Sunday, 13 May 2018

Congratulations, Southampton

Saints snapped up the (to my mind) unjustifiably discarded Stoke manager Mark Hughes, and turned their season round, just as he had turned the Wales international side round in his first managerial appointment. He restored belief, and method, to a team which had seemed resigned to the Premier League trapdoor. As the two teams' comparative results in April stacked up, there was an inevitability about the result of the crucial clash at the Liberty. Hughes may well drive Southampton on to a top ten finish next season.

What of Swansea? Lifetime fan, writer and cultural historian Peter Stead, on Radio Wales, was justifiably in despair at what has happened to the team since the great days of Barca-on-the-Bay. However, he goes too far in dismissing all the players as poor. There are several who would grace any Premier League side (and probably will in 2018/19). There are several other good players who could be very good under the right management but one must admit have been "marking it" since signing for the Swans. It is clear, though, that there have been too many replacements worse than the men sold.

Fabianski has been outstanding, on and off the pitch. Mawson was a great capture and is certainly a better central defender now than the transferred Ashley Williams has become at Goodison Park. Without those two, Swans could well have been down weeks before Stoke. The Ayew brothers and Abraham have shown that they can score goals given the right sort of service. Welsh junior internationals Connor Roberts and Daniel James offered a glimpse of the future. (How many of these will we hang on to in the Championship?)

What could have been was briefly on show in the Cup match and replay against Notts County, an up--and-coming side from the lower divisions. It is remarkable that the goals scored in just that one fixture were a third of Swansea's total haul in the whole Premier League season up until today's matches. The key factor was that County ceded control of midfield to Swansea, enabling City to play the sort of passing football reminiscent of Martinez' and Rodgers' times - tantalisingly, for one day only. If Swans had the players to contest the midfield day in and day out at Premier League level, players of the quality of Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson who were sold by City, things might have been different.

The club must use the Premier League "parachute payment" well, ploughing it into team development, not for the short-term purchase of the offerings of the agents on whom Swans became too dependent - or worse still, passing it on to the owners. The next manager, too, must be committed to providing a firm basis for the future.

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