When you have the Championship’s best defence, that solid foundation is the bedrock on which great things can be built. That is certainly what Swansea City will be hoping for come the tail end of the season.
He probably wouldn’t admit this publicly, but Swans head coach Steve Cooper should be pretty confident about his side’s promotion prospects, especially after beating league leaders Norwich City 2-0 at the Liberty Stadium in early February.
The three-man Swansea defence kept Finland striker Teemu Pukki, the 29-goal Championship top scorer just two seasons ago, quiet on their own patch.
Yet another clean sheet for stopper Freddie Woodman and his backline – their 15th of the season – adds to the growing belief in this corner of South Wales that a Premier League return is on the cards.
According to the latest football betting on Championship promotion, the Swans are 11/10 chances to return to the top flight after a three-year absence. This scrap to get back into the Premier League remains as competitive as ever, though.
Swansea don’t just have Norwich to contend with but a hungry Brentford side who were beaten in extra time of last season’s Championship play-off final, and relegated clubs Bournemouth and Watford looking to bounce straight back. Reading have also punched above their weight this term too.
However, one advantage that Cooper has over fellow managers at promotion rivals is a kinder fixture list, at least on paper.
The Swans’ toughest games are spaced out throughout the rest of the campaign.
March sees them on their travels four times with trips to Stoke City, Blackburn Rovers and Luton Town coming before what might be a key game on the south coast at Bournemouth on 16 March – just 4 days before the south Wales derby.
Swansea meet Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough at home before an away run of three games in a week and then face bitter local rivals Cardiff City at the Liberty Stadium on 20 March.
April, meanwhile, looks an easier month for Cooper and his team, at least on paper. The Swans tackle Birmingham City and Millwall on the road, either side of hosting mid-table team Preston North End. There are then consecutive home games with lowly Wycombe Wanderers and QPR before a trip to Reading.
The Championship run-in for Swansea ends with Wayne Rooney’s Derby County at home and Watford away on 8 May.
Of course, with 19 games to play much can change between now and the business end of the season, but Cooper’s team have to fancy their chances based on the way these fixtures have fallen.
Having already played both matches against Norwich and Brentford, their toughest assignments are arguably behind them. While the course of Championship promotion seldom runs smooth, there is plenty of reason for Swans fans to feel positive about the club’s chances.
Signing Republic of Ireland midfielder Conor Hourihane on loan from Aston Villa has added more goals from midfield. Swansea failed to score in three matches during December, but have put drawing those blanks behind them.
It is easy to see Cooper’s side going on a run with the schedule they have. Going better than beaten in the play-offs is very much in the Swans’ own hands this time around.