Thanks to a run of five wins in six league games, Swansea City have shot up the Championship table under boss Russell Martin.
The Swans now find themselves outside the play-off places on goal difference alone following Tuesday’s heartening 3-2 victory over Reading, where the hosts came back from 2-0 down to win.
Martin arrived at the club in August last year and only had six days to equip the players for his extreme, possession-heavy methods before the start of the previous league campaign.
So, after a 15th-placed finish with some good form and performances from February onwards, many hoped that a full summer of preparation would bear fruit for the head coach and his side.
And while the direction this season is heading in is far from certain, the indications are that patience has been a virtue for the Championship’s form side, as Luke from Swans Cast discusses.
“We’ve had a very good run to win five in six, and it wasn’t expected given some of the teams we played.”
The one game that didn’t go to plan in that sequence was the 4-0 loss at Burnley, where Joel Piroe’s red card compounded a miserable afternoon, but Luke believes context is important.
“Burnley have gone to the top of the table since the result, and have one of the stronger squads in the Championship.
“That’s not to say we shouldn’t have done better on the day – the team and the manager clearly got it wrong – but we responded against Reading which was vital.”
Swansea showed character to come from two goals behind to secure victory over the Royals, thanks to goals from Harry Darling, Oli Cooper and Jay Fulton.
After that game, Russ Martin said the players are “really starting to believe in themselves” – but do the fans believe in their manager?
“You could say the jury is still out. He hasn’t fully convinced the entire fanbase, there are vocal camps for and against him.
“The main reasons for this comes from the elation of a four-match winning run that has turned our season around, and did a lot to help some doubters back him.
“Others saw the 4-0 defeat at Burnley as a red flag and this inconsistency has been present in some capacity throughout his reign.
“You are also right to mention the style. Earlier in the season, it seemed the focus was to keep the ball and retain 70% possession, even at the cost of goals and more importantly, results.
“This had got better, Martin had tweaked things, and its improved.
“We need to see this continue, maintain a challenge at this end of the table, and Martin may finally show everyone he is the man for the job.”
One thing the former MK Dons boss can do, though, is spot a centre-back, having been one himself.
Harry Darling moved from the League One club after a stellar 2021-22 campaign, although the 23-year-old has had to settle for a place on the bench at times.
“That’s been a surprise to us all,” says Luke, “but it’s largely due to the form of Ben Cabango and Nathan Wood, the latter seemingly adapting to the club a lot faster having also signed this summer.”
“Darling did cover Kyle Naughton for a few games whilst he was out injured, and there’s definitely more to come from him.”
The 6’2” defender started ahead of Naughton in midweek and scored a fantastic header, but might have done better for Reading’s second goal, yet it’s at the other end of the pitch where Luke raises doubts.
“We have a fantastic pair in Piroe and Michael Obafemi up top, but I’m not sure we have seen the best of either this term, with both missing chances and not hitting the goal scoring heights of last season.”
Piroe has four goals for the campaign and Obafemi has two, after bagging 22 and 12 respectively in 2021-22.
“The quicker we can correct this, the better,” Luke says.
“We have been sharing the goals around the team this season, but you need your main scorers hitting the net regularly to challenge, and Martin needs to work out how to get the goals flowing from those key men once again.”
While Swansea have their immediate ambitions of pushing for the top six, they also want to produce talent from their academy, with four homegrown players featuring this season (technically five, but that’s including Joe Allen).
“Promoting youth is a necessity at Swansea as we don’t have the biggest budget, and the sell-ons keep the club’s finances ticking.
“We have been very blessed in recent years with some top quality youth players coming through the ranks, and yes, Oli Cooper is the next to begin to make a name for himself, being very impressive this season so far.
“I would expect to see Martin try and dabble in the youth system, the longer he stays at the club.
“He has had a look at another, Cameron Congreve, though he has not been around the first team in a number of weeks.
“Martin has been offering him some minutes over the last few months, so could be one to look out for in the future.”
In terms of the more immediate future, Luke expects his side to be in a similar position come May.
“I do feel a play-off push is realistic,” he says, “but I cannot see us challenging for the automatic promotion places: we are not consistent enough, nor do we have the depth.
“I couldn’t say I’m confident at all in any sort of prediction right now. If I had to say, I think we will just miss out on the top six. 8th.”
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