SWANS CRUELLY CULLED
Mickey Blue Eyes
All veteran football devotees know fans enthusiasm for the sport waxes and wanes according to circumstances and age. People come and go; the latter are soon replaced, nature abhorring a vacuum. As a child you are overawed by the sheer spectacle and colour of it all......generally, you either take to it immediately or you don't. If you do, as time goes by you get more interested in details and history especially if it turns out you cannot make a good player. It can become a mania or a hobby as you willingly absorb yourself in the notion of a club community and its tribal loyalties. If you are not careful it can become wildly unhealthy during hormonal adolescence when mind and body lurch bewilderingly out of sync. Acne and rapid growth imbalance may be problems but at that age football can be much worse.
Time passes, details obsession usually fades, and each match is taken on its merits. After which, coping with periods of success or decline is largely a matter of individual temperament. If you stick with the game the chances are you become more "philosophical" and sensible. As in other areas of life, some can deal with it, some can't. At the extremes some are tolerant and affectionate, some - the most unfortunate - remain pickled in chauvinist resentment or even hatred. Those with common sense are somewhere between. Ultimately it is a game and nothing more and you go beyond that at the risk of your mental health. Yet where would any human activity be without the engine of obsessional enthusiasm? Even in our current financial position I have yet to meet an Evertonian who did not want desperately to win every game of every contest we enter. This is exactly right, since of course there is no point engaging a competitive sport unless you, er, compete.
And who better examples footy waxing and waning than vertiginous Swansea City, formerly Swansea Town? There is an odd sort of De Cymru symmetry with chaos at Cardiff City. Against tremendous odds Swansea's modern history reads like a 1950s boys' comic. Between 1977 and 1986 they went from the old Fourth Division to the First Division......then all the way back down again. Owners came and went. In 1985 the club was wound up by court order but saved by a local businessman. In season 1995-96 they had four managers in one season. Over the years various consortia fought for ownership. In 2001 they were sold for £1. They only avoided relegation to the Football Conference in the final game of that season.
Then they once again set off on the promotion trail and ended up in the Premier League in 2011. In 2013 they won the League Cup, a trophy which is a source of huge irritation to us because we have never managed to collect it. Along the way they acquired a splendid new little stadium to replace their old slum, the Vetch Field. This season they competed well in the Europa League. Michael Laudrup, a dispassionate transient, came and went as manager. If you wrote it as soap opera nobody would believe you. But what the rollicking experience has done to the heads of Swansea supporters is an intriguing moot question. It is likely they cannot decide to laugh or cry, twist or bust, or, to use an old colloquialism, to shit, shave or shampoo. Frankly, it makes this fan shudder: in the current era it could so easily be us, may yet be if there is a series of disastrous financial decisions.
As Saturday's match dawned City were fourteenth in the league table, four points and two games from the dread maw of a relegation fight. We were a handy sixth, two points behind Tottenham with two games in hand on them in fifth: fourth place is still mathematically possible but nothing short of a sensational all-victories run and a comparative collapse above us could get us there. Still, fight on to last man last round. There is really no option.
The weather was equal to Swansea's yoyo existence. The day began in bright clear sunshine but then deteriorated into high grey clouds loosing occasional sheets of cold rain, sun every now and then, thus confirming this layman's opinion that winter has advanced a month to include March.
When I saw the team I feared the worst: still no Pienaar or Jagielka, veterans both, but still crucial to our team play. Initially, Mirallas wide left, McGeady wide right, Ross Barkley back in place of Osman. Mirallas and McGeady soon switched but it made no difference because both were unable to combine with Coleman or Baines - or anyone else for that matter; the irony was they created a goal each. Experience shows we are stop-start without the two veterans......and unfortunately so it proved in yet another gruelling match. From our biased point of view the first half was awful, Swansea clearly the better team for most of it. The position reversed in the second half when we were best for a half hour, though the game finished with Swansea on top again. Still, a 3-2 win is a win and we could take comfort from its balance against some of the ridiculous draws we suffered earlier in the season. Fortunes are levelling out at a toll on our footy sensibilities.
We might have known what was coming when their electric-haired centre forward tried a long distance shot almost immediately. A few minutes later he had another attempt that got smothered before it could do any damage. After which Swansea took control, had a string of corners, and captain-for-the-day Tim Howard had to make a couple of sterling saves to keep us in it. A Swansea score seemed just a matter of time, especially when Bainsey had to give away a free kick because he was left uncovered by McGeady. When it was taken it ricocheted off McCarthy in the wall and bounced narrowly past Tim's right hand post while his body weight was completely on his left, as was the Street End's.
Unable to string more than two or three passes, it took us twenty minutes to mount our first threatening attack following scrappy midfield ping-pong; a hastily cleared up-and-under from John Stones at right mid got Ross Barkley clear on our left. He double-stepped a Samurai topknot defender inside the angle of the penalty area, got bowled over, and Bainsey stuck the penalty away on their 'keeper's right. It was hard on Swansea, but who cared except for their small band of followers in the corner. A cruel game, football.
It was all Swansea deserved when they equalised a quarter hour later. It was a superb flowing move through the middle, out wide left, a check inside, Bainsey-type cross to an unmarked man beyond the far post, a ground clip inside and their centre forward banged it home from close in. It was the kind of co-ordinated move we were unable to find until the second half. Both Mirallas and McGeady were often AWOL as partner-defenders, while they were unable to make any combination moves with Baines and Coleman. As a result our team play was completely disrupted. At this stage Swansea looked likely winners. But these days the game usually changes dramatically after half time, so I clung to straws and muttered, "This can only get better" to anyone who cared to listen.
Ten minutes after the restart we scored two in five minutes to completely knock the wind out of the enemy. Lukaku got the first, Barkley the second. Later, we could have had two more but missed one-on-ones with Swansea's defence all over the place.
It looked like the opportunity had gone with the first goal when Lukaku trod on the ball left of the D, then tackled back, regained it, spread it wide right to Mirallas, and raced back into the centre when the ball came in, and he buried it from close range, a near carbon copy of the Swansea equaliser.
Five minutes on, a period of pressure ended with a corner to us on our left. McGeady took it right footed and swerved it mildly into the goal area, where somehow it evaded everybody, bounced once and Ross Barkley stooped to butt it home at the far post. You could almost see the enemy wilt at the unexpected turn of events. Their defence, especially the broad shouldered Williams at centre back, had looked more than capable up to then. Such is football. Not that Swansea gave up the ghost. Tim Howard had to make two marvellous saves to keep them out. Still they kept coming until the final whistle and got a well deserved second when an unmarked Williams glanced home a header from a right side corner in the last minute. But it was too late. We had our eighth win in a row at Goodison.
So here we are, fifth again as I write. Plainly, El Bob has decided those two disastrous four goal defeats at Castle Dracula and the Julie Andrews Arena were enough for one season. (In one of my worst petty moods I have to say how satisfied I was at Chelsea's six goal drubbing of Arsene's Arse). You can tell Martinez has changed his mind by the way he makes short work of chewing gum and sudden discard of the beaming smile, let alone the evidence of your own eyes. This time, I am glad to say, he has taken it personal and serious ; alas, this is at the price of smooth footy, though of course this is also related to the aforesaid absence of Jags and Peanuts. At present we have the phenomenally talented John Stones as long term replacement for Jags (but who for Sylvain Distin?), though obviously he needs to get some more solid muscle on him and more experience under his belt. Unless there is a complete change in the way they play, McGeady and Mirallas will never be able to achieve the same combination play with Baines: they are totally different types of player who are brilliant in flashes. In midfield we have the raw promise of Ross Barkley and James McCarthy, but getting another full season out of Gareth Barry and Darron Gibson diminishes with every week. Up front, Lukaku will be gone at season end and in any case does not seem to have that final oomph for a twenty goals a season striker. However good Deulofeu may or may not be, he too is temporary and will probably be back at Barcelona after this season.
Tuesday night at Newcastle and next Sunday at Fulham will tell whether we have the strength to hold off Tottenham and Manchester United in the race for fifth and the Europa League. In theory we should win both; if we don't, sixth looks like our best hope. In my view fourth would be a footy miracle, so I have dismissed it from my mind whatever El Bob (necessarily) says.
In these circumstance who would be a manager?