“A phoneme”, I explain to my two teenagers, “is a group of words, spelt differently but which are all pronounced the same way, such as draft and draught. Can you give me any more examples?” Eventually, we come up with draw and drawer.
My 14 year old daughter pipes up “But draw has got lots of meanings: draw as in to sketch, draw as in ‘the half-time flyer draw’, draw as in ‘another draw for the Swans’ and draw as in ‘to draw fire’. Does that have a special word?”
“Er, no, at least I don’t think so. Do your school teachers ever question why your examples are always drawn from Swansea City FC?”
She sees my pun, ignores it and continues regardless “In fact it goes even further because there’s drawer as in ‘a chest of drawers’ and drawer as in someone who draws.”
“There’s also drawers as in trousers”, chips in her 16 year old brother. Typical!
“OK, here endeth today’s English lesson”, I pronounce.
I was mulling this over as I made the two hour drive home to Wiltshire after the Sheffield United match. I imagined half the Swansea City squad in their English language lessons getting to grips with phonemes, I contemplated how we had now drawn 11 of our 23 league games and yet, by common consensus we had been playing some of the best football many of us had ever witnessed from a Swansea team. This has been both breathtaking and exasperating.
By the time we got to the Severn Bridge I finally blurted that I felt frustrated over the drawn match against Sheffield United, particularly as we played against 10 men for the entire second half. It was Cardiff City re-visited; we played a fair proportion of that match against 10 men, too. On both occasions we totally dominated possession, managed a single goal in this period of dominance but failed to get the crucial second and winning goal that our performance deserved. Then there was QPR, Ipswich (away) and Sheffield Wednesday (what is it about that city?). “OK, what exactly is it that prevents us from converting our winning performances into winning results?” I ask.
By the time we got to our exit off the M4 near Chippenham we had formulated the following theory…here it is for what it is worth.
We do not sustain any pace in attack. By this I don’t mean that we have forwards who are not very quick, I mean we do not attack teams quickly. We all love to see the neat passing game which has become our style – no complaints there – but all too often we fail to exploit a 2-on-2 situation, or a breakaway counter-attack. This is not a criticism of individual players or of our forwards, it is a feature of the style of play of the whole team. When the opposition defence is stretched we revert to a neat passing move from our defence, through the midfield and forward. This gives the opposition ample time to re-group, get men behind the ball and organise their defence.
Is it possible then to have too much of a good thing? Top teams such as Manchester United can also pass the ball to death and draw teams out (oh, here I go with the draw words again, sorry) and hit them on the break. We, on the other hand, lay siege to the opposition penalty box and patiently try to create an opening. I mention this merely as an observation, not as a complaint.
However, there may be some truth in the notion that we do not have a lightning fast forward (Brandy being the exception) and hence do not have the players to launch a quick counter-attack. Even when we have a man advantage, we will normally leave two defenders (plus goalkeeper) back, whereas the opposition may have all but one guy behind the ball. Hence we attack with 8 players and they defend with 10, or 9 if they’ve had a man sent off; we do not have any advantage in those situations.
In the league game against Cardiff, I noticed how Cardiff defended the penalty area. Clearly, 9 players defending such a small area have it pretty well covered and it takes an intricate piece of close control to forge an opening in such circumstances. Unfortunately, our shooting from outside the box was a little wayward that day and we could not capitalise. I feel that this is an aspect of Bodde’s game that we have missed terribly since his injury.
I also suspect that many teams are happy to concede possession to us with an attitude of ‘I don’t care how much of the ball you have, it’s what you do with it that counts’. Possession denies the opposition the chance to score but it does not guarantee you goals. Several opposition managers have remarked that whilst Swansea had a load of possession, they did not hurt us with it. I think they have a valid point. Have we been sussed?
I find it interesting to realise that the military appreciate this point; the pace of attack has to be maintained at an appropriate level to be most effective. Too slow and the enemy can re-group, resist and launch a counter-attack. Too fast and lines of supply become horribly stretched and your men become knackered. One needs to sustain an intensity and pace which keeps the opposition on the ropes but may also be interspersed with short periods of rest/recovery and short periods of lightning fast, highly potent attacks. I think this could have analogies to football tactics. In my opinion, it is also one of the strengths of the Welsh rugby team.
Anyway, returning to the football…I have a nagging doubt that what I am about to say could undermine much of my own argument. Throughout many of these frustrating draws we have actually created several scoring opportunities. We’ve had the chance to turn these draws into wins many times over. So perhaps there is nothing wrong with our tactics, simply a failure to bury chances.
So, I’ve had my say, put the world to rights and embarrassed myself in front of you all over my lack of tactical nous. However, it has been a therapeutic exercise and I am at peace with the idea that we, Swansea City FC, are indeed a top drawer team, in every sense of the word.