For the first time since he was appointed back in the summer of 2019, the Swans have lost three straight games under Steve Cooper. Three games where we have failed to find the net, failed to find any points, failed to find many shots on target and also – quite often – failed to find our own men with even the simplest of passes.
Lee Bowyer summed it up for me last night when he said that we were predictable. OK they may not have been the words that he actually used but it was effectively what he was saying when he stated that we play the same way every week and it was pretty clear that he had seen that and worked out the easy way to cancel us out.
And cancel us out he did but make no mistake from last night you could have read pretty much that comment in relation to any of the 10 league games we have played since we touched close to the league leaders after beating them at the Liberty at the start of February.
Defeats to Huddersfield, Bristol City, Bournemouth, Cardiff and now Birmingham say it all. Sky summed it up last night ahead of the game when they said that half our defeats this season had come in the last nine games as had half the goals we have conceded. Steve Cooper has turned this side negative and now not only are we not pleasant to watch but we are not even getting the results that give some comfort to the fact that we are dreadful.
This has largely been the case over his reign at Swansea. Prior to lockdown games were not fun to watch (look back and think about how many times you left a game thinking “that was brilliant, we are a good team”) and even after lockdown he stumbled across a new formation and has stuck rigidly to it ever since. That then plays itself nicely into Lee Bowyer’s comments. Sure, it was working but when it stopped working a good manager will change it around. The Sky commentators referenced Bowyer doing that since his arrival with his own formation so we know it to work.
We are supposedly pushing for promotion to the Premier League. For the last three games (and a significant few before that) we have looked anything like a side pushing for promotion. We are not a passing side, we are not a possession side, we are not a creative side, hey at times we don’t even look like a football side. When you look at that last sentence it tells you what you need to know we no longer have an identity and that hurts for me far more than the results that have started to turn against us.
Even sides that we have criticised heavily over the years have an identity. It may not have been one that we wanted to associate with but you knew what you would get from the likes of a Pulis’ Stoke side or a Warnock Cardiff side. You know what you can expect from an Allardyce or a Mark Hughes but the closest we have to an identity these days is just that we are not very good. Not good to watch, not good at the basics and now we have even got to the point where we are not good at getting last minute disputed penalties. Which frankly is the only thing that has kept us in touch with the top end of the table over the past few weeks.
I woke up this morning still incredulous at the decisions of the manager last night. Connor Roberts and Andre Ayew looked out on their feet from the first minute. We all knew they needed a break but they will never get them. Cooper reverted back to a – yes Mr Bowyer we get it – predictable starting line up with his three “same mentality” midfielders and hoping that his backline will do the job he wants. When it was obvious it wasn’t working (again) subs were needed but they did not happen. Until of course the predictable one just after the hour which was always going to be Dhanda or Hourihane for Smith or Fulton. You can perm any combination from that.
That was it as Birmingham made changes around him until the 88th minute when it was Routledge for Lowe. Please never suggest our manager is predictable but this was the 25th time in 34 league starts this season that he has subbed Jamal Lowe. It is his default substitution. Check the seasons appearance stats (here) and you will see that nobody comes close – Dhanda is next when he has been subbed 11 times in his 13 starts. So we know at some point that will happen – watch for it on Monday it is a certain winner in the Steve Cooper bingo card.
And then we had the final one. The laughable one. Hogan scores a 91st minute penalty so our (non) predictable manager throws on Morgan Whittaker to replace Kyle Naughton. (Incidentally Naughton is 3rd in the list of Cooper’s favourite people to take off with 9) Steve there are two minutes left, you have just gone a goal down and you make a change. At this point you may as well not bother, the game needed it with 20/30/40 minutes to go (delete as appropriate) not at 1-0 down but if it ticks a box on the power point then I assume you think it is necessary.
These are all things that prove we have not so much lost our identity but deliberately abandoned it. We don’t want to be any of the things that we aren’t any more (possession, passing, creative) and we certainly clearly don’t want to be in the Premier League. The manager spent his post match conference with his (predictable) comments about training grounds, not doing the basics right, putting it right next game blah blah blah but simply put he doesn’t shoulder any of the blame personally. When it is good it is down to him but when it is not then it is down to the players on the pitch. Right now for Steve Cooper read Garry Monk.
It is clear something has to change. A poll on this site created shortly after the final whistle last night suggests that two thirds of Swans fans would sack Steve Cooper (read more here) which is a pretty damming statistic for a side third in the table. Whilst one forum regular commented last night that the matchday thread should be moved to the non football board. I admit I was tempted to do it.
We won’t make a managerial change at this stage of the season but it has to be something under consideration for the way that things have gone horribly wrong. It is times like this that managers are under the spotlight. Norwich and Watford wobbled and their managers bought them through it. Even our made Tommy at Brentford seems able to turn it round but Steve isn’t doing that. Nothing is changing by way of play, performance or effort and that does start to suggest there isn’t much left to try and change. Other than the obvious.
Right now though the thought of another game Monday doesn’t fill me with excitement. Football is hard to watch as it is without crowds but last night it was on in the background effectively for a lot of the game as we are just not good to watch. We did not lose to a good Birmingham side we lost to a Birmingham side who were just not as bad as we were. And that was down to their manager seeing through ours as you and I see through a window. Lee Bowyer is not a tactical masterclass of a manager but he has Cooper’s Swansea City sussed.
And that suggests we do have an identity under Steve Cooper after all. One of being predictable. Predictably rubbish.