We had a memorable cup night at the Liberty Stadium in 2006 but haven’t faced Swansea in the league since the last days of the Vetch Field. That will all change two weeks tomorrow in our first televised Championship game. Let’s check in on goings on with the Swans.
Founded: 1912 (as Swansea Town)
Ground: Liberty Stadium (since 2005, capacity 21,088)
Second tier seasons: 40 (+9 top flight)
Major honours: League Cup (2012/13)
Last season: 6th in Championship (lost to Brentford in play-off semi-finals)
After a reacclimatising 10th place finish the year before, Swansea’s run to the play-offs didn’t come as a surprise, as such – but they did leave it late! One of the several gripping storylines of the Championship’s final day unfolded in Berkshire. Swansea travelled to Reading needing a six-goal swing in order to leapfrog Nottingham Forest into 6th – and they did it with a goal to spare, running out 4-1 winners as Forest imploded by the same scoreline at home to Stoke.
Still on a high from the miracle of the Madesjki, Swansea would have been dreaming of a South Wales derby at Wembley after beating Brentford 1-0 in a controversial semi-final first leg. Alas, it wasn’t to be as they and Cardiff fell at the first hurdle. All things considered, though, 2019/20 was an encouraging start to the Steve Cooper era.
The gaffer: Steve Cooper
Appointed: June 2019
Previously managed: England U17, England U16, Liverpool youth, Wrexham youth
Played for: Porthmadog, Bangor City, Rhyl, The New Saints, Wrexham
Stoke league record: P41, W12, D11, L18
The son of a former professional referee, Keith Cooper, the Swans boss began studying for his coaching badges as a player in the late 90s. When he earned his UEFA Pro Licence at just 27, he became one of the youngest coaches ever to do so. Most notably, he was in charge of the England 2017 U17 World Cup-winning side – which featured new Wycombe goalkeeper Curtis Anderson, of course.
Fan thoughts (with Ben Church)
Swansea fell short in the play-offs last season, but was there a sense that it was too soon to go back up and, if so, did that make it slightly easier to take? There was a sense that it was too soon, but that didn’t make it much easier to take. The finances at the club since relegation in 2018 have been pretty bleak. Player sales now exceed £80m over the last two seasons and costs have been continuously cut in a bid to stabilise the club. Promotion would have secured our financial future, and there is now a significant sense of pressure on the club to get promoted this season as we enter our final year with parachute payments.
Steve Cooper wasn’t a household name when he got the job last year, but what is he all about? Is it too early to talk about ‘Cooperball’? The biggest asset that Steve Cooper has brought is his contact book. Such is his reputation at youth level with England, Swansea have been able to sign Rhian Brewster, Connor Gallagher, Ben Wilmot, Sam Surridge, Marc Guehi, Freddie Woodman and Morgan-Gibbs White on loan deals since he’s joined the club. Seemingly, if a youngster from the Premier League is heading out on loan to the Championship, Swansea will always be at the front of the queue if they are interested.
Admittedly, myself and many other Swans fans weren’t Cooper’s biggest fans for the majority of last season (although that is no longer the case). After a bright start which saw us rise to the top of the table at the end of August, we endured a miserable spell of 10 wins from our next 35 games. The football was slow; we rarely played out from the back; and we constantly relied on individual brilliance to pick up points.
However, we came back after lockdown and transformed into a cohesive footballing machine. A switch from a disorganised and lacklustre 4-2-3-1 to a well-drilled, progressive and expansive 3-4-1-2 saw us accumulate four wins and a draw from the final six games to clinch a play-off spot.
Tactically, Cooper has developed significantly in a very short space of time. It could well be that the term ‘Cooperball’ is commonly used by the end of this season.
Do you think you can make the play-offs again this season and what will be the key factors if you are to achieve that? Yes, I do believe that is possible. Swansea were one of the form teams at the back end of last season, and after a strong summer so far in the transfer window, you’d have to say that we will probably be one of the favourites to break into the top six. Undeniably, there is still some strengthening to do in the transfer market to ensure that we have a strong enough squad to go the distance. Many players have left the club, meaning that we are light on numbers in some areas.
A key factor for me will be can we avoid injuries to key players. It’s crucial that we stick with three at the back to get results, but at the time of writing, Jake Bidwell and Connor Roberts are the only two players at the club suited to the wing-back positions. An injury to either player could seriously hinder our chance creation and ability to limit conceding chances. Furthermore, André Ayew and Jamal Lowe are the only two players I’d trust to start up front. Ayew is our talisman; if he sustained a long-term injury then our chances of reaching the play-offs would become a lot slimmer.
Who are likely to be your standout performers, which of the new signings are you most excited about, and where – if anywhere – do you still really need to do more business? With Guehi and Woodman being here last season, I’m most excited to see Gibbs-White and Lowe. Swansea beat a few clubs to the signing of Lowe on a cut-price deal [from Wigan]. Cooper said as little as a couple of months ago that no money would be spent this summer, but new investment into the club has made this signing possible and it has definitely got the fan base excited. As for Gibbs-White, I genuinely believe that he could have a bigger impact than the man he’s been brought in to replace, Connor Gallagher. He’s been held back by a Wolves system that lacks that number 10 position where I believe he can thrive. He has a lot of similar qualities to Gallagher with his tenacity off the ball being one of them. However, I think that his technical ability in the final third exceeds that of Gallagher and he will be a critical part of the team this season.
We will have many key players this year. Firstly, expect Guehi and Joe Rodon to be commended as two of the best centre-backs in the Championship come the run-in. Ayew surprisingly looks set to be sticking around (despite being on £80,000 a week) and will no doubt be a contender to make it into the team of the season come May. Finally, I would say Matt Grimes – except I may not be able to say Matt Grimes, and that’s because of Watford’s interest.
Swansea were hopeful of securing Brewster on another loan deal at the start of the summer, but that hope has faded as the weeks have dragged on. He seems to have made quite an impression in pre-season for Liverpool. Combined with the ever-growing interest from the Premier League (particularly Sheffield United), it looks as if Swansea will miss out on the striker who scored a goal every two games in the Championship last season. A striker who has similarities to Brewster is a must, although that is far easier said than done.
The final possible acquisition is further depth at centre back, with Derrick Williams of Blackburn being linked.
Lastly, you’ve just done away with gambling sponsorship after 11 years. How did that come about and do you think this can help set a precedent for other clubs/the game in general? (Blackburn also no longer have it, although their sponsor pulled out rather than them ending the deal themselves.)
A two-year sponsorship deal was struck with gambling company YOBET in the summer of 2019. However, former chairman Trevor Birch made it clear that the intention of the club was not to continue with promoting gambling. This summer, the club cut its ties with YOBET and out of the blue, local sponsors Swansea University were announced. It was the most universally positive response I have ever seen from our fan base to an announcement.
It certainly sets a precedent for the EFL, with Swansea being the biggest club in the English football pyramid who have publicly cut ties with gambling firms. The hope now is that more clubs follow suit. I think it’ll take a Premier League club to do the same before serious progress is made, as only then will the subject receive the continuous national attention it deserves from the media.
The League Cup victory 14 years ago was the last time Wycombe progressed beyond the first round of the competition without the need for penalties – and the beginning of a historic run to the semi-final. Mike Williamson scored at both ends, including the extra time winner. Goals from Roger Johnson and Steve Guppy – the last time he would score for the club – rescued a point in the most recent league fixture between the sides in January 2005, while we last met at Adams Park earlier that season in the Football League Trophy – a 1-0 Wanderers win, Adam Birchall with what proved to be the decider early on.
Did you know…?
Swansea are still partly fan-owned, the highest-ranked club in the English league system to be so.
Header photo: Christopher Elkins via Wikimedia Commons
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