he turns out to be another Frank Nouble (“who?” you cry), which I suspect he might, it will be a backwards step for Rodgers and his men.

Meanwhile, other rumours include bringing Marvin Emnes back or trying out Leroy Lita (Middlesbrough), which both seem more feasible than the Sturridge, Vela and Gudjohnsen rumours at the moment.

A different option could well be to move Scott Sinclair to the striker position and look at buying / long-loaning a new winger. Sinclair is the current top goalscorer, who can create and (though not recently) finish what he makes. With Sinclair upfront and Dyer on the wing, along with a new, equally speedy winger on the field, the opposition won't know what is coming at them! Just an idea.

As I mentioned earlier, Pintado is leaving and Kuqi will probably join him. Ashley Williams is on the radar for a handful of big clubs, but despite his agent insisting he won't leave until the summer (that's only if Swansea don't achieve their promotion target), will Premier League interest in this transfer window prove too tempting? He seems committed enough to Swansea, so he will stay. I am sure. When have I ever been wrong?

The FA Cup

This Saturday will see the Swans play Colchester at the Liberty Stadium in the third round of the FA Cup. Taking a quick look at the odds ( Swansea are 150/1 to win! Very generous. Worth a pound? To the betting man (much like myself) I would usually say go for it! I've wasted so much betting on Pintado to score in the past, a pound on Swansea to win the FA Cup at 150/1 is a pound worth gambling. Or is it?

Swansea have the power (especially if they get a new striker / winger) to win it. Chances are the "big name" clubs have the Premier League, Champions League and Carling Cup to concentrate on, so they won't field strong teams, giving the Swans prime opportunity to pounce! However, taking a step back, I see that this is probably the case for Swansea too. With such a big prize at stake, chasing promotion to the Premier League is, and rightly so, the priority, so all key players must be kept fit for the next twenty League matches, ready for the final push. The FA Cup is just a series of games where the B-team will get a much needed run around.

This isn't to say that the Swans won't get far. Despite putting out a weakened team on Saturday (its bound to happen), they should still beat Colchester with ease (3-0 to the Swans is 10/1, which IS worth a pound). Where next? Well it'll be round four and, if they draw another lower league or Championship team, there's nothing to say they can't proceed a further round. If, however, they find themselves up against a Premier League side - no matter if it's Wolves or Man United - Rodgers will probably field another weakened side and flop out. Disappointing? Slightly. It would be great to see the Swans perform well and go as far as they are actually capable of (beating Wigan could have happened back in October if they were at full strength).

Now the “supporters” who will probably boo the Swans off the park if they get knocked out of the FA Cup so early on have the argument that “we wanted to see a big name team down the Liberty for a change!” Although this may be true, if they glance ahead to next season, Swansea will be constantly playing the big name teams when they get to the Premier League. This is why the FA Cup isn't important this season. This is why patience, as Brendan Rodgers has called for many times, is so necessary. I'm saving my pound.

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!