Before the weekend, it wouldn’t have been absurd to assume that Swansea City at home to Crystal Palace would’ve been quite low on the Match of the Day running order. If it wasn’t for the beige-fest of Hull and West Brom, this was probably set to be last on. But in a remarkable twist of fate, it finished 5-4 to the Swans. Not even a feisty reprise of Chelsea and Tottenham could’ve ousted that goalfest.
For context, both of these clubs achieved relative security in the Premier League after their latest promotion. Swansea have failed to finish lower than 12th since promotion in 2011, and Palace had solid mid-table finishes in 2014 and 2015. But last year proved somewhat difficult for the two clubs.
We’ll start with Swansea, a club respected for its heady management and good infrastructure. But after a dismal run of form yielding just 6 points from a possible 33, club legend Garry Monk was sacked and eventually replaced at the top by unknown entity Francesco Guidolin. Whilst he halted the Swansea slump, fans were ambivalent to the Italian. A poor start to this season meant Guidolin was gone.
As for Palace, 2015/16 looked set to be their best season in modern times. They were 5th at the turn of the year, and reached the FA Cup final. In between this, things were dire. The Eagles went on a run of 14 games without a victory, turning them from Champions League contenders to relegation fighters. Alan Pardew held on, but at the start of this season, I predicted that his time was up and that they’ll struggle until he goes.
Cut to Saturday morning, November 27th. Swansea had procured just three points since their opening day victory at Burnley. Palace, whilst faring better, were on a run of five consecutive losses. Was this a six-pointer already? A draw would’ve suited nobody; both teams desperately needed a win.
Cut to Saturday evening, November 27th. Nine goals, one winner. It’s amazing to think that a team can score four goals and still end up on the losing side. Crystal Palace can now join the infamous few of managing that feat in the Premier League, the last being Norwich against Liverpool. To find a silver lining as a sidenote, at least it hasn’t happened twice to them in one season (yet), like Reading in 2007.
To lose any game by this scoreline is gut-wrenching enough – not least considering its supposed status as a vital relegation scrap – especially the manner in which Palace lost the lead twice. Wilfried Zaha gave them an early lead, but despite trailing 3-1 at 70 minutes, James Tomkins, a Jack Cork own goal and Christian Benteke meant that Palace lead 4-3 going into injury time.
But such is the way of football, Swansea won 5-4. This manner of victory, and that both teams arguably should’ve won the game, will have two effects. Firstly, it gave new manager Bob Bradley his first win as Swansea head, and should act as a springboard for the Swans’ season. The sheer delight and relief at winning this game was visible to anyone.
Bradley claimed he never took any notice of the pressure he was under to deliver, claiming it just takes determination and courage to overcome bad results. It certainly showed on Saturday, and now the Swans have some key games ahead, including winnable matches against Sunderland, West Brom and Middlesbrough.
The other effect of this madcap match is that Pardew will be nervously looking over his shoulder. He survived last year’s turmoil because of their excellent start and cup run. But he doesn’t have that cushion to rely on now. They’ve lost six in a row, and shipped 18 goals in the process. On top of that, a clean sheet is proving illustrious; something not managed since April.
Looking at the game proves why. Whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson finally turned on the style he was synonymous with last year, it’s difficult to argue that Swansea deserved to score five goals. Three of them came from Palace’s inability to deal with a set-piece into the box. But conversely, Swansea were no defensive masterminds either.
The Palace problem doesn’t lie offensively at all. With experienced internationals like Yohan Cabaye and Benteke and the flair of Andros Townsend and Zaha in your team, goals shouldn’t be a problem. So this game boiled down to who had the worst defence.
Before the game you could argue that both managers were under equal pressure. Bradley, although new, had not picked up a win. Swansea have had a tough run so far, and although played well against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal, came away empty-handed. Ultimately the performance doesn’t count for anything if you remain bottom of the league.
Bradley said after the match that he’ll give his players an extra day off, but he shouldn’t be so naïve. Against any other team with a remotely competent defence, Swansea would’ve been rolled over. They’re not out of the woods yet, but they are at least in the right direction.
Now it’s Pardew facing the heat. Evidence from last season showed that a rut is difficult to stop. December might not be here this stops. Both Manchester United and Chelsea visit Selhurst Park, games that you cannot see the Eagles winning in this form.
So whilst it might appear a little premature to call this game a six-pointer, the truth is that it was. The players were utterly dejected as the full-time whistle rang, and rightly so.
Even as pundits started to call a Palace victory when Benteke gave them the lead, you could just tell that the game was not over. Ultimately, Swansea had resources of grit that Crystal Palace could not dig into.
To end on a rather foolhardy prediction, Swansea will be out of the relegation zone by December, replaced by their adversaries – Crystal Palace. Pardew will not be in a job, as his affinity with the club cannot shade this wretched string of results. This game seemed destined to be a remarkable turning point for one of the clubs, and whilst Swansea still need to be sharper at the back, positive energy counts for a lot. As for Palace, they’re still stuck in reverse.