The first home game of 2023 marks the stage of the season where only the return fixtures are in play, and this one is all about redemption as the striker-less lads went down 2-1 back in October down in south west Wales. That’s right, it’s the visit of Russell Martin’s ball-hogging Swansea City to the Stadium of Light, looking to find a win after a miserable run of form.
Not many sides have outplayed the Lads this season, but the first half at Swansea showed how vulnerable and lightweight we could be without a striker up top. Harry Darling was able to take the piss carrying the ball away from defence at his leisure, with Matt Grimes having all the time in the world to move the ball, with our high press nullified without a pivot point. The gaffer Tony Mowbray is acutely aware of this and has been doing his research on our Welsh opponents this week, safe in the knowledge that we’ll have Ross Stewart this time around.. that is unless we sell him between now and kick off.
Uncle Tony has got the lads playing some great football in the adversity of multiple injuries, requiring the younger percentile of the squad to carry us through the hectic festive period. And it is that form which has earned him a nomination for Manager of the Month, which he was quick to play down. The chocolate fiend was more concerned about picking up points than individual awards, but expects, much like the rest of us, for Carlos Corberán to pick up the award for the remarkable turnaround he has made at West Brom. But lets not put too much weight on this award, Lee Johnson has managed to win it before.
For the Lads there is still no Aji Alese, Dennis Cirkin, or Alex Pritchard. Elliot Embleton is obviously a longer term absentee, but the positive news is Niall Huggins was back on the infamous grass this week, and shouldn’t be far off. Likely to be back in the squad is our defensive leader Danny Batth, returning after having to take an early Batth at Hull City last month. Mowbray did not mention any issues with Corry Evans, so I would expect him to be pushing for a start alongside the ever improving Dan Neil. Lynden Gooch and the impressive Trai Hume will be fighting it out for the right back slot, though I would prefer the latter to get the nod, Gooch may be preferred if Mowbray goes for a wing back formation.
Stewart is chasing Kevin Phillips and Tommy Wright’s post-war record of scoring in seven consecutive games, and this fixture marks game number six for the lanky Scotsman. And it would certainly be handy if he did notch as the Lads have not lost a game this season when he has scored. On the subject of records and stats, this game throws up some interesting points. The Swans have only won one of their last 11 games in all competitions, and not won away in the league since the start of October. However, they have won their last three encounters against the Lads, which is rather inconvenient.
Player of the month nominee Joel Piroe, although not reaching the heights of last season, is still the Swans’ leading goal scorer with eight goals to date. Captain Matt Grimes, despite being perceived as a bit of a negative player, sits second in the assist charts in the Sky Bet Championship, and remarkably has more game-line-breaking passes than anyone else across the top five divisions in Europe. Yet the Swans currently sit 15th in the table after a dreadful run of form, but we know how quickly that can change in this tight division.. unless you’re Wigan of course.
The weak point is at right back where Joel Latibeaudiere, ordinarily a centre half, is out of his depth trying to cover the full back role. This is something that Messrs Clarke, Roberts and Diallo will be keen to exploit, whichever one is preferred on that side of the pitch.
The SoL has not been the fortress we’d hoped it would be as yet this season, but a win Saturday would mark two home wins on the spin and would certainly be the perfect springboard going into the Middlesbrough game the following week. Both teams like to dominate the ball and play football from the back, but both sides also like a kick too as they join themselves at the wrong end of the division’s disciplinary table.
Despite Swansea having a great comeback record, I can’t help feeling that if Sunderland get on top early, nick a goal, we’ll be most pleased come full-time. Ha’way the Lads.