A Boxing Day visit to South Wales.
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The last time we played Swansea was when they visited us in the final Saturday home game last season at Upton Park in May. After the game Mark Noble described it as “a bad day at the office”. And it certainly was. For those of you in your rose-tinted glasses who remember Upton Park as a “fortress” I will remind you that they inflicted on us our heaviest home defeat of the season, beating us 4-1. It was the second time in what was generally considered to be a very good season that we conceded four goals at home; Bournemouth had also put that number of goals in our net early in the campaign. I guess the Swansea game was quickly forgotten when Manchester United were the visitors just three days later in that memorable last game at the Boleyn Ground.
Our last trip to play them in South Wales was almost exactly a year ago when in a “Super Sunday” game we picked up an away point in a tedious 0-0 draw. It was our third 0-0 draw in a row just before last Christmas, and at the time we hadn’t won a game since our victory over Chelsea in October. Swansea finished the season in a respectable twelfth position.
They are another club who have moved home in recent years. Just over ten years ago they left their home at the Vetch Field and began a new chapter at the Liberty Stadium. They were in League One at the time in the third tier of the English pyramid. A couple of years later they won promotion to the Championship under Roberto Martinez, and in 2011-12 they were back in the top tier again, where they have remained since.
The following season, in our first Premier League game away from home after our return, they thumped us 3-0, but the following February we exacted our revenge with an Andy Carroll goal. Like ourselves they finished in mid-table, both of us on 46 points, though they pipped us on goal difference to finish ninth.
In 2013-14 they once again finished in the position just above us (twelfth). At their place we played out a goalless draw, and the return in February saw Kevin Nolan bag a brace in a 2-0 victory, a game remembered mainly for the clash of the pony tails, when the play-acting antics of Chico Flores got Andy Carroll sent off (unjustly) by Howard Webb.
A season later two Andy Carroll goals and one from Sakho gave us a 3-1 victory at Upton Park, and Carroll was again on the scoresheet when we drew 1-1 in the return match. Swansea finished eighth that season (to our twelfth).
This season their fortunes have declined and they currently prop up the Premier League alongside Hull on 12 points, with just three victories and three draws in their seventeen games. They won 1-0 at Burnley in their opening game, and recently notched up home victories over Palace (5-4), and Sunderland (3-0). They have the worst defensive record in the division, having conceded 37 goals.
Of course we bought Andrew Ayew from them in the summer, and I hope that he can get on the scoresheet in this game. They have one player who always stands out for me when I see them play, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and he is someone who is never mentioned as a potential transfer target, but is a creative midfielder who scores goals. I’d like to see him playing in our team.
Of course we go into the game on the back of picking up seven points from our last three games, despite not playing convincingly, and we could do with another positive result to extend the gap between ourselves and the relegation zone. Carroll has a good goalscoring record against Swansea, and Ayew should be looking to open his account for us against his former employers. Obiang will unfortunately be missing due to suspension, which is a pity as in my opinion he has been our best player this season, playing a vital midfield role. I’d like to see Kouyate pushed forward to play in midfield, but I don’t think it will happen. I fear that Nordtveit will play in Obiang’s position, but he hasn’t yet convinced me of his ability to play in the Premier League, despite the good reviews he received for his Bundesliga performances and for the Norwegian national team.
The transfer window opens shortly and it will be interesting to see if any of the 4,256 players linked to us in the media actually arrive. I know who I’d like to see heading out; there are some very obvious candidates. It would be great if those involved with procuring players kept their silence until players actually do arrive.
Personally I’d like us to splash out on a proven goalscorer like Defoe (which of course wouldn’t be popular with some of our supporters), a creative midfielder who can score goals (like Sigurdsson for example), and a proper right back. I’d like to see Burke recalled from his loan, Oxford given a chance when he has recovered from injury, and perhaps one or two of the development squad drafted in to see what they can do. Martinez seems to score goals for fun at that level; perhaps he can step up?
Three points would of course be great, but I predict a 1-1 draw.