I think it is fair to say that events of the past few weeks have made automatic promotion seem so far away that it is almost hard to believe that we dared to dream in the first place.
Three straight defeats has us nine points behind second placed Watford with a game in hand but with their goal difference worth another point. If we needed seven wins from nine before Friday’s game it is now seven from eight which is, quite simply, an impossible task for a side so out of form and out of confidence.
The basic reality at the moment is we are heading towards a second successive play off campaign although you would argue that we probably need another win to secure that one. It will be a win that we get somewhere along the line but Steve Cooper needs to inject some pride and confidence back into the team and – as Lee Trundle said on Friday night – start playing above our comfort zone.
It is not just the recent results that have been not what we are expecting but it is the nature of the performances. The team don’t look as if they are pushing to win games, passion and commitment seems to be missing and that is the part that has become completely unacceptable. And that is before we start on the fact that we do not seem to have a strategy or playing style to embed that passion and commitment around.
As it stands we feel as far from being a Premier League club as we have ever been in our time in this division. This will be our 6th season at this level since we gained promotion from League One in 2008 and whilst the league table may tell a different story I would argue that this is our weakest time in that period.
Cooper needs to be working with his team on some clear tactical changes, the definite evolution of a plan B which can be deployed when needed and he needs to develop his own understanding that this is a squad game and, at this level, you cannot afford to have people in your side who seem immune from resting/dropping despite all the evidence telling you it has to happen.
Remember the stat of 25 times in 34 league starts that Jamal Lowe has been subbed and it tells you the predictability in which the manager operates and suggests that ideas are anything but fresh. Different things need to be tried to try and get us out of this rut – personnel, formation or just overall strategy and that has to start today against Preston.
If you put the recent performances to one side we have 69 points on the board with 8 games to go. Realistically that would suggest a season heading towards 83/84 points which is a good return and one that should suggest a good chance of play off success. It would equate to more points than we had in 2011 and we all know what happened there. It would also mean us heading into the play offs off the back of 4 or 5 wins in those last 8 games which should breed confidence.
Cooper should approach this game with the mentality that if we can turn around the recent form then we have a series of games where we are more than capable of three points but only if that form is turned around. Play as we have done the past month or so and we will continue to lose games and we all know how losing can become a habit very quickly.
The likes of Ben Cabango, Morgan Whittaker and Conor Hourihane (now that we have dispelled the crazy myth that our drop in form was all his fault) should come into the side this afternoon and we should look to the likes of Lowe, Ayew and Naughton to get the rests that they need. Give Connor Roberts an afternoon off as well, maybe even consider a change to four at the back. Be brave Steve and remember ‘fortune favours the brave’ – do the same as you have done in recent weeks and you are pinning your future on hoping something different happens. And I am not sure it will.
Preston got a last minute equaliser against Norwich on Saturday to start Frankie McAvoy’s interim reign off with a point and they will look to build on that this afternoon but we should remember that they are as out of form as we are. If they weren’t then Alex Neil would still be in gainful employment. They are one win in ten games and sit bottom of the Championship form table over the past six games so we should certainly go in with belief (or is that just clinging to hope?)
For what it is worth I think the Swans will win this afternoon. I am not sure whether that is down to anything more than just a vain hope that it will happen but right now I would take a draw with a performance that suggests we can get the points we need to secure the play off place and also that we can generate some form in the next few weeks to give us a good chance in those play offs when they come around.
So it is over to you Steve and your team – remember be brave and let’s see what you are all made of, prove the wider belief wrong.