Malcolm Dawson writes…. After the euphoria of the win over West Ham and subsequent disappointment of the FA Cup exit to Bolton, I was hoping for an eight point return from the next four league games. Well here we are half way through with four points in the bag but last night was no cause for celebration. I am not one to criticise the team vociferously during a match, feeling that negative vibes transmit to the players and do nothing to lift the team, but last night even I was feeling frustrated with the lack of penetration from our boys. The Swans gave us a lesson in how to retain possession and get forward, though to be fair until Bramble’s back got in the way right at the death, I never really thought we’d concede either. It was a night when I could have stayed home with a couple of bottles of Black Sheep and switched over to “Death in Paradise” as the game sought to define my boredom threshold. It doesn’t seem that our regular reporter Pete Sixsmith was too enamoured either. Here is his take on a mediocre night of Premiership football.
The words dour and dire are quite close to each other in my Oxford Compact Dictionary.
Let’s deal with the dour first, because that is where we take any positives from and goodness knows we need to look for some. So, take a bow John O’Shea and Titus Bramble who held the centre of our defence together and stopped Swansea from taking advantage of our feeble efforts in midfield and up front.
Both players were mightily impressive in thwarting the Swans. Both read the game really well, with astute interceptions and powerful headers. It wasn’t until the last few minutes that their resolve cracked and Swansea were able to create a couple of good chances – one of which should have been converted. Thanks for that Alex Dyer.
But it made for dour stuff as we defended for the majority of the game. Fletcher worked very hard up front and Sessegnon sparkled for twenty minutes or so at the start of the second half, but we were somewhat lacking in the imagination department for most of the ninety minutes.
I’m afraid the dire takes up more room than the dour. The OCD define it as ‘calamitous, dreadful, ominous’ and, as a British colloquialism for ‘very bad’. It’s perhaps a little harsh to describe the whole performance in these terms, but there were elements of it that we deserved.
Our midfield was as weak as it has been all season and never once got to grips with the far slicker passing style that Michael Laudrup has brought to South Wales. N’Diaye looked like a little boy lost as Swansea simply passed the ball around him. It got to the stage where it looked like a training routine where the ball had to be kept away from the prospective tackler or, as the man behind me said, “Looks like the game I play with my Jack Russell where I just roll the ball around and he chases it. Never caught it yet”.
Both he and Vaughan struggled to get into the game in the second half, and Vaughan was put into his least favourite position of turning with the ball as Swansea worked him out. He gave it away twice in dangerous areas, almost causing a goal on one occasion and looking more of a liability than an asset.
Consequently, all we could do was lump the ball up front and the fluency and fluidity that we showed against Wigan and West Ham was conspicuous by its absence. We find it very difficult to create against a crowded midfield and give possession away far too cheaply. Against some sides you get it back quickly, but not against a side like Swansea, whose football culture is dedicated to retaining the ball and using it.
In fact, it wasn’t a very enjoyable night at all. The crowd was a respectable size but was not particularly encouraging. There is a feeling amongst many of us that this isn’t why we come to football to watch a goalless draw in which we fail to have one serious goal attempt in ninety minutes.
The effort the players put in is appreciated, but the lack of an incisive final ball is a real worry for those of us who remember the likes of George Herd, Ian Porterfield, Tony Towers, Paul Bracewell, Lee Clarke, Claudio Reyna – all players who could open up a tight defence and find that one telling pass that leads to a goal opportunity.
And then, we have the South Stand, the self-styled singing area. At its best, as against West Ham and Manchester City, it creates an atmosphere which we more restrained types will pick up and turn into a scaled down Roker Roar. At its worst, it can be an embarrassment.
Last night was one of those. A song about the infamous Swansea ball boy included a word that is offensive to all female supporters and most male ones. The song about Danny Graham sung by enough that it would be audible to him, was downright stupid.
Here we are, struggling to score goals and on the verge of signing a young man who has shown that he knows how to do it, and he is described as ‘scum’ by a vociferous minority. Maybe the financial recompense will be sufficient for him to shrug it off, but if he has any second thoughts about the move, fails to complete it and then Steven Fletcher tears his ligaments on Saturday, we can point the finger at those ‘supporters’ who may have discouraged him.
If a player is good enough, it doesn’t matter who he supported as a boy or who he supports now. That player is a professional who should be quite capable of playing well and scoring against the team he loves. It never stopped Mick Harford from banging them in against us and I am sure that the game is littered with players who have scored against the team they have supported since they were toddlers.
Finally, what about Swansea City? Lovely team to watch, far more incisive than last season and looking like a team that is settled into Premier League football. They will do very well to retain Michael Laudrup in the near future if he is desperately ambitious, but he is a far better manager and personality than Brendan Rogers. Michu was quiet but looked quality and I really liked Ben Davies, particularly when he went forward.
Chico Flores is a good centre half but his histrionics spoiled a good performance. O’Shea had a not very quiet word with him when he went down on his knees in our box in the first half and his rolling around in his own box in the second half would have graced, er, a Swansea ball boy.
Two contrasting views on management; prosaic from Martin O’Neill, expansive from Michael Laudrup. By 9.30 last night I know which one I would have preferred.