Sunday, 29 April 2012

Swansea City v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Match Report, PL

Just Another Manic Saturday.

An 80's remembrance, big hair an ' all.

Most of us remember the 80's - and for those that don't, welcome aboard, because that was the last time we were in the top flight of English Football. It's taken some time to get back there, but this has been a season that makes the time spent in-between seem just like penance and preparation, and, now that we're back, we get to enjoy.

You know those songs, half-liked, that always seem to crop up in your consciousness from time to time and then you can't get rid of them for the day?

I don't mean the horrendous "Go Compare", or even "", but since I've now put them in your head don't blame me if they're still there this evening!

No, I mean more the sort of radio plays from recent and past years that you were never a buyer of, but were more than happy to hear on the radio. Remember the Bangles? Hey, don't let's get into taste, it's only a query.

If, like me, you do, then you may have had a reasonably fond regard for one of their earliest efforts, "Just Another Manic Monday".

I was put in mind of this when I sat down yesterday to consider writing this report, after yet another Saturday where our team put in an excellent performance that allowed us the leisure of pleasurable reflection when the week started - and, as hinted, not for the first time.

Some might say that the way the team has performed has meant that we've been safe or weeks, but there was a touch of the desperate amongst us at times, as we finally put the point on the board that at last we could confirm that our wishes to "want to break free" had been achieved.

For Saturday's meeting against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the rocking Liberty, the pre game interest had centred principally on how well Dorus De Vries  would do on his return to the Lib, and how we might work towards Brendan Rodgers' demand for a finish "at the best level we can".

Wolves, of course, had suffered the body blow of relegation confirmed the previous week, whilst we'd been earning a point at Bolton in a game where we may well have come away with even more. C'est la vie.

Nobody - none of fans and purported pundits - had even suggested that we would get what we got - an absolutely mind-blowing corkscrew of a game where Swansea more than established a comfortable lead, only to see Wolves rip back in fine style to gain parity, and maybe even to feel unlucky. In this Division, it was ever thus.

Perhaps the first hint of a strange day came from the line-ups. Swansea, basically unchanged for weeks, did not appear to have any FB's in the side, which begged the formation question.

Wolves, on the other hand, had obviously settled on a side to attack,with  the inclusion of both Jarvis and Kightly wide, and Fletcher and Doyle paired up front the key to their intentions.

The teams looked like this........

Swansea City

01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 04 Caulker, 16 Monk, 07 Britton Booked, 08 Orlandi (Taylor - 46' ), 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Moore - 82' Booked )
25 Tremmel, 03 Taylor, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Wolverhampton Wanderers

31 De Vries, 05 Stearman, 11 Ward Booked, 16 Berra, 32 Foley, 04 Edwards, 07 Kightly, 08 Henry, 17 Jarvis (Hunt - 72' ), 10 Fletcher (Ebanks-Blake - 76' ), 29 Doyle
13 Ikeme, 14 Johnson, 23 Zubar, 12 Hunt, 20 Milijas, 22 Jonsson, 09 Ebanks-Blake

Ref: Moss
Att: 19,408

The set out was interesting to say the least. I've seen it it offered that for Swansea it was a 3-4-3 but I think initially only, that's misguided. I saw it more as a 3-4-2-1.  Caulker, Monk and Williams were indeed deepest. The Middle 4 had Dyer wide right, with Sinclair left, and Britton and Allen holding. Just ahead were Sigurdsson and Orlandi, Right and Left respectively, with Danny Graham up front.

Wolves countered with a 4-1-3-2, as Foley, Stearman, Berra and Ward defended, protected by Karl Henry. Kightly stretched Right, with Jarvis Left, David Edwards took the middle. This left both Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle ahead, and it later in the game became important.

Hey, you know I'm a sucker for tactical reflection, but the start of this game sent all of that out the window, as Swansea scored one of the PL's earliest goals.

In the first minute the ball was switched left to Scott Sinclair, who cut back inside and chose to chip in an incoming curler toward the box.

Before either of the CB's could attack it, Andrea Orlandi, who had made a free run, flicked it onward with his head and the ball's pace took it over and beyond Dorus De Vries in the Wolves goal. The Liberty bounced alive, 1-0, and a dream start.

The crowd was rocking, but if we thought the start had been good, it was about to get better. The next 15m saw Swansea rip Wolves apart.

On 4m, Monk, playing out from the back, sent a pass toward Danny Graham , 35yds out with back to goal. Resisting a constant game long rough challenge from Stearman, Graham cushioned a pass to Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose first time through ball in the inside right channel set Joe Allen running free and goal ward.

As he got just inside the box he shot and the ball took a wicked skid off the covering desperate Stearman and spun, almost curved around De Vries on his left hand side, and as he'd obviously been going right he couldn't get to the shot. It tucked beautifully into the net and the Swans were 2-0 up. Cue delirium, which was to get more rabid still.

We Swans were in 7th heaven because often our early attacks don't lead to goals, so this was very different.

The formation had now evolved into an out and out 3-4-3, with Sigurdsson often popping up on the right of the 4, with Orlandi out Left. Ahead now were Dyer, Graham and Sinclair, whilst Allen and Britton worked the engine room of the middle.

A comment on this - what it led to was an exposure of the 3 CB's because ahead of them wide, whilst Siggi and Orlandi were superb going forward, Wolves began to probe the spaces where the FB's would normally be, and the two Swans were not quick enough to slot in defensively.

Jarvis on the Left and with either Kightly or Doyle sometimes Right were beginning to test Swansea. It would come back to haunt us in a terrifyingly (for me) open game that was going end to end.

Still, as I said, the Swans were terrific going forward and on 15m, Orlandi from the wide left role, put in a driving run toward the byline that, veering in, saw him cut between Kightly and Foley and whip in a cross across the six yard box that skidded off a defender and looped up to head height to find Dyer at the far post coming in.

The big little 'un didn't need even to check his run and nodded the ball comfortably into the net past De Vries's despairing left hand. 3-0, and now the place went crazy. A genuine blast of noise, people giggling, screaming and smiling all around. 3-0, and so soon.

The next 15m minutes was like watching a table tennis game as the ball ping ponged from end to end - it was as if someone had reminded Wolves there was pride at stake, whilst Swansea were in devil may care mode. I guess at this point Alan Hansen must have switched off his telly (or computer) because some of the defending from both sides was somewhat weak, but let's give credit instead to the attacking invention on show.

Jarvis was terrifying the exposed Caulker on the left, and Kightly similarly was ruling on the right. On 30m, it bore fruit.

This time Doyle had drifted left and he bamboozled the exposed Monk out wide  who was unable to check his cut back cross, which went beyond and over Williams in the middle to the unmarked Fletcher some 8 yds out.

He showed what a good header of the ball he is by putting in an effort that commentators often describe as "heading the ball back the same way as it came from". In other words he met it perfectly and it looped beyond the scrambling Vorm, into the net at the junction of post and crossbar past Vorm's right hand.

3-1, and you could almost touch the Swansea silence. It was a "time stood still" moment, and it took the Wolves faithful a good 5 sec before they responded with a muted roar. We were stunned.

Unbelievably, just before the goal, Danny Graham had failed to complete when he picked up a poor back pass and had gone one on one with DDV, but to be fair, the ex-Swan goalie kept their team in it by forcing a block as Graham tried to go around him. So, from a putative chance to go 4-0 up, it was now 3-1.

Ah, margins, that's what you realise in retrospect, although Graham made sure he didn't miss the next chance in this dizzying, frenetic spectacle.

In the 30th minute (yes, you read that right), Dyer attacked once more on the right, and whilst he dummied and jigged the FB inside out from 10yds out he shot, suddenly. The initial block fell back to him, and he volleyed a cross with his left to find a lurking Danny Graham, just on the edge of the six yard box at the far post.

Graham coolly balanced receipt of the ball on his right thigh, and as it fell rolled a lovely curving finish into the far corner of the net. 4-1, and the "Football Gods" were obviously in generous giving-goals mood.

More wild celebrations, but if you've seen or heard me talk about Karma, you'll know now what the rest of the game was almost bound to bring. 

The tempo of this crazy fixture was unsustainable, and from a mind-boggling 100mph+, both sides settled to a pace that was just about double the norm - still, way way too fast and open.

To be fair to BR  - and I'll defend him here, because I've seen some nonsense talked on the Net particularly but we'll come back to that - he recognised the problem too, and from now to half time, Swansea shifted to a back 4.

Caulker went to RB, Orlandi dropped in at LB, with Monk and Williams the CB's. The shape up front went back to what we do normally, with the same Middle and Front 3's as are the usual treat.

Wolves though now established a stranglehold on the game, as if the embarrassment of a 4-1 deficit had liberated them - they were playing with a freedom of care and expression of will that will surely make their supporters ask  "Why the hell haven't we played like this all Season ?", because if they had they certainly wouldn't be in the state they find themselves in.

Jarvis and Kightly were switching back and forth wide, and Steven Caulker, who's proved that he's a top class CB, was being consistently and dangerously stretched and tested, often coming out second best  unfortunately for us.

It sounds bizarre to say, but at 4-1 up and at Home, we were rocking, and looked as if we'd concede at any minute.

In the 33rd minute only, we did.

Doyle had drifted right, and he put in a searching cross competed for by Monk and Fletcher, but the ball cleared both, and ran out toward the left to the dangerous lurking Jarvis, who was now one on one with Caulker as he cut in.

He did exactly what everybody in the ground knew he would - good wingers always do - and stood his man up as he checked inside onto his right foot, and put in a low rasping curving daisy-cutter wide of Vorm and with sufficient pace to beat Ash Williams desperate attempt to clear. The ball clipped the outside of Williams foot and ripped into the corner of the net.

4-2, Bloody hell, football eh? as the watching SAF must have said on his scouting visit.

I looked behind me to see his reaction, and the bugger was smiling broadly. See you next week, Matey.

Both sides almost staggered to the half time whistle, Wolves winning a series of dangerous corners, and to say I was pleased to get to the break with no other concession is an understatement, and we all gulped a deep breath as Mr Moss blew for the break.

I feel compelled to say here that the aforementioned Mr Moss had not given us even the slightest break, and Stearman's regular grappling of Danny Graham, and a succession of rotating cast members' fouls on the long suffering Nathan Dyer being the worst of the excesses.

Still, we were 4-2 up in what we all realized now was a game that was likely to rival Man Utd's 4-4 draw with Everton last week in terms of zaniness, and although none of us around me was predicting a repeat of that as a final scoreline, the general consensus was we'd have to score again to make sure of a win, such had been the Wolves threat toward the end of the first period.

There was also a wish that Neil Taylor, who was on the bench, be brought on to try to tighten up a little, and he was, with the unlucky Andrea Orlandi being the player to make way, as Brendan Rodgers sought a little more solidity.

The game restarted again at the same unremitting, relentless pace and fluidity. It was obvious now that Wolves were going for broke, and we were definitely going to need the comfort of scoring again.

And, to be fair, fairly early in the half we almost did, twice moreover, although it was the visitors who ultimately got the first goal of the period. It came about like this.

From a lovely Swans move a cross came in that the stretching Gylfi Sigurdsson met with a controlled half volley only to see his good strike cannon and slide away off De Vries's left hand post with the keeper beaten. Almost immediately the ball was returned centrally again to the Icelander, and from a fantastic turn some 20 yds out he got off a left foot drive that the full length De Vries turned around for a corner with his fingertips. An excellent passage of play, topped off by an excellent shot and save.

As is the way in these sorts of games, Wolves took advantage, constructing an attack on the right where the twisting and turning Michael Kightly played a lovely reverse ball into the heart of the Swansea defence and penalty area.

David Edwards, the increasingly influential Wales MF'er had made a great run onto the delightful pass, and before any Swans defender he stroked in a first time pass/shot that was too quick for Vorm's dive and went under the keeper to arrive in the back of the net. Just in front of the now revitalised Wolves supporters, they burst into delighted life whilst we Swans had our heads in our hands.

I felt sick to my stomach, it was only the 54th minute.4-3, and a long long way to go.

The Home crowd was now very edgy, as you Swans know we can be, but those grumps who think that by shouting abuse at Swansea's consistent attempts to retain the ball, even by going backwards, have nothing but my contempt.

Fortunately that type are in the minority, and the rest of us Home supporters attempted to lift the team by shouting our encouragement.

Wolves were now playing almost as if they were the Home team and we the Away, with the better possession and the more dangerous attacks, with the Swans fighting hard to resist the pressure.

In the 70th minute we cracked again.

The helter-skelter pace had not varied, and the impressive Edwards eventually scrambled a ball out to the free Steven Fletcher on the left, and the Scotland forward had spotted Matt Jarvis clear of several Swans defenders in the middle.

He played a first time ball across the middle into the heart of the area and Jarvis met it perfectly having held his run and poked a first time finish into the net and beyond Vorm. 4-4. and the now delirious visiting support were the ones making all the noise.

Meanwhile, I felt as if I'd been punched again, and I suspect the Staff and Team did too.

However, let's be realistic - there were still 20m to go, and the key now was to make sure we didn't lose, and also to see if we could snatch what had turned from a certain to an unlikely win.

Terry Connor's changes were Stephen Hunt for the dangerous Matt Jarvis on 72m, and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake for Steven Fletcher on 76m, and excuse me for saying that unless the two departing players were injured (and I don't think they were) these were real errors or weakenings since the two Subbees had done as much as anyone to drag them back into this match.

I have a real feeling that had TC not gone this route, we may well be sitting here today without the point that ultimately guarantees we remain in this fantastic division as of right and with mathematical certainty. Please keep that in mind.

Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, recognised that the bruised and battered Danny Graham had run himself into the ground, and the appropriate Luke Moore came on for him on 82m.

There was to be one more major scare for us Swans, and one more ah, what if? moment too, when either team could have won it.

A cracking Wolves move eventually got Michael Kightly free on goal inside the box on the right, but, with plenty of time, the winger blazed a clearcut opportunity ballooning over the bar.

For the Swans, a long ball over the CB's put the speedy Like Moore in, but De Vries's race from the line, and the scrambling backtracking Stearman just managed to snaffle the chance away.

Both teams struggled and stumbled, almost, to the finishing line, where, after 4 extra minutes the Referee blew an end to this jaw-dropping , breath taking contest.

I sat back in my seat and felt literally physically drained and emotionally in pieces.Wow.

So, as we sit here today, having had time to reflect, how do we explain that?

Well first of all let's come back to those "comments and grumblings" I hinted at earlier.

As is my wont, when I return home after a Swans game, I like to get on the Net as I take in the evening's TV viewing, take a little sustenance etc..., by reading some GB's and MB's, Twitter, FB and the ilk, all the better to see how Swans fans are feeling. Unfortunately, what this means is that as well as lots of varying opinions, you also get to see and hear the dross. I think you know exactly what I mean.

I've seen some fools say things critical not just of the performance but openly disrespecting of the Team, the Club, and all of us fellow Swans even.

Now listen, everybody's entitled to an opinion, but do have a care, please, and, if you're making a comment at least have the facts to justify it. So many people, seemingly, are content to spout drivel without the least justification.

Such people put me in mind of the clods who stream out sometimes 10m early, or who openly mouth not just frustration but bitterness and bile at our own team. We've all seen the ugliness of some of the Blackburn crowd this season, even some of these very same Wolves fans Away at their ground when they turned on their own.

I don't think we have many of that type - but I have seen and heard some. Here's my message to that sort of "fan".

Grow up, and take a look at yourself.

There were many things that didn't go right yesterday, but I care no less for my Club because of that. The Team and Staff are exactly the same, and you can be sure that they will be hurting today, and analysing this week, what went on, why, and what to do the next time. Because that's what they do.

If you think BR doesn't care, read his after game quote.....""The game should have been dead at 3-0 and in the second half I felt there were too many individuals and we did not play as a team," he said. "But give credit to Wolves, I warned in the week that they are a team with spirit and I know how competitive they are."

Moreover, take a look at the after match interviews from 2 decent football people.

Oh, and btw, in all my years of watching top class football, that's the first 4-4 draw I've seen, and it was quite some game :).

So, I'll be at Old Trafford next week, I'll be at the Liberty the week after for Liverpool. Read that again doubters - that's the level we're at - that's the level Wolves have just dropped out of - that's the level we'll be at next season.

And I'll be there too. Supporting, because that's what I do. I guess you could call me a fan.

Onward, Swansea City.

The opinions expressed in this piece are mine and mine alone, because I love Swansea City.I loved them in the 80's, and I love them now, still. I guess I always will.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Come on you Swans - Wolves, at the Liberty.

I thought for this week's preview we might have something of a change, so a reminder that a more conventional Match Report from our Away game can be found here.
For the more adventurous, please read on.

Seven Slots of Influence, observations on both teams.
Things that may be crucial in Swansea's Home fixture v Wolves, and our Season as well.

1) Dorus de Vries.

Let's get the first thing out of the way. DDV, as a previous keeper we've all been privy to, has had many good, and occasional bad, days at the coal face. He is susceptible to the cross, be it free kick, corner, whatever, sent into the box.

How many of us have not said "For God's sake Dorus, catch it! It's in the six yard box after all". Wayne Hennessey's injury has meant that after a season spent on the bench, DDV is likely to be the keeper facing us this coming week - and that's generally perceived to be to our advantage. Unless the recently recalled Carl Ikeme is preferred, it seems we're lined up to be able to confound the Dutchman's pre-season Wolves preference - and, to confirm, that there's a better Dutch keeper on the block - our own Michel Vorm.

He was always an excellent shot-stopper, and despite a strong stretch of decent performances for us, we Swans have seen particularly by the performance of the aforementioned Vorm, how DDV's weaknesses have been overcome by better ability, with the "Dracula" epithet hard to shake off (hates crosses) in comparison.

The likelihood, of course, is that Dorus has an excellent game, as many returning past performers seem to do, but it's fair to ask the question - what if he doesn't?

As far as the "should we jeer or cheer ?" argument is concerned, I intend to give him polite applause as a past servant, and then consistent ragging for being a current opponent. Enjoy, DDV, because we will if possible, and at your expense too.

2) Rabbit in the Headlights

Another former Swan, the long time coach Terry Connor, was the man presented with the poisoned chalice when the sacking of Manager Mick McCarthy led to a shambles in attempting to replace him, and the Club were left with no other option than to promote from within once their purported "replacement strategy" left them with no alternative.

Whatever, it can't be argued that TC, as he's genuinely fondly known, has appeared more and more an X-Factor contestant rather than a Premiership Manager in each and every post match appearance - culminating finally in his after match words last Sunday, where, he honestly appeared close to tears as he confirmed the pain of relegation at last statistically confirmed.

When the team needed a Richard the Lionheart, what they got was a Larry the Lamb. Although that near lachrymosity was from the heart, I think you know exactly what I mean.

The contrast with our own BR, showcased on his impeccable appearance on last Sunday's MoTD2 could not have been more stark.

For all Connor's impeccable coaching excellence, it takes a little more to manage at the top level, as our Gaffer consistently demonstrates, and to get the modern day PL player on board requires more than just training field expertise.

3) The Cardiff connection

There were those of us of a Swansea persuasion who had more than a little chuckle (perhaps it was a guffaw) when it was reported some weeks back that the Club captain, one Roger Johnson, signed from arch rivals Birmingham City as part of their fire-sale pre season and controversially appointed by MM as the club captain in advance of Karl Henry (a long respected good-pro), turned up for a day's training "the worse for drink". Really, you couldn't make it up.

Think on this.

There was a time in our own earlier season when Steven Caulker, who's had an excellent on loan season with us and has confirmed that he's likely to be one of Tottenham's starting CB's next year (however much we covet him to stay), stepped out of line in one of Swansea's more salubrious night haunts, but this was both quickly and confidently dealt with by our estimable Manager.

Youngster SC was disciplined - in house - and we all moved on, in keeping with the Club's open updates of what had happened, why, and why it would not happen again. We sit her some months later, and that has indeed been the case, evidenced by Caulker's outstanding performances since. A big up to the way it was handled.

Contrast, please, to the ugly repercussions of the Johnson incident, where current first team players have been quoted very recently as "his having let the club and the team down". Undoubtedly, he did. It just seems to me that it's contributed more than it should have in their downfall.

It's as well to remember too that there was a time when we as a Club were reported to be interested in Johnson prior to his signing for the Championship Club up the road in the nation's capital. What a decent piece of missed business that turned out to be, as he appears not only shaky, but something of a Jonah - it's his second successive demotion after all. Where next Roger? Back to East Wales maybe? Well, we can but hope.

4) Karma
I don't want to criticise but......................

Regular readers will know that I'm a convinced believer in the concept of Karma - that feeling you get of being wary of making open predictions of what will be, particularly to your own advantage, when subsequent happenings may come back to haunt you, particularly in light of your own similar misdemeanours to any you may have disadvantaged.

Consequently, I am loath to overly criticise teams worse off than us, for whatever reason, but there comes a time when you can't help but think things ought to have been done differently elsewhere. And that's the feeling I get with Wolves.

Many of us will remember our visit to Molineux on a sunny Autumn day, our first of the season National TV Broadcast in a game that we dominated for 80 of the 90m, and established a 2-0 lead that began to signal to the nation our capabilities and style.

We saw that day the evidence of a fractured season - from the way that the fans turned from snarling a la Blackburn at their own team and management, to their delirious release at being able to come back and claim a share of the spoils against what was in ourselves then, a nascent PL newbie who hadn't quite worked out how to close off games we should have won comfortably.

Needless to say, we have, since, whilst WWFC have stumbled from nastiness and disappointment to resigned acceptance of their fate.

I am not yet foolish enough to think that these points have been the predominant influence in Wolves sad season - but they have played some part. Nor am I immune to the fact that some odd things may happen to us in seasons to come, but, it seems to me, we're on a significantly different road, and thus might avoid some of the pit-falls.

5) Talking Triangles

One of the true delights of this fantastic season has been the style of football and the way that the club conducts its business both on and off the field.

Football in the modern age continues to throw up bizarre examples of Clubs much like our own who still continue to conduct their affairs like a child let loose in a sweet-shop ; gorging themselves on the apparent wealth at their immediate disposal whilst forgetting that it's good to exercise just a little restraint on life's wicked treats like Chocolate, - and Sky Sports/PL wealth distribution.

Classic and numerous examples - Portsmouth, Coventry, Port Vale, even Rangers for goodness sake- are even now not enough to dissuade both the crooked businessmen at the top, or the poor deluded amongst the fans who still see a "White Knight" type figure riding to the rescue.

We, of course, have been there, done that, and have learned from bitter personal experience.  And that business "style" leads on to the way we play our football.

We have won many, deserved, plaudits from all across the Media spectrum for pursuing a trade mark pattern that puts us nearer to Arsenal than Stoke - and I guess that for the vast majority of us that's one hell of a good thing.

I recall travelling to the Potteries earlier this season and I tell you truthfully that the bulk of Potters fans I spoke to that day were almost desperate for Stoke City to play in our style rather than the "hoof-ball menu" that they got on a regular basis, with several even going as far as saying they wouldn't mind relegation back down to the Championship in exchange for a radical change of emphasis.

Be careful what you wish for, some would say, though I think most of us too would rebel if we consistently sent it skyward. As Brian Clough once said " If God wanted Football played like that he'd have put grass in the sky......".

Now I recognise that it wouldn't do for us all to be the same - hey, after last night and Chelsea's triumph even Barcelona, probably the world's best team, have been accused as much as we Swans often are of "not having a Plan B".

This, undoubtedly, is one of those modern phrases that have mass appeal but ultimately mean zilch. Almost guaranteed to make me unreservedly angry.

Here's the explanation - Plan B, for sides like us, is just doing Plan A better. Not SkyBall, but more effective pass and move. It won't always succeed, even the best fail occasionally, but it wins most of the time.

So let's please glorify and enjoy our style, our fashion - because not only is it better, it's fun , too.

6) Finishing it Off
because points mean prizes.

We currently sit in 12th place on 43pts, a position we'd be more than happy to occupy at season's end, but, since each PL placing is worth some £750k, there is a rather large incentive to either retain this position, or better it even, since each slot is almost a tenth of a Gylfi Sigurdsson type player. A big, big incentive.

This, coupled with both the significant bonus structure of each player's individual Contract, and the kudos that a higher League placing would hopefully attract better quality players incoming should guarantee that the performance will certainly not be complacent.

Both Manager and Players have recently commentated on this very point, Brendan Rodgers on National TV on MoTD2 recently, and Nathan Dyer and Joe Allen via the print media.

I'll be honest and admit that I came into the season with limited expectations, determined to both enjoy and experience as much of football at this level as I could, with a feeling that if we stayed above the dreaded "R" statistic, even on the last day, I'd be more than satisfied.

I can't quite pin down the exact moment this changed, there are several games and instances that spring to mind, but I don't feel quite the same now.

Just like the Team, as our performances particularly began to lead to not only results but plaudits from the Football Community, my hopes and expectations rose. Not only was I enjoying every minute of the ride, it turned out that we were getting better and better at handling the expectation and delivering fare that not only pleased us as fans, but was effective too.

I have always been proud of my club - what was even nicer was that the team was representing our City with a degree of style and performance.

What has happened, of course, is that the  ever rising expectation has infected us all - particularly over the last couple of weeks, where, despite the mathematical chance of our still being dragged into the "R" fight it was obvious to most that we were safe.

The next step is to do the very best we can, and, since the decent turnaround from that miserable QPR night, we've put in two excellent performances.

A win against the Wolves would not only see off the shimmering ghosts of failure, but would send us to Old Trafford with a genuine attempt to put a large custard pie into Fergie's face. Oops, there's my ABU bias showing. After that we get to entertain "King Kenny", the Anfield Messiah and his troops to the Lib for our closing act - get another foam-filled face target at the ready. See, I told you it was fun.

7) Who are we ?

One of the most impressive facets of Brendan Rodgers' character is that he's tapped into the pride that's accompanied us on this journey. Hear him talk about living in the area, hear him talk about meeting the people, and you soon realise that this is a man who grew up in an area of NI that has a similar take on place and people as our own.

His natural empathy in bringing his young family to both live and work in the City has shown us his commitment, and him our respect. It works well for both, since this is a Club confirming rather than forging it's identity.

This social aspect of the outsiders perception of Swansea City both as a club and a place should not be underestimated. It has been, and remains, an integral part of our success.

Similarly, our realistic Chairman and Board seem also to agree on the need to develop the Club organically, with a sensible timetable to both extend the Stadium such that it becomes a revenue generator in conjunction with a Training Ground/Youth Facility that makes it easier to develop players from within.

That, in conjunction with playing performance - after all, to be in this League particularly is to be party to the largesse that makes this achievable - and it's paramount.

We are part way on this trip toward achieving a lasting identity - a confirmation, almost, of what Swansea City has always stood for to most of us. Decency, honesty, style......proud to say.........

Onward, Swansea City.

As mentioned above, next Sunday we get to travel to Man Utd's Theatre of Dreams. I shall be making my first visit for many years (26 to be exact), and the Ground has changed a great deal since then. Wouldn't it be great to have an influence on the outcome of the PL Title - you never know - Don Roberto may be relying on us to do him a favour.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bolton Wdrs v Swansea City, Match Report, PL

Late Season Away Days.

SCFC's trip to the Reebok for the second time this season saw them wanting to avenge an FA Cup defeat from earlier. Meanwhile, Bolton Wanderers were desperate to secure the points that would get them out of the bottom three in the Division.

What we got, thus, was a passionate and committed match, and the outcome, heavily influenced by the visitors determination to get forward, was perhaps one we Swans can consider to have to "got away", though BWFC offered a decent enough challenge throughout.

You always, from my chair, had the feeling that the Swans were in ultimate control.

Brendan Rodgers had resisted any temptation to make changes from the Blackburn game, preferring to go "as we were". Meanwhile for Bolton, reports were that a virus kept out ex-Swan Darren Pratley, and he was replaced by Ryo Myiachi, the exciting youngster on loan from Arsenal, in Owen Coyle's only change.

The sides lined up as follows........

01 Bogdan, 02 Steinsson, 18 Ricketts, 31 Wheater, 32 Ream, 07 Eagles, 10 Petrov, 16 M Davies, 19 Reo-Coker, 14 K Davies, 30 Miyaichi
22 Jaaskelainen, 03 Alonso, 12 Knight, 37 Vela, 17 Klasnic, 24 Ngog, 29 Sordell

01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham
25 Tremmel, 16 Monk, 20 Bessone, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Ref: Dowd

The Referee was Phil Dowd, and as his team contains the divinely right Sian Massey, we Swans may have felt a little lucky omen coming our way since Ms Massey has on more than one occasion given crucial decisions (rightly) in our favour previously. ( Man City, Micah Richards anyone?).

As it turned out, the refereeing combo had little influence on a flowing game, where you could see the difference between a comfortable League position and one that led to more understandable contrition.

In other words, Swansea played with no fear in their hearts, whereas with Bolton you almost always felt that they were trying to play "catch up". Is this fair? I think so, because I can only tell you how it felt to me.

The early minutes saw both sides prepared to take risks, both by moving forward to threaten, and being loose at the back in denial of any threat. Both ways, it was a very very open game.There were chances aplenty for both sides, which we'll come to, but the early play saw a realistic dispute from Bolton against Swansea's insistence to maintain the bulk of possession.

They closed down early, they closed down fast, and were determined to compete for every 50/50 ball. The overall possession stats turned out to go 52/48 % in Swansea's favour, but when you consider we often have upwards of 55%, it tells you Bolton were putting in a good shift.

Swansea's first clear cut attack was rewarded with a fantastic goal. From a move developed on the right, the ball was switched across field to Scott Sinclair, marked just one on one, always a great opportunity.

He cut inside, as is his wont, and took a crucial further touch across the area before driving a terrific shot into the top left left corner that left Adam Bogdan a spectator. Boooooom, 1-0, and the team had got off to a rewarding start.

Bolton did not lie down, and from this dis-spiriting start, continued to compete and contest, and they were rewarded just 5m later, when a cute ball set Martin Petrov running free on the left.

As the Swans streamed to get back at him, the Bulgarian winger got almost to the by-line and crossed a delicious ball into the six yard box that was met by the hard running Chris Eagles, who hardly broke stride as he guided a left foot cushioned finish wide of Vorm's left hand to nestle securely into City's net. The Home crowd erupted, unsurprisingly, 1-1. and game on.

Despite Bolton's aggression and commitment, Swansea did more than their share of attacking, and were very unlucky when from a Dyer cross, Sigurdsson 's goal bound effort was deflected behind for a corner - one of a stream of goal worthy efforts, as we were to see.

From the resultant corner, Dyer curved in an effort that Bogdan grasped graciously at the junction of crossbar and post to deny another Swansea effort.

For Bolton, Kevin Davies was doing his thing, and his wrestling match with Ash Williams on 24m being a prime example. No quarter given, none expected, either way.

Next, a lovely lofted chip from Rangel put Dyer free, but Bogdan had raced from his goal to wallop it out in denial. This turned out to be the winger's last effort, as he retired on 28m to an injury, and was replaced by Luke Moore.

Just a minute later, Williams was booked for a foul, taken by the ever dangerous Petrov, and Vorm did well to gather high to his right.

Shortly after, Kevin Davies cut back a dangerous ball, but the end to end action led to Scott Sinclair being denied by one of many Gretar Steinsson blocks.

It led to a huge chance for the Swans.

From a free kick some 30yds out on the inside right channel, Sigurdsson hit a screaming, curving shot to Bogdan's right that he did well to parry outwards, only to see the advancing Steven Caulker, eager to pick up scraps, shape his first time volley high and wide. Ouch, another real chance, and Swansea were subjected to a 5m bombardment from Bolton, before getting to the half time whistle at a 1-1 scoreline, which, in all honesty, reflected the overall state of play.

Bolton's best chance had come from another free kick taken by Petrov, and it took all of Vorm's remarkable flexibility and confidence to get his right hand to the Bulgarian's smashing curving drive, and the Swans stayed level.

This was a key period, where Swansea's resistance ultimately earned them their later control of the game, and I guess that BR was the more pleased of the Managers at the break - after all, Ash Williams had even come close from a header wide in this very period.

I often wonder what's said at Half Time in the varying dressing rooms, since it seems to reflect the way the respective teams play in the second period. Whatever it was, I think we can safely say that from the Swansea perspective it was more than effective, since, throughout this half, I think it fair to say that the Away team were on top.

Swansea's confidence seemed to grow, and was rewarded by their consistent creation of some outstanding chances.

Quite early in the half, Danny Graham got in a good header just diverted wide by a Wheater touch, and Bolton's frustrations were showing when they replaced the ineffective Ryo Myiachi with David N'Gog on 64m.

To be fair to the French Sub, his persistent leggy performance from then on did lead to a greater Bolton threat, but both Williams and Caulker can be satisfied in their cover and denial. Generally, they kept him in check.

That dominance of the game led to a succession of Swansea chances, from Graham putting Sinclair in at the far post only to be denied again by the excellent Steinsson, to a Williams chance again from a corner.

Moreover, Graham shot just wide from a rapier Swansea attack, and was even more unlucky when from a long ball headed out (no plan B huh?) he collected on the left, and, from the corner of the 18yd box drove a screaming inswinging shot that rattled the crossbar with Bogdan well beaten. It surely would have done his mesmeric performance the justice it deserved - ie, a goal.

For all of this Swansea pressure, the score remained 1-1, and on 79m, Lita replaced Graham and Klasnic came on for Bolton in a Coyle gamble to go for broke.

The game played out evenly, with a Luke Moore chance giving City further hope, only to come away from a game where they had generally been on top, but failed to take the chances that would have seen them prosper even further.

No disrespect to Bolton, either. There were large chunks of this game where it was very very open, and they approached it as a side who genuinely wanted to win, though they will be a great deal more disappointed to come away with a 1-1 stalemate than are we.

Both managers reactions can be found here   and I lean toward BR's summation that we were a little unlucky, although I'm prepared to concede that there were times in the game that Bolton could have done us harm.

The overall performance was good.

I have been to many Away games this year where our limited performance has not been as we know it could be. This was not one of those games.

The performance stats are not always the guide to how a game has gone, but, in this instance, they were generally reflective of a decent performance.

Not only did we edge the possession 52% to 48 %, but the shots on goal were 20 to 7 (12 to 5 on Target) in City's favour, plus an 11-8 corner count, and a 7 v 19 fouls count. My gut feel is that this was pretty reflective of the game.

Some comments on individual performances.

Sinclair, I thought, was very good throughout. Not only did he score a goal of top quality, he worked hard all the way, and could even have got a deserved second. The Middle 3 were outstanding- from Britton's composure, to Allen's aggression, to Sigurdsson's creativity. Top class.

Danny Graham, whilst not on the scoresheet, showed how you work a formation such as ours best. And, of course, at the back we were sound.

I was impressed with Bolton's Steinsson, a terrier in defence, and with Eagles and Petrov going forward. I happen to think that having seen the teams around them they will survive. They certainly deserve to, from their splendid stadium to their excellent fans, I look forward to going back next year, hopefully.

Yesterday was an excellent example of how we play - not just at Home, but at a difficult opponent.Whilst it might not have been an example of how we can dominate some games, it was a decently sound "Away from Home" performance, showcasing both the skill and spirit indigenous in the Squad.

As I watch all of the MOTD, Sky Sports, Goals on Sunday etc reviews (and roll on MOTD2 tonight when, I'm informed, BR is a guest) I feel very very proud. What a fabulous season.

Onward, Swansea City.

After today's result, there's only one club that can catch us, and that's today's opponents, but it would mean winning their last 5 games (or 4 and a draw with a huge goal swing.) Similarly, QPR could equal us if they won their last 3, again with a huge goalswing. Unlikely, I think.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Bolton Wdrs v Swansea City, Match preview, PL.

Back to the Future?

Having already visited the Reebok Stadium once this year already, when we subsided to an ultimately disappointing FA Cup ejection, our League visit on Saturday promises to have a great deal more at stake.

Not, happily, as much for us as them maybe, since our win at Home against Blackburn put us back into both form and a more comfortable League position, but certainly for Bolton, who will see this as a crucial opportunity to pick up some points in their quest for PL survival this year.

For a side that's spent the last few years comfortable in their PL status it comes as something of a shock - earlier in the Season they looked as if they would be beyond this struggling battle, but, subsequent to the truly horrible bad luck that struck both Fabrice Muamba ( a key player) and the Club, they have struggled to come to terms with the sufficient accumulation of points to allow them to relax a little.

Needless to say, one of the better things to have happened this past week saw Fabrice Muamba, mercifully, released from Hospital, and all of Football wishes him nothing other than our best wishes in his continuing fight toward a decent life.

Just a lovely photo, and best wishes from all of Swansea City and its JackArmy.

It does us well sometimes to take 5m out of our wonderful game and contemplate the seriousness of the rest of life - still, that's what makes this such a fantastic feast for all of us fans - it takes us away from the reality and engages us with flashes of better things. Respect, all round.

A word of admiration, too, to a club that realises it has both a duty and regard to us, the Fans, and who set their prices accordingly. Never the best supported in a hugely competitive market given their geographic location, they have always led the way on realistic pricing, and the levels for this match, at £15 adults; £10 Under-21s; £5 Under-18s; £10 Over-65s are both very welcome and very fair.

Well done Bolton Wanderers, and a lot of clubs could learn from this.

Both Owen Coyle and Brendan Rodgers, two of the more realistic managers in this cut-throat division, are unlikely to let their squads operate on any fanciful level, so we are almost guaranteed to see a passionate fixture, with both teams going full out to win the points, which is, I like to think, as PL football ought to be, in reflection almost of that self same real world.

Bolton's last fixture was at Newcastle on the 9th of this month, their game against Tottenham being put back because of Spurs Cup involvement, so whilst most teams have just 4 or 5 left to go, they have 6. We will face Wolves and Liverpool at the Lib, and travel to Man Utd as well as today.

Bolton go from this fixture v us to a schedule that sees them face Villa, Sunderland and Stoke away, plus Tottenham and West Brom at the Reebok after us.

Thus, it strikes me, compared to some other fixture lists from the clubs from Villa downwards, which, it's generally conceded is where the doomed are currently competing, theirs is one of the better run-ins, not only from individual match ups (which seem OK), but that they've got 2 more games in which to do it.

There is no doubt that they have missed the absent through injury Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee more than most, and their last line up, in that Newcastle fixture was .....
01 Bogdan, 02 Steinsson, 18 Ricketts, 31 Wheater, 32 Ream, 07 Eagles (Miyaichi - 78' ), 10 Petrov, 16 M Davies, 19 Reo-Coker Booked, 21 Pratley (Klasnic - 82' ), 14 K Davies (Ngog - 78' )
22 Jaaskelainen, 03 Alonso, 12 Knight, 17 Klasnic, 24 Ngog, 29 Sordell, 30 Miyaichi

....set out in a 4-5-1 formation with Bogdan in Goal, Steinsson, Wheater, Ream and Rickets across the back, a middle 5 of Eagles, Davis, Pratley, Reo-Coker and Petrov, with Kevin Davies leading the line.

I had been fascinated by the prospective game between Arsenal and Wigan on last Monday evening, particularly since it seemed prior to that game that Wolves and Blackburn were almost gone, and the third space was between Wigan / QPR / Bolton / Villa, but this League regularly throws a spanner into the works, and this was no exception.

Needless to say, it doesn't do to take anything for granted in the fantastic division, since we sat there 9m in and Wigan were 2-0 up at the Emirates. Wow, what would transpire?

That's why you should never, ever take for granted anything in the amazing twists and turns - Wigan, after their 2-1 victory, now look favourites to survive from the bottom few - and who'd have said that before their remarkable wins against both Man Utd and Arsenal in the last week.

On 34 pts, they stand 5 pts in advance of Bolton, albeit on 2 games more, but a crucial 3 ahead of QPR on the same number of games. 4/5 games to go then, and nothing is decided for the 3rd relegation place. What a season!

Back to our upcoming game, and that previously enumerated Bolton side.

Adam Bogdan in Goal has managed to keep out Jussi Jaaskaleinen, one of the PL's better keepers over the last 10 yrs, so soundness there, despite his bright ginger hair.

The back 4 now has David Wheater, ex- Middlesborough, partnered by Tim Ream, a US International signed in the January window in the middle at CB. Wheater is a player much lauded in the English game, and whilst he is a real threat at attacking free kicks and set pieces, often scoring crucial goals, he has always been seen as somewhat flaky in defence when put under the cosh. Ream is still learning the English game, and whilst competent from what I've seen, remains vulnerable for his very newness.

The FB's were the experienced Gretar Steinsson, who goes forward well, and our old friend Sam Ricketts, an experienced pro who lets nobody down, ourselves included.

There is strength across the middle, from the aggressive Chris Eagles on the right, acquired from Burnley, and always able to contribute special moments in going forward, to the perennially tricksy Martin Petrov on the left, the Bulgarian international being capable of winning games from assists and shots (dead ball specialist), although he can be attacked going back to his own goal area.

The middle 3 that day were the rock-hard Nigel Reo-Coker, who assumes the defensive responsibility in this system, the creator Mark Davis, who may be in line for their Player of the Year, and the forever running Darren Pratley, late of this parish, and forever remembered for that goal. Well done Prats.

Reo-Coker came from West ham via Villa, and has always been a sound defensive shield in MF, with the capability to get forward when need be.Tackles, works, grafts.

Mark Davis has had an excellent season - developing into the nearest Holden substitute they could have wished for, picked up from Wolves, this is a creative, skillful adversary, who always threatens to both give vision and execute.

Prats is Prats, as we know - he will run all day, not always to best effect, but always with his heart on his sleeve, and people forget how much his undying enthusiasm and effort can bring to a side that needs example of that commitment. He is no Mark Davis for instance, but it's wrong to forget that Mark Davis is no Darren Pratley either.

Up front was one of the PL's most persistent and everlasting forwards, Kevin Davies. Very often, over the past 10 yrs, he has been both the PL's most fouling player, and the the PL's most fouled player too. In other words, he gives as good as he gets. A sort of "you-kick-me" and an "I'll-kick-you" guarantee. For all that, although visibly fading this year (maybe one season too many) , he remains an inspiration when things are not going quite right, and a threat to score, still. Excellent in the air.

The Bench carried some interesting players - primarily Ryio Myachi, on loan from Arsenal, and a technical and gifted dribbler/wide man that has shown already this season some game winning assists.

Similarly, Ivan Klasnic, the victor over some major health issues who remains a key introductee when he comes on late to change the outcome of games. He sat next to David N'Gog, bought from Liverpool, but this highly rated French Youngster has never gone on to even get close to his "future Thierry Henry" tag of yesteryear.

All in all, a balanced and deserving squad that really should be doing better than it is. So what's the reason for their apparent downfall?

Well, goalscoring has been a problem - they have 30 in total, 19 at Home, 11 Away, so compared to our 38, 22 at Home, 16 Away......the key comes in concession. At Home, this team has conceded 32 times- more than twice our 14 - so at least we have a target.

The victory last week against Blackburn saw us return to a pattern of persistent aggression - a performance that had both tempo and commitment at its heart, since this is what we do best.

I've made the point that it gave the lie to any claim that we can only play one way, and that we "don't have a plan B". Plan B is the implementation of varied patterns and tempo of play. We were all glad to see the clever use of space, and delighted to see balls over the top when needed, so , patience, please, we Swans fans - this team is good enough to work it out on the day.

Given the Manager's confidence in his seemingly first choice XI, I would be more than surprised to see any change in personnel for our delighted Swans. Still, Brendan Rodgers has out flanked me on many occasions this year, and as I'm fond of repeating - what do I know? Whatever, I think most of us will go with it, although if he wanted to really really shock us, I guess that a rest for Michel Vorm would do the job admirably.

Relax, it ain't going to happen.

As I've said previously, this will be a fixture where Bolton Wanderers will give it their all. Let's hope that we are good enough to resist this, and then to play sufficient decent football, of which we're well capable, to come away with the win. A share of the points would not be so hard to bear either.

Please have a good day/weekend all you travelling Jacks, this time it's the Internet for me I'm afraid, and let's hope we can come back to say, as we ever do,

Onward, Swansea City.

Last week's win v Blackburn made sure that neither they, nor Wolverhampton Wanderers, can catch us. Even were they to win all of their games, and we were to lose all of ours, their points total would not be enough. QPR, facing Tottenham on Saturday at Home, followed by Chelsea away, Stoke Home and Man City Away, have only to drop 1 pt and then we are mathematically safe. Similarly, a point for us in our last 4 games would do the same. Personally, I
think that's the likely scenario.

A myriad other outcomes are possible given the involvement of other struggling clubs, but it would be really nice to crow a little. None of these need concern us. Ah well, it'll come soon enough.

Bravo, Swansea City, and welcome Reading, next year.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Swansea City v Blackburn Rovers, PL, Match report

Back on track at the Liberty.

Now's not perhaps the time to reflect on the remarkable progress of our season so far, that can come at a later date and is genuinely something I'm looking forward to doing at season's end, but I think it's fair to say that a good many of us JackArmy adherents were just a tad nervous before this game, if for no other reason that we'd never been "here" before, or at least not quite in this way.

It had come about, of course, because we'd gone longer without a win (or even a draw), than we'd done previously at this level.

We'd been nervous particularly after Wednesday's loss at Loftus Rd., principally because even though we'd lost the 3 previous games on our worst run in this punishing division, the level of performance at QPR had been very disappointing to say the least.

The side has performed admirably in it's first season in the PL, and even the games lost or drawn before had seen us compete as equals, so when we slumped out of London with our tails between our legs midweek, it just didn't feel right.

Thus, today's performance was key - get this right and we could genuinely begin to relax - get it wrong and we'd face a nervous couple of weeks.

Incidentally, the Team felt the same, as confirmed in this Tweet from the excellent Danny Graham early on Saturday night........ "That result was for the fans we owed u after Wednesday night 3 great points ..have my boys down tonight should be a good one #enjoyeveryone ".

See, they really do care, and this is both the performance and result that confirmed it.

Blackburn, just like us, had lost their previous 4 fixtures, and despite Manager Steve Kean-out's prediction that Swansea had been "found out" by the PL of late, I'm delighted to report that that seemed somewhat wide of the mark by the end of the game.

Kean-out had selected a side that showed only slight change from their previous fixture v the Pool, with Lowe retaining his place at Martin Olsson's expense, who went to the bench, and Morten Gamst Pedersen starting.

For Swansea, Brendan Rodgers kept faith with all but Wayne Routledge from the QPR night, and he was replaced by the electric Nathan Dyer.

So the sides looked like this........

Swansea City

01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel (Monk - 89' ), 07 Britton (Gower - 69' ), 11 Sinclair, 12 Dyer, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Lita - 85' )
25 Tremmel, 16 Monk, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Blackburn Rovers

01 Robinson, 16 Dann, 18 Orr, 31 Hanley (Formica - 46' Booked ), 08 Dunn, 12 Pedersen, 15 Nzonzi, 21 Ms Olsson, 35 Lowe, 23 Hoilett Booked (Modeste - 55' ), 24 Yakubu (Goodwillie - 61' )
34 Kean, 03 Mn Olsson, 10 Formica, 14 Petrovic, 09 Modeste, 20 Rochina, 25 Goodwillie

Ref: Clattenburg
Att: 18,985

Perhaps the ultimate proof that Blackburn were in deep deep trouble was the sight of their travelling support in the North Stand. Not only were they conspicuous by their absence - if there was more than a couple of hundred of them they must have been wearing Hogwarts Invisibility Cloaks - but they were subdued and virtually silent throughout, not even mustering enough noise and energy to repeat their disgraceful lambasting of their own Manager which we've seen regularly at Ewood Park this season. We witnessed it when we visited and it's also been seen on several other occasions.

I thought back to the Newcastle game just 2 weeks before and the vibrancy and numbers of both Home and Away supporters milling around outside the ground pre game, and it was a remarkable contrast to the limited numbers pre game today, even though the weather was no competition to the sunshine on show then.

The numbers were confirmed by the official attendance, at 18,985 a good 1300 or 1400 below where it can be if the Away end sells out. At home, I'm proud to say, we still do.

So, when the game kicked off, the JackArmy was immediately in good voice, giving a rousing "Hymns n Arias" as the Swans began their patient probing.

Looking back on the game it's easy to tell you what happened, a little more difficult to tell you how it felt, but please be assured that the nervousness we saw from City on the pitch, with several mis-placed passes and easy concession of possession matching the twitchiness and general mumbling evident in the crowd around me, and I had the dreaded "butterflies in the stomach", at least until we began to settle down with some extended possession and attacking from about 10m onward. Thank goodness for that.

Early advance was made down the right primarily, from both Dyer and Rangel, Sigurdsson too, allowing several key balls to be played in and beyond Marcus Olsson at LB, this leading to a procession of dangerous crosses into the box.

The tempo was excellent, speeding and slowing at will, and it was noticeable too that City were prepared to play balls over the top and into the channels, thus varying the steady beat of pass and move with testing effect. Blackburn fell further and further back, and were happy and only able to concede numerous corners.

Some interesting points of difference from our previous outing I think were showing clearly.

Dyer, compared to Routledge, comes far deeper to receive the ball and thus allows Rangel the opportunity of space far better, coupled, of course, with an increase into channel runs for more players. It also stretches the game, and often drags the opposing full back further forward.

There were very many half chances in this game, the bulk of which fell to us Swans thank goodness, and the early ones were a little different in that they came from that tactical change. The increased number of crosses saw a Taylor run frustrated, and Rangel drove in several too, and also forced a couple of corners.

After the initial nervy period of some 15m, it was now clear that Swansea were on top, and Sigurdsson shot over the bar.

Another excellent deep cross from the right by Rangel saw Sinclair run in from the left to meet it with a header some 8yds out but Hanley's challenge saw the good move frustrated by the concession of another corner.

Blackburn's only offering was to rely on the long ball from the back with a hope to force throw ins particularly around the Swans box, getting Pedersen's ability to throw long being their main threat, but Swansea coped admirably.

A good right sided attack again saw a cross fed in and Sigurdsson this time had a claim for a penalty as he moved in to shape and shoot but was brought down by Dann's sliding challenge. Mr Clattenburg disagreed, and he did seem at this point to be leaning leniently toward the visitors.

Rangel was unlucky from a further corner when Siggi's delivery got to him almost blind by the missed jumps of players in front of him, and the ball hit his head and ran safe behind.

No matter, the next passage of play presaged the opening goal, when, from a wonderful hit from Sigurdsson 30 yds out the ball dipped, swerved and zipped in the air and forced Robinson into a stretching dive to punch the ball clear for a corner.

Siggi took it, and the ball cleared all and ran out toward the left touch line, to be very well retrieved by Scott Sinclair before it ran out for a throw, and he, in turn, fed Joe Allen inside on the left. Allen had noticed Sigurdsson coming in from taking the right sided corner, and his chipped pass was immediately cushioned dead by the Icelander with his right foot.

Faced by N'Zonzi, he cleverly shifted the ball inside to his left, and chipped/drove a fantastic curving shot up and over Robinson's despairing dive to to ripple neatly into the top right hand side of the net.

A truly terrific goal from a truly terrific player at the top of his game, and the Liberty crowd correspondingly roared with a joyous explosion of sound at the opening goal. 1-0, and there was a touch of catharsis about the release of emotion, as if the goal purged any worries we may have hiding.

Sigurdsson was mobbed by elated team mates as the east Stand serenaded him , deservedly so.

The Swans were now playing with that figurative load lifted from their shoulders, and the pass and move was at it's most fluid, as we know it can pleasingly be.

Allied with this , the high fast press and close down of the Middle 3 and 2 wingers particularly was often thieving the ball back from Blackburn, and the aggression almost bore fruit when Dann's loose ball inside at the back was picked off by Scott Sinclair, who immediately put clear Danny Graham, some 15yds out toward the left.

The striker curled a delicious instep hit which had Robinson full stretch diving left to just palm the ball behind for yet another corner.

Blackburn were rocking under the pressure, and with the first goal having taken 37m, the second arrived six minutes later, and crucially just before half time on 43m.

Sinclair on the left set Neil Taylor running free and from his classic low cross into the box, Blackburn's Scott Dann, stretching to intercept, could only guide the ball back to the advancing Sinclair, now only 15yds out. He immediately transferred inside and central, where Danny Graham, rather than shoot, put in one further pass to his right, to the free Nathan Dyer.

I thought at first it may have been one touch too many, because we all know, just like Arsenal sometimes we seem to want to score the "perfect goal".

I was mistaken, as Dyer to his eternal credit dispatched it first time and beyond Robinson's left hand to that wonderful sight of a shimmering, rippling net. 2-0, and it really was the perfect time for a second excellent goal.

The Lib rocked, yet again, even us old geezers in the West jigging and bouncing off our walking sticks.What's that bit in the Bible about Lazarus? I was, indeed, feeling like a man reborn.

It only remained for further Swans pressure to cause Hanley to injure himself as he gave away a foul in extra minutes trying to stop Sigurdsson again. Swansea's MF'er took the kick himself, driving his inswinging shot from the left straight at the goal dangerously, but as Robinson punched clear again, Mr Clattenburg blew for H/T on a rewarding Home performance, and we Swans glowed at the level of performance, and equally as important, the reward of a 2 goal lead.

Hanley would not re-appear for Blackburn in the second, with Kean switching to 3 at the back centrally, with the play maker Formica coming on in replacement.

Throughout the half you could visibly see the Homesters grow in confidence, and the quality of play toward the close of the half had been openly thrilling. My little circle celebrated with a fresh packet of Trebor Extra Strong mints, after all, it had been earned.

When the Second Half resumed, it was immediately noticeable that Blackburn were struggling, and the 3 at the back with Wing Backs lasted all of 10mins, and the team switched back to a 4-1-4-1 after some squabbling and arguing between N'Zonzi and David Dunn particularly, and it seemed to me that Dunn had been complaining that the South African had not been "putting in a shift", as befits someone (he, Dunn) who looked as if he'd had a Bevin-Boy haircut from the 50's (look it up), but was, indeed, grafting a great deal harder than the more supposedly illustrious players.

Indeed, although the Yak and Hoilett have been lauded this season for their goal threat, both seemed disinterested yesterday, and Kean's decision to replace both during the course of this half - Modeste for Hoilett on 55nm, Goodwillie for Yakubu on 61m - drew both derision from their small body of fans, and a noticeable further decrease in goal threat from their team.

The Swans meantime were more than comfortable in their own skins - content now to play patient, passing, retentive football, as the play book dictates that it's sensible to do against a demoralised and struggling opponent.

They continued to carve out regular half chances, with examples being several runs and shots from Sinclair, and an engaging toe-poked attempt from Rangel after a one two with Dyer that set him free and sent the ball narrowly over the bar.

Dunn, to be fair to him, was offering Blackburn's only threat, and he was unlucky a couple of times.

From a knock down corner, he just mis-timed his shot and Vorm gathered comfortably, and again he created good space on the edge of the box, and sent in a shot that rattled Vorm's left hand post with the keeper beaten.

My distinct impression from this period of the game was that we were watching two sides that not only realise their respective likely fates, but were playing like it too. Swansea were lively, bright and enthused, whereas Blackburn sometimes appeared to be going through the motions by rote only, such was the level of dominance.

This level of pressure was almost bound to bear fruit, and in the 63rd m the final nail was hammered into the Blackburn coffin when Swansea scored their third goal.

It was very noticeable now, as I've hinted, that there was no doubling up on Scott Sinclair, and his restored confidence at this maybe led him to put in more and more of those threatening runs that we all know he's so very good at.

He'd already threatened several times when Neil Taylor again put him in possession one on one with Bradley Orr some 30 yds out on the left, an encouraging position he wasn't about to waste.

He proceeded to turn Orr inside out as he retreated and skimmed past him and two others all the while getting nearer to the by-line and goal.

As he beat the last man and reached the goal just 5 yds wide of the post he laid a delicious ball inside that the ghosting Gylfi Sigurdsson met on his perfectly timed run and turned goal ward. The ball struck the right hand post and immediately bounced back to both him and Scott Dann to rebound into the net.

3-0, was it a Gylfi goal? Was it a Dann OG ? I don't think the crowd really cared as another impressive Swansea move finished with the ball in the Blackburn net and the crowd again voiced it's significant approval. A heart warming sound, and Siggi high fived the jubilant Sinclair to acknowledge his part in the goal's creation.

In seeing the game out Swansea created several other chances to further increase their goals-for position.

Sinclair saw a dazzling shot streak just over the bar, and Robinson parry another close run and shot at the near post.

Meanwhile, Leroy Lita, who had replaced the perennially running Danny Graham, cleverly turned the CB's and got off a stinger only just parried and stopped by the impressive Robinson, who also scrambled to the rebound to keep out Sigurdsson again.

Other substitutions for Swansea saw Mark Gower give Leon Britton a breather ( who departed to his now familiar Leon, Leon Chant), and Gary Monk come on for Angel Rangel, he going central, and Steven Caulker coming over to make the biggest RB I've ever seen, as he rampaged forward in support of Dyer.

A nice touch too from Ash Williams, who, when the Club skipper came on, passed the captain's armband to Gary Monk, despite initial protestations of no need from Gary. Class act from a class player.

Swansea comfortably saw the game off for an ultimately rewarding and deserved 3-0 win, and the other encouraging sight was after the final whistle.

As the crowd stood to both applaud and serenade the victorious (cue Levellers), absolutely ALL the Swans, technical staff, subs, players, manager, coaches met in the centre circle for a collective group huddle, addressed by several leaders. A genuinely "warms the cockles of your heart moment" that, I would suggest, tells you a lot about the unity of this fantastic group that we hang our hats on.

Wow. It was a genuine pleasure to be at this game. I can honestly say that this is the first time I've relaxed in the past 4 or 5 weeks, and it's the first time I can say with confidence, "that now you've got to believe us, The Jacks are staying up".

Moreover, we've done it with some style.

The contrasting Managers responses can be found here, and it was particularly heartening to see a proud Brendan Rodgers rightly praise his troops for their efforts.

Yesterday was an enervating return to the varying (principally high) tempo, press pass and move that suits us best. It was also an example to those doubters who suggest we don't have a Plan B - there was remarkable evidence to the contrary on show.

From the clever way that the side engineered channel space, from Dyer and Sinclair's effective use of space, from a tenacious and balanced "defend to attack" philosophy, from long balls (yes,from us) that count because of their surprise, from a Middle 3 of complementary talents (Adventure, Creativity, Tenacity) and
a great deal else.

I could go on, and for the rest of this season, and many more to come hopefully, I certainly intend to.

There will, of course, be a great deal more rational and tactical analysis from all of our technical staff in the week to come. Don't let's forget that our next game is likely to be a real dog-fight at Bolton, before we welcome the Wolves to the Liberty. It'll be good to say hello to two past players in Darren Pratley and Dorus de Vries, before we go our separate ways.

I can't wait for the next game - bring it on !

Onward, Swansea City.

Analysis - Guy Mowbray BBC Match of the Day commentator
Blackburn really needed something today. The only thing they got was an absolute hiding. Blackburn are in a whole lot of trouble. While it was Swansea's day, Blackburn's days as a Premier League team may be coming to an end. Four games to go - you have to think they'll need to win them all.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Swansea City v Blackburn Rovers, Brief preview, PL

Blackburn Rovers at the Liberty, Brief preview.

Given the fast turnaround of matches this week, with that painful loss at QPR still in mind, this week's preview is necessarily brief, and if you want a more in-depth squad analysis, the preview for our Away visit back in November is available here.

They have changed some players since that meeting , but the bulk of the squad has evolved into a regular and trusted pack, with their results varying from the sublime - a win Away at Old Trafford no less - to the disappointing - a recent home defeat to Liverpool included to Andy Carroll's last minute winner - a result that saw them drop back into the bottom 3.

They remain in 19th place on 28pts, so we all know how crucial is this game, since a win or even a draw would not only see us get back into some kind of form, but would confirm both our 40pt + tally, and an effort to put them nearer to the dreaded "R" position.

For that game , their line up was .....

Blackburn Rovers
01 Robinson, 03 Mn Olsson, 16 Dann, 18 Orr, 31 Hanley, 08 Dunn (Lowe - 75' ), 10 Formica (Rochina - 73' ), 15 Nzonzi, 21 Ms Olsson, 23 Hoilett, 24 Yakubu
34 Kean, 05 Givet, 12 Pedersen, 14 Petrovic, 35 Lowe, 20 Rochina, 25 Goodwillie

They lined up in a 4-1-4-1 that day with Robinson in goal, a back 4 of Orr, Hanley, Dann and Martin Olson, a holder in N'Zonzi and with Hoilett, Formica, Dunn and Marcus Olsson ahead and the Yak up front.

I watched the game, and it struck me that part of their problem was in trying to fit the players to the system, and although they fought back well from 2-0 down to get back into the game subsequent to Doni's sending off in the Liverpool goal (and the Yak missed the first penalty), they spent too long settling into any sort of settled rhythm, and were not strong enough to see off a spirited Pool revival that though it had allowed Blackburn back, were ultimately undone by that disputed last minute winner.

Late in the game, Lowe, a tricky winger replaced David Dunn and Formica made way for Rochina in the Play maker slot.

The ultimate threat in the side comes from the two players who play the furthest forward - because one thing that this team can do is to score goals.

Both David "Junior" Hoilett and Yakubu Ayegbeni are having decent seasons, with the young Canadian alerting reputedly bigger clubs for a move elsewhere at season's end (no matter what the outcome), and the Yak's foursome against us in the Away fixture still pains us Swans to this day. He has continued to score, regularly, throughout the season, and will require careful watching if we're to keep him out altogether.

I've already done an approbation of how we might line up ourselves, so on this occasion I'll repeat that for those who haven't seen it by repeating it here.

For our own line up I would not be surprised to see several changes.

Since we're at Home I expect no different than our usual 4-3-3, although I'm certain the personnel will be switched.

Common regard seems to be from Wednesday that Joey Allen looked tired, and that's no surprise given that this League drains like no other, so Mark Gower, surely, must come into consideration for that spot.

Again, lots will know I'm a Josh McEachran fan, who, I believe, will be an England regular of the future. I would not be unhappy to see him slotted into the furthest forward slot of the middle three, with the the only bugbear being does he replace, or enhance, Gylfi Sigurdsson? Personally, I'd sit the South Wales Xavi (LB) this week, and play a middle three of Gower holding, Sigurdsson deep but in front, and McEachran advanced.

ND must start on the right, with SS on the left, Time for a rest Wayne.

At the back the middle 2 are sacrosanct - no change there, but what about Alan Tate giving Angel Rangel a rest, with Neil Taylor holding his spot, just, though he could equally stand in at LB even, and his height and aerial ability will be useful.

These, of course, are just mere speculation and conjecture.

Whatever the line up put out by BR and his staff, I, and 99% of us Jacks will give the team nothing other than our greatest respect and our total support.

That's what being a fan means. If our side was casually offering us the finger as they strolled toward their Summer Holiday you'd find me happy to criticise. The fact that they are not more than demands that they both deserve and get our total support.

The remaining fixtures for us both with be absolutely crucial, so we know how much is riding on the game. We have both Wolves and Liverpool still to come to the Lib, with visits to both the Reebok and Old Trafford to fit in, too.

I'd like to think that from this fixture plus those to come we can do better than Blackburn are likely to do from their other 4, which see them with Home games against Norwich and Wigan, and Away trips to Tottenham and Chelsea.

Whatever, all we Swans will be completely behind our team tomorrow - they need us to be. Let's make sure we're the 12th man tomorrow, and hopefully we'll be saying on Sunday....

Onward, Swansea City.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

QPR v Swansea City, Match Report, PL

Sad night at Loftus Rd.

Swansea's latest trip to the capital, to meet QPR's finest , turned into an occasion where the sides were differently pleased with the outcome, since both sides had gone their individual ways since that last, Boxing Day meeting, and have differing outcomes likely still at the end of this season.

Or is that the case? Well, I'm wobbling, but I put that down to the disappointment of last night's defeat - whatever, I intend to have a bloody large scotch tonight, the better to put me in a more mellow mood.

QPR had recalled Zamora up front, and Joey Barton in MF, whilst Swansea replaced Nathan Dyer with Scott Sinclair, and Luke Moore with Danny Graham.

The teams lined up thus........

Queens Park Rangers
01 Kenny, 03 Hill, 34 Taiwo, 35 Ferdinand, 42 Onuoha, 02 Diakite, 07 Taarabt, 14 Buzsaky, 17 Barton, 12 Mackie, 52 Zamora
24 Cerny, 06 Gabbidon, 18 Young, 32 Wright-Phillips, 09 Campbell, 10 Bothroyd, 21 Smith

Swansea City
01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair, 15 Routledge, 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 16 Monk, 12 Dyer, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 19 Moore

Ref: Probert

Some will have noticed that I'm generally speaking pretty promptly in my after match keenness to get down in text how the game we're looking at has gone, but I must confess that some 24hrs (almost) from kick off last night, this is the first time today that I've felt able to get some thoughts down, and I have a feeling that I'm not the only Swansea City fan who feels so grumpy and humpy after last night's debacle.

Is it fair to call it that? Just, I think, since when we perform admirably I'm quick enough to praise it effusively - too much some would say- so let's just go with it.

I think what's got me into this lather is not the result - after all, on a night of premiership football that saw Wigan knock off the Champs elect at the DW, and Man City paste a WBA (who are on the same points as us, remember?) it wasn't that great a shock to see a side that has recently beaten both Arsenal and Liverpool at the same venue see us off comfortably.

No, it was more that in our recent bad run where we've lost successively to Everton, Tottenham and Newcastle our performances in each of those games gave us some scope for encouragement, since we competed admirably in each.

Last night, we just didn't.

It was as if all of our shortcomings, individual errors and lack of ability to change gear all came to haunt us at once, in one singular game. As I've said before, at Swansea City, it was ever thus.

Having got that off my chest, let's have a brief look at the bloody game, although it makes for a painful reading.

The start of the match was one of these where neither side seemed overly fussed to make an attacking effort, but since QPR were at home, natural momentum took them forward more often than Swansea, much to my frustration.

Still, what City did do, and don't we always, was to secure the bulk of possession, which seems to have opened a can of worms on GB's and MB's of our Club, as if we were doing this simply to frustrate our fans as much as we seemed to frustrate theirs last night - evident from the R's supporters chanting "It's just like watching paint dry" during this early period of ascendancy/equality.

To be fair, neither side created anything you could describe as a gilt edged chance, with Swansea's best efforts being a 14th m Gylfi Sigurdsson corner, headed on by Steven Caulker to leave Scott Sinclair almost free to stab in at the far post post, only to see his air-shot and the combined attentions of Taiwo and Barton to frustrate the effort. Similarly, further set pieces where Ash Williams threatened, and either Sigurdsson or Allen shaped to shoot were re-buffed by the vital press and close of the Rangers tacklers.

QPR, for their part, had threatened from an early Buzsaky strike (wide), and a Taarabt dribble and run, closed down at the death. On 20m, Zamora laid off a ball to Mackie, but his scuffed shot saw Vorm gather comfortably.

Later in the half it became evident that Rangers were pressing higher and further up the field, all the better to disturb the Swans' patient distribution, and I began nervously glancing at the clock to see how far we had to go to get to the mid-game break on even terms.

You will know now, if you're a Swansea supporter, that what was feeling almost inevitable was about to happen. Needless to say, it did.

Even as it approached half time,with the officials showing a bare minute to hold fast, Neil Taylor gave away a sloppy throw when he let the ball run out without giving his full attention, and then compounded the error by fouling Bobby Zamora wide out on the right, with less than that minute to go showing to half time.

From a ball swung in hopefully the Swans Angel Rangel headed it clear but only to the odious Joey Barton, 10 yds out on the left, and his near post drive beat Vorm before the keeper could get down. What a soft goal to give away, particularly so close to half time. Oh, but we MUST learn, and this was a bitter pill to swallow.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the perennially nauseating Barton had been booed off by his own supporters, so it felt somewhat incongruous to hear him serenaded as the teams left the pitch at the break, with him feted that "there's only one Joey Barton" - undoubtedly a Truism, thank God,- ringing in his ears as his ecstatic team-mates mobbed him for his success. Karma, folks,'ll get you in the end, Joseph.

At half time Alan Tate replaced the already booked Neil Taylor and Wayne Routledge went off to be replaced by Nathan Dyer.

From that important perk in the very last breath of the half, QPR came back energised, and proceeded to take more of the game to the Swans.

This is one of the few occasions when I can say that we were really "not at it", so when the second goal went in in the 55th minute from a deflected Jamie Mackie shot, we couldn't really complain, since we weren't really in the game at any which way you like to call. Oh my word, I hate describing these types of games, where the side just can't seem to get in it. C'est la vie.

From a Rangers move that developed on the right, Mackie took control some 30yds out, and maneuvered room for a shot. His low, skimming drive clipped Rangel's heels and the diversion completely wrong footed the already committed Vorm, entering the net on the right of the goal as the keeper went left.

Swansea's best threat came shortly after, when from a cross Caulker's header was only kept out by Clint Hill's intervention, although Danny Graham nodded narrowly over from a free kick awarded after he'd been brought down on the right and late. Inches, even if against the run of play.

Again there was a good corner from Sigurdsson (who's dead ball delivery is excellent), but Rangers saw it out.

On 67m came the final nail in the coffin, when an absolutely stunning strike from 30 yds by Buzsaky beat Vorm's dive comfortably. The move had originated from the left, and left Adel Taarabt able to lay the Hungarian clear some 30yds out again, but the way he steered it clear to give him an opportunity brooked no intervention, so when his clean hit took to the air it was one of those where you know that with the ball not spinning the pace and accuracy is likely to take it in. It did, 3-0, and we were down and out.

At this stage we were taking a pounding and I was only hopeful that we'd keep Rangers out and from not causing further embarrassment, so each and every interception and denial at least kept the status quo.

A 75th m corner, so sloppily executed, was only indicative of our bad performance on the night.

This had been, in my eyes, our worst performance of the year, without a doubt, and I'm only glad that it's come now, at a point in the season where we've hopefully done enough previously to make our remaining games sufficient to get us over the finish line without specifically mentioning the "R" word.

You know exactly what I mean.

At last night's game, the R's were the most animated and committed throughout, and I never ever felt as if we were at least "in the game", being undone by a more lively and engaged performance.

I feel hugely sad saying this, but it's important that we realise that every single game counts in this ultimate division, and we really weren't at the races, for whatever reason.

It's hard to explain what went wrong- we all saw it after all - and you can be sure that each and every member of the squad will know that that level of performance is not satisfactory, so forgive me from giving the finger to all of those who "slag-off" our team without trying to explain and understand.

I had a correspondence this week with a friend who's also a "glass-half-full" supporter, just like me, and we both agreed that when you get a performance like that it hurts but you re-double your support.

From BR's post match interview, and from the way we've approached the body of the season, I expect no less than a bounce back against the still struggling Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

Many of us will remember from that Away day at Blackburn that we were ultimately undone by a match winning performance from Yakubu Ayegbeni, the Yak, but an equally dominant performance from the now departed Christopher Samba - gone to the Shekels of Anzi. And good riddance, on our part.

For our own line up I would not be surprised to see several changes.

Since we're at Home I expect no different than our usual 4-3-3, although I'm certain the personnel will be switched.

Common regard seems to be from Wednesday that Joey Allen looked tired, and that's no surprise given that this League drains like no other, so Mark Gower, surely, must come into consideration for that spot.

Again, lots will know I'm a Josh McEachran fan, who, I believe, will be an England regular of the future. I would not be unhappy to see him slotted into the furthest forward slot of the middle three, with the the only bugbear being does he replace, or enhance, Gylfi Sigurdsson? Personally, I'd sit the South Wales Xavi (LB) this week, and play a middle three of Gower holding, Sigurdsson deep but in front, and McEachran advanced.

ND must start on the right, with SS on the left, Time for a rest Wayne.

At the back the middle 2 are sacrosanct - no change there, but what about Tatey giving AR a rest, with Tayls holding his spot, just?

These, of course, are just mere speculation and conjecture.

Whatever the line up put out by BR and his staff, I, and 99% of us Jacks will give the team nothing other than our greatest respect and our total support.

That's what being a fan means. If our side was casually offering us the finger as they strolled toward their Summer Holiday you'd find me happy to criticise. The fact that they are not more than demands that they both deserve and get our total support.

Onward, and hopefully upwards, Swansea City (if only a little)