In my last preview I mentioned Gary Lineker’s Sunderland tweet. Less than 24 hours later he sensationally deleted his Twitter account, saying goodbye to his 1.3 million followers. The reason is unclear, but I suspect it was down the ever-growing influence of The North East HUB.
But let’s focus on the matter in hand. Swansea not only look like Real Madrid in their white strips (edged in gold as its their centenary year), but they can play like them at times and now have the chance to win their first major honour in their 101 year history, having dispatched the Champions of Europe in the process.
But it’s not just the luck of the cup, as the Welsh-Wizards Premier League away form is worthy of respect with only four defeats in eleven games, conceding a miserly nine goals in the process. This is more impressive when we consider that this success followed the departure of their highly regarded manager, Brendan Rodgers and star player, Joe Allen who both moved to Liverpool last summer. Many expected the Swans to sink without trace – me included – but they are currently sitting (or is that paddling) pretty in 9th position.
Certainly Michael Laudrup is the managerial surprise of the season and his inspired signing of Michu for £2m, who has scored 13 league goals, must be the bargain of the season. The absurdly named Chico Flores – who sounds like a children’s clown – has also made a key contribution and Angel Rangel gets my vote for most phonetic name of the season. But what happens off the pitch is equally important and Huw Jenkins (club chairman) deserves a special commendation for his astute and inspired leadership in successfully replacing a succession of managers, achieving multiple promotions and developing a spanking new stadium without breaking the bank. It’s a robust business model that should be a blueprint for all clubs – especially Chelsea.
Sunderland also have good reason to feel pleased with themselves with five wins in their last eight league games and moving into 11th place, their highest position this season. If the Cats can scare off the Swans, then cats-eyes can switch attention from the relegation zone towards beating their previous best league finish of 7th when they accumulated 57 points. However, hitting the 40 point mark remains their primary concern. With free scoring Steven Fletcher in double figures and Craig Gardiner (5 goals) having a chance of emulating him by the end of the season, I’m hopefully for a strong finish to the season.
Despite this optimism, a few new faces wouldn’t go amiss as Kadar Mangane is struggling for match fitness and is not even guaranteed to make the bench in the coming weeks. The transfer market seemed to have gone cold, despite Martin O’Neill saying
“I think it is imperative that we bring more players in. What you want to be able to do, by the end of January, is to be in a position where you are can cover many avenues – if not all – with the squad that you have for the final three or four months of the season.’
Taking O’Neill’s views into account, I feel confident enough to predict that Danny Graham will be at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, but I doubt even he knows if he will be ‘swanning around’ or a ‘cool cat.’
Given the Swans impending League Cup final, with chance to be the first Welsh team to win a major trophy since their arch rivals Cardiff in 1927 – there is a real risk that they may be distracted by their Wembley adventure. I’m therefore predicting a home win for Sunderland.
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