THE ONLY WAY IS UP? DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT...
THERE may have been a goal for Swansea City fans to cheer, but this latest defeat and a withering post-match summing up from Paul Clement will only raise further questions about the future of the head coach, and the Welsh club as a going concern in the Premier League.
Bottom of the table, four points from safety and with just one point from the last seven games. Where next for Swansea and Clement?
The optimists would say the only way is up, but performances – let alone results – would not back up any attempt at a rose-tinted view.
Yet the afternoon had started so positively. Wilfried Bony scoring the Swans’ first goal in 431 minutes with a lovely finish from Martin Olsson’s cross.
It was the 28-year-old’s first for Swansea since New Year’s Day 2015, it was his first goal anywhere since Halloween 2016.
‘We’ve scored a goal’ chanted the travelling support, almost in surprise as much as jubilation.
For a while. all the frustration belonged to the hosts. Their tentative attacks prompted unrest among the natives and while the Potters huffed and puffed, Swansea appeared to be comfortable.
Then disaster struck. Leroy Fer hesitated around 10 yards outside his own box and was swiftly dispossessed. Joe Allen slid in Xherdan Shaqiri and in a flash it was 1-1.
It was downhill from there. Fragile confidence punctured, Swansea were rattled and all the good work of the opening 36 minutes was soon undone.
A punt forward four minutes later, a Peter Crouch knockdown and sluggish defending ended with Mame Diouf volleying home.
It would have been worse had the gangly striker made more of an error from Alfie Mawson as Diouf stole the ball from the centre-half.
The half-time whistle came as a mercy. Swansea regrouped and had enough ball and territory to have taken advantage of this Stoke side who were almost as edgy and nervy as themselves.
But that lack of guile and craft was clear to see.
That “toothless” element Clement castigated post-match was all too evident, even though the stats would tell you they matched Stoke for shots and shots on target.
Even when in good situations they could not apply the crucial touch. Sam Clucas missed a Tammy Abraham pull-back, the striker shanked a cross into touch with Bony unmarked.
Ki did at least work Jack Butland with a low drive, but the closest Swansea came to an equaliser was Ryan Shawcross’ miscued defensive header, which the keeper tipped over his own bar.
The issues regarding recruitment and the imbalance in this Swansea squad have been well-documented and are certainly doing little to help the manager, who was given no shortage of vocal support from the away end during the game.
But, regardless of those issues,
Swansea and Clement simply have to be able to do better.
The table does not lie, they are bound for the Championship unless there is a significant upturn.
There have been small hints of improvement, but incremental steps are not going to get the job done.
Clement did not mince his words post-match, he was forth- right in his statements, but they did leave one wondering if they were the words of a man at the end of his tether with a nod to what might be coming next.
He was despondent. Unsure of where next to turn in search of the solutions to the myriad of problems he outlined.
He even accepted that his future is not in his own hands, and it is down to the club hierarchy to decide what is best.
Of course, that is always the case at any club.
Managers do not dictate their timescale at a club, performances and results do, and a lot of the signs are pointing in the wrong direction for Clement and Swansea City.
One high spot for the Swans... Wilfried Bony’s opening goal at Stoke