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Fulham 3 v 1 Swansea City
SkyBet Championship
Wednesday, 29th September 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Swansea City fall well short in south London
Thursday, 30th Sep 2021 08:44 by Keith Haynes

It was another game where it became blatantly obvious that the players at Russell Martin’s disposal couldn’t carry out his match day tactics. The defence especially lost the game for the swans in Fulham last night, a fluid ball playing back three which sadly stopped playing the ball and became spectators in the first forty five minutes.

It was another first half capitulation which ruined any chance of a result for Swansea City in south London. The defensive three chosen for Swansea just were not up to the job. Ryan Manning may well make claims to be the exception, but overall during the first half with no cover on either flank the swans went missing again. The open spaces afforded to De-Cordova Reid and Kebano on the break destroyed any hope of the swans doing anything at all to influence the game.

In his assessment of the game swans boss Russell Martin may well be pleased with some of his teams play and control during certain periods, he is right to say that, but the aggression required was missing. The ability to match up to the marauding Mitrovic in their own area is a prime example. Naughton was dwarfed by the big Serbian who even found time to taunt the large Swansea following by slapping his head. Possibly some form of gesture to mock his intended targets. Harry Wilson may well have thought it funny to let Mitrovic in on the Swansea / Cardiff rivalry, but of course there will come a time, like in all these circumstances, he will wish he let his game do the talking instead. And on that point the desire in Wilson to cheat the referee in the opening minutes by throwing himself to the floor didn’t work either. Youthful exuberance and stupidity are sometimes never that far apart.

It’s all to easy for Mitrovic

The swans lacked bite in midfield throughout the game, tip toeing through challenges at times, the end result wasn’t as intended. Russell Martin spoke of missing courage after the game, what he really meant was steel and mettle, true commitment and then maybe courage. But the latter doesn’t come without the former. It was all missing, it was noticeable and nothing was done to fix it. Having said that, there was nothing on the swans bench to to do so. The back up wasn’t there, and when Olivier Ntcham limped off on the half hour it was as evident as at any point this season that once the first eleven starts to diminish its difficult to replenish the side with equal quality.

One bright moment from a night of frustration

Flynn Downes seemed pretty quiet throughout, he did probe the midfield well at times but it led to nothing. His second half miss was a shocker at any level, and had he converted his opportunity it could have led to some form of revival. His gentle play only matched by a very similar Matt Grimes who was equally as ponderous in his attempts to link play in midfield. Ntcham’s replacement Korey Smith did link in well with Jamie Paterson whose goal we can say was exquisite, unfortunately it was one of only a few highlights for the swans. Ethan Laird was a noticeable exception, but he too seems devoid of the confidence needed to take a shot at goal when he has worked himself in to a decent position. When he did so his effort clattered off the Fulham bar, later on he would find himself in several other similar situations, only to either lose the ball or go for the safer opportunity of passing the ball. This will be the courage Russell Martin talks about. Or lack of it.

You can’t fault Mitrovic at all, his first goal was clearly offside, once again in this part of London a Swansea side was let down by poor officiating. His second was embarrassing, dwarfing Naughton it was all too easy. His third from a cross from the swans right exposed the defence for what it was. Shabby, uncoordinated and slow. Russell Martin may well want ball players throughout his team, and he does have that to an extent, but the fundamentals of defending is possibly also a good idea when you play sides like Fulham. There the basics of the game are best illustrated, and playing Ryan Manning completely out of position is foolhardy at best. On the other hand Martin was right to defend Ben Cabango, yes he had an appalling game, out of sync with the rest of his side, definitely vulnerable at every turn he didn’t give up throughout the ninety minutes. Some players would run and hide but Cabango didn’t, he stuck to his task throughout, it was just a shame he wasn’t up to it at any level. Not on this night anyway.

Another large away following for Swansea City

The introduction of Joel Latibeaudiere was fine but introducing him in to a role he was unfamiliar with maybe not so clever. Liam Cullen coming on for Downes just seemed plain odd. If Liam Walsh is fit then it should have been his opportunity, the wrong Liam was selected for sure. But as we said, there is little there to deploy on the bench. It is what it is.

For all that the possession and play at times from the swans was enjoyable to watch, lesser sides won’t live with it as the season progresses. More physical sides will be delighted to come up against this Swansea system though. It’s a mid table feeling at the moment, not that the swans are in mid table, more like staying out of relegation, but that’s this seasons story. The plaudits will come as will the question marks on Martin’s plan. When it works as it did at times last night it’s a lovely watch, when it breaks down and the players in a Swansea shirt become spectators it’s frustrating and very annoying. It happened too many times last night. Players looking to others to be the responsible entity when it was their responsibility and nobody else.

Downes was mysteriously subbed for Liam Cullen

The style and panache at times is exciting to watch, it comes with many flaws though, the sum of its parts aren’t good enough at times to be the well oiled machine Martin wants the swans to be. However, we must remember his timeframe for all this. No pre season, and before he came to Swansea the medical staff were clearly not being listened to. By Martin’s own admission that has set Swansea back a lot on preparation for a forty six game season. It was evident in Fulham as much as it was evident at Luton and Preston, in all three games shipping three goals to basic errors, or a lack of ability to see the danger and deal with it.

It is plain to see that the ups and the downs will fluctuate a lot this season, last night in Fulham the lack of response from the swans, and ability to react was as evident as it has been all season. And the goalkeeper must also take some of the blame as well. Despite his second half save it seemed that Mitrovic only needed to get something on target last night to beat Ben Hamer. If his defence was exposed for its deficiencies then he too was exposed for his lack,of reaction in the face of obvious danger. That is another area for Russell Martin to ponder, but unfortunately his faith in Hamer’s back up seems lost for now.

It may well have been a pleasing second half for the swans manager. but his team lacked nothing in the final third. That final pass, that final run, that finality that Mitrovic displayed in the first half wasn’t in the swans armoury at all. The opportunities presented to Swansea City to be brave and courageous were not taken, and the game petered out as expected.

Exposed again at the back

It’s on to Derby County next, another less than happy hunting ground for Swansea City. It will be a completely different game against a side fighting for its very own personal survival, albeit against the odds. That’s where this season is won and lost, not at Fulham, the free hit that became just that. For Fulham anyway. With the knocks becoming injuries again the swans are limping towards another international break, maybe not that welcome for the fans but one Russell Martin really does need. Time is on his side, and for now so are the Swansea City faithful, but he needs to address the lack of aggression and spirit we saw last night in Fulham. It’s one thing to play well and lose, its another to expose yourself to criticism when it’s quite clear the basics are not being done.

Yes, Fulham was a free hit for Russell Martin, on Saturday at Derby that isn’t the case.

Fulham : Gazzaniga; Odoi, Adarabioyo, Ream (C), Bryan (Mawson 56); Seri, Reed; Wilson (Cavaleiro 71), Kebano, De-Cordova Reid; Mitrovic (Muniz 69).

Subs not used: Rodak, Hector, Quina, Onomah.

Goals: Mitrovic 12, 32 & 45

Swansea City : Hamer; Cabango, Naughton, Manning; Laird, Downes (Cullen 69), Grimes (C), Bidwell (Latibeaudiere 74); Ntcham (Smith 31), Paterson; Piroe.

Subs not used: Benda, Fulton, Cooper, Walsh.

Goal: Paterson 38

Yellow card: Cabango 23

Referee: Joshua Smith

Attendance: 16,013

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Photographs licensed from Reuters

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