Whenever I think of Swansea City the first person that comes to mind is Elis James, who is one of my favourite broadcasters and comedians and happens to be a massive fan of the club.
His love of the game seems to be very similar to my own and to my mind he was the perfect choice as one of the co-hosts for Sky Max’s new reboot of the classic Fantasy Football League, the first episode of which featured Darren Bent’s infamous ‘beachball goal’ for the Lads from 2009.
Back then Sunderland had begun spending big money on players and were starting to establish themselves in the Premier League, but it was often a slog and the regular battles against relegation became draining. We now find ourselves in a very different place however, and whilst some of the glitz has gone I cannot say I am too fussed – 2022-23 is arguably on course to be one of the most encouraging seasons in our recent history, and it has been refreshing to watch a club trying a different model.
Supporters of sides like Swansea and Sunderland are not in it for the glamour after all; the highs can be brilliant, but at what cost? If you cannot relate to the players and you cannot afford to watch them with your friends and family, it can be hard not to lose heart. Worse still, the financial issues felt at both clubs since relegation from the topflight put them in real danger – and that is when what is important becomes clear.
There is a plan in place and effort on the pitch, and that is why I am content for now with the idea of the squad trying to evolve at a suitable pace. It doesn’t make watching the matches themselves any easier however, and it is hard to remain sanguine when the side goes behind to such an unfortunate Swansea goal - the Lads had dealt very well with the pressure that Preston North End and Blackpool had put them under during the last two fixtures, so to then concede to a deflection makes you feel a little cheated.
Despite starting the campaign slowly, the home side have raced up the table recently and secured a late win at Watford in midweek. Oli Cooper’s opener increased their confidence further, and suddenly the pattern changed – instead of taking on a side that liked to play on the break and would perhaps suit them, Sunderland were now up against a team that were able to just hold and keep shape. Added to the much discussed shortages in the striker department it made for a frustrating first half, one which ended in the worst possible way.
Whether you consider the second goal to have been unlucky or feel the danger should have been cleared depends on whether you are a glass half full or half empty type of person, I guess. The ball into the box could have easily ricocheted out or been cleared away on another day, but Harry Darling’s poke probably gave an unfair reflection on the opening 45 – Swansea were full of energy and ideas whilst the Lads were far from their best, but I’m not sure it was a 2-0 game at that stage.
The scoreline didn’t stay that way for long mind. Oddly given the way the first half went, the hosts were much more open after the break and it led to them looking shaky at points, but despite Jack Clarke’s cool finish to bring his side back into it, Sunderland couldn’t test Steven Benda enough thereafter. There were some long range shots charged down and an Amad opening, but not much else – and Russell Martin’s team were inevitably happy to see things descend into a scrap.
After being helpless to prevent the two goals he did concede, Anthony Patterson’s reflexes and awareness remained as sharp as ever on the occasions the Jacks looked to wrap things up. There was solace to be had too in the fact Sunderland ‘won’ the second half, but after all the positives we’ve had this season, this was one of the poorer showings; not a mauling by any stretch, but a case of being on the wrong side of some fine margins and of course the obligatory baffling decisions from the officials.
None of the calls proved defining moments admittedly, and with the experience of Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus this of defeat can end up being a blessing in disguise. Progress is still evident, and the side can learn from such a narrow loss if they take what the coaching staff have to say on board. There is a week until the fixture as well, so after the first loss in five the opportunity is there to take stock and refocus.
Lesson one however might need to be on throwing the kitchen sink at things late on. Even though they didn’t fire on all cylinders at any point the chance of a late point was still open yet, much like the rest of the game, the moment seemed to pass Sunderland by. Not quite Fantasy Football on this occasion sadly.
My Man of the Match: Corry Evans. This might seem like an odd shout I know – there have been occasions where Evans was more influential than he was in Wales, but I feel with him now suspended it could be a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. Whilst one or two got worked up and allowed themselves to get drawn into unnecessary chew the skipper remains a calming influence, and that is going to be an asset whenever he plays.