In this our second season in the Premier League, it does well to cast our minds back just a year ago, when, early in the Season, the Geordie Martyr (as they know Steve Bruce up in Wearside), brought his team to work out a 0-0 draw, early in our nascent season. Not long after, they'd had enough, and Bruce left the Club.
By the time it came round for our return visit, SB's departure had seen him replaced by Martin O'Neil, and his experienced stewardship saw the Black Cats dominate the return fixture, despite our sweet possession for much of the game, and on a wild and windy afternoon beside the North Sea, two Worldys by Sessegnon and Gardener were good enough to see us off. Ouch.
So now we welcome back the marauders from the North East, and we welcome a Club that's in as much of a process of change as we are, albeit in a slightly more advanced and moneyed stage. I've written previously of SAFC's benevolent ownership structure under the Yank Billionaire Ellis Short, but that shouldn't detract from the basic truth - this is still a hugely (justifiably) proud Club that still connects and resonates with it's essentially proud working class support. In that sense, if that alone, we are not so very different.
MoN has been busy (when was he ever otherwise?) and the playing staff have been added to and trimmed, much as has our own, and the current squad list reads thus........
22 Simon Mignolet, 20 Keiren Westwood, 13 Jordan Pickford
2 Phil Bardsley, 24 Carlos Cuellar, 5 Wes Brown, 11 Kieran Richardson, 12 Matt Kilgallon, 16 John O'Shea, 19 Titus Bramble, 34 Blair Adams, 42 John Egan
6 Lee Cattermole, 7 Sebastian Larsson, 8 Craig Gardner, 14 Jack Colback, 15 David Vaughan, 18 David Meyler, 21 Adam Johnson, 23 James McClean, 27 Ahmed Elmohamady, 28 Stephane Sessegnon
26 Steven Fletcher, 9 Fraizer Campbell, 25 Louis Saha, 10 Connor Wickham, 17 Ji Dong-won, 33 Ryan Noble
We'll look at that squad in more detail, but just as we saw a 2 goal victory in this week's COC Tie against Barnsley to come out 3-1 victors, Sunderland, similarly, saw off Morecambe 2-0 too, with the impressive James McClean getting both goals. For that tie they lined up as follows...........
20 Westwood, 16 O'Shea, 19 Bramble, 06 Cattermole Booked (Meyler - 78' ), 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 21 Johnson, 23 McClean Booked (Campbell - 73' ), 28 Sessegnon, 26 Fletcher (Saha - 66' )
22 Mignolet, 12 Kilgallon, 24 Cuellar, 18 Meyler, 27 Elmohamady, 09 Campbell, 25 Saha
For this tie, there are several points to be made.
Keiren Westwood, the reserve keeper, had a comfortable game as the ex-Coventry stopper saw little action. Titus Bramble and John O'Shea, experienced CB's both, held the middle comfortably. At FB, Craig Gardener played on the right and Jack Colback on the left, but both are primarily MF'ers, so to see both there on Saturday would be a surprise.
That back 4 had a protection from Lee Cattermole, the bruising MF'er, but it allowed a flexibility in front from Adam Johnson vaguely right (with license to roam), Seb Larsson and McClean (generally left) supporting Sessegnon and Fletcher up top. An original and attacking set up that showed a degree of fluidity and ensured their lower League opponents were outmatched.
The powerful McClean, nowadays an RoI regular, scored both goals, and Johnson was key twice.
These seem to me to be two of the better signings we've seen in this window. Johnson, the England International winger always has the capability to change games, and we Swans will remember Steven Fletcher well from the crazy 4-4 draw against Wolves at the Lib last season, when he and Matt Jarvis gave us a hard time.
Back to the Squad.
The first choice keeper remains Simon Mignolet, and the young Belgian no 1 is still improving. At FB, Phil Bardsley is the putative RB,and the ex Man U player retains a fearsome shot. Kieran Richardson (again ex Man Utd, there are a lot of them in the squad) has often played at LB. Both are equally capable, and raid forward at will along with their defensive duties.
Centrally at the back, challengers to Tuesday's team are Wes Brown, Matt Killgallon, and the Spaniard acquired from Villa, the reliable Carlos Cuellar. Killgallon is ex Leeds and a fierce competitor, and Brown, if fit, is still a decent defender who gives his all. I've seen some suggestions in the Press that Cuellar was an "odd" signing, but it seems to me that if MoN trusts him, as he obviously does after his days at Villa, then we as spectators can only make that assertion after a Season's viewing. Let's wait and see, shall we? Further depth is provided by youngsters Blair Adams and John Egan, both Academy graduates who cover FB and CB.
Cover in the Middle is provided by Welsh International David Vaughn, as we know a tricky footballer, and Ahmed El Mohamady, the Egyptian International wide man, with both pace and trickery. Not always a home crowd favourite, he remains dangerous.Vaughn in the meantime had a great spell at Blackpool prior to relocating to the North east, and has never let them down, scoring some key goals along the way.
Up front they will choose from the not only recently signed Steven Fletcher, but the equally experienced and again recently signed Louis Saha, and we all know that if he weren't so often "broken", this is a hell of a player. His spells in British Football at Newcastle, Fulham, Man U, Everton, Tottenham et al have always seen his talent thrive when fit, and we shouldn't forget that the French have always rated his innate talent as being on a level with Thierry Henry. You can only wish such a talented footballer blighted by injuries better health - although I wouldn't mind him waiting till next week to find his form. :)
England International Fraizer Campbell, and England youngster Conor Wickham will also challenge for places, and the squad includes South Korea's Ji Dong Wong, scorer of that remarkable winner against Citeh, and the Academy graduate Ryan Noble, who has had spells out on loan at Derby, Watford and Everton, and he's been a prolific scorer at Reserve level. Wickham cost £10m + from Ipswich, and is young enough to kick on from a slightly stalled progression, and Campbell too has had his share of unfortunate injury. He also will want to see a greater contribution this season.
It strikes me that whilst I've named him earlier, I've not described the extraordinary Stephane Sessegnon. This classy footballer, with a dangerous low centre of gravity, (think Eden Hazard, Juan Mata etc ) turned us inside out last year (and a great many others teams beside), and as well as scoring that first worldy against us at the Stadium of Light, had several other half chances, and he remains the one player in the opposition this week I genuinely fear. A top class, usually top performing forward who makes you glad you've paid money to get in. Let's hope we can keep tabs on him.
All in all this is a sound, serious balanced Premier League team. Martin O'Neil, recruited part way through last season, will this year have time to stamp his mark on the Club. His reputation, and record, suggests he's more likely to be successful than not, so despite our rampart start, this is exactly the sort of game that we should heed ML's stipulations that there will be bad days to go along with the good, and thus it would be more than foolish to be complacent and to assume that we only have to perform half decently to win.
MoN has not got, I would suggest, a signature style - he remains flexible about formations, but one thing we can be assured of - he insists on every player contributing. There will be none of the opposition this weekend able to "hide" behind a second rate game - all of his players will contribute one way or another.
We will have to perform a great deal better than that "half decent" suggestion - we will need to be equally as good as we were against both QPR and WHU. Against Barnsley mid week, a slightly rested team was good enough to get us through the tie. This is different - this is the Premier League - and nothing, nothing comes easy.
Having said that, I find it hard to criticise any aspect of our performances to date. We have been both incisive and committed. ML seems to have a handle on keeping the team able to perform to its capabilities, and the squad to its ever expanding depth. Ki, after all, looked a class act Midweek.
Mind you, I'll be bloody glad to see the close of this ridiculous "Transfer Window " this Friday. Whether SS goes, Pablo, Miku, Alvarez and all and sundry we've been linked with come/s in, - Oh for a quiet period when we can get on with what we've got and try to make these players play to their potential and capacity.
That scenario leads me to believe we can do ourselves justice. Starting this Saturday, against the dangerous Sunderland.
Last year, the admirable Salut Sunderland website did a Q+A with our very own Jim White. This year, it's curator, the egregious Colin Miller asked me if I'd do the same, and I was proud to continue to fight the good fight. You should be able to read it in the days before Saturday's game. Please have a look at
the link I've provided, and when it's up I'll post the link again. Thanks.
The Liberty has been rocking for the League games. I've heard a suggestion that the Cup Tie against Barnsley was less frenetic (and I was there), but when you think that we were, unsurprisingly, and like most others, at half capacity, it's really not that surprising, surely.
Be assured that on Saturday it'll be different. We're back to our bread and butter. We're back to the Premier League. WooHoo.
Welcome to the Lib all you visitors. Welcome back to the Lib all you regulars. Whatever.
Onward, Swansea City.