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In the defence of Russell Martin
Monday, 9th May 2022 12:17 by Keith Haynes

The main areas that Swansea City suffered with as the season drew to a close was the way the side conceded goals in games where they really shouldn’t have. Despite the fact when Russell Martin eventually saw value in playing Joel Piroe and Michael Obafemi together - no matter what they did to win games they were being let down by their team mates at the back.

It isn’t sufficient to just say that Martin arrogantly stayed with a defence that consisted of players who had ‘bought in’ to his desired style of play. It was evident that was a part of the problem, however his refusal to go with players like Ryan Bennett, Nathanael Ogbeta and Finley Burns and persist with other selections was annoying to some swans fans. And that is accurate, players selected in a position where they were conceding goals were included the majority of the time.

Coupled with that the persistence of the keep ball approach via goalkeeper Andy Fisher brought pressure on the defence which in games against Reading and Bournemouth we saw they capitulated quickly. It highlighted the lack of ability for this to be a natural answer to the possession game the manager wanted. Where Russell Martin saw this restart of games as a natural thing to do some swans fans saw it as a dangerous and poorly thought out way of playing. When Swansea Independent we’re asked to participate in the end of season Rob Phillips BBC round up it was something that ex swan Ian Walsh spoke of, and agreed it was at times suicidal.

The slow process of passing from the back was at times countered by a high press from the opposition or gave them opportunity to regroup in the second third to stifle Swansea. Early in the season this was evident when Matt Grimes simply couldn’t see the right pass ahead of him because he was on,y thinking about passing backwards to keep possession. Flynn Downes as well matched this style of play but as the season progressed he adapted his game to be more at ease with pace and facing forwards not backwards.

The real issue for us when we chatted about this on the weekend was the lack of players able to carry out this incredibly brave ( or stupid, depends on your viewpoint) way of dominating possession. So what does Russell Martin need to do from our point of view over the coming ten weeks or so ?

Nathanael Ogbeta has had just a few appearances for the swans

The defence is crucial, he had Ben Cabango, Kyle Naughton and Joel Latibeudiere as his go to players as the season ended. The former possibly the most adaptable to the style Martin wants. Naughton blossomed but at times looked slow and weak when challenged. Joel has improved massively bit still possesses flaws in his game. Andy Fisher simply cannot play this demanding style at Championship level. His purchase was welcomed but his application in games has seen him wanting in every game he plays. He can pull off world class saves, we have seen that but then he can also display schoolboy errors in the same minute. His strength is lacking on set pieces, glued at times to his line and unable or unwilling to challenge a big striker using his height advantage ( most keepers reach with arms extended is higher than most strikers, it just takes timing and bravery )

As it stands the swans are definitely looking for a new keeper, that tells us the four hundred thousand pounds paid for Fisher was wasted business. Looking across the defence, and this is most certainly where the problems are we see players not selected when they would most certainly solve problems. Ryan Bennett ( more on him later this week ) Finley Burns, on the face of it a wasted of a loan slot, and the mystery of Nathanael Ogbeta another three hundred thousand pounds signing who got insufficient minutes this season are all ignored. This needs exploring more and once some information is made available to us we will put together an article on this conundrum.

Finley Burns, seemingly ignored by Russell Martin

With their summer transfer opportunities available from June 1st and with Russell Martin now seemingly working alone with Julian Winter there is a lot of apprehension. He knows he needs strength at the back, but Finley Burns, and before him Rhys Williams who excelled in the champions league have been poor choices in the search for answers. Poor choices ? Or just unable to adapt to the managers demands - or maybe there is an answer that lays far deeper within the corridors of SA1 ?

Rhys Williams has hinted recently he learned a lot at Swansea and won’t let it affect his game again, but didn’t reference what it was and hasn’t to date been specific. To succeed next season Martin needs solid defensive players, and at least two. Players who can dominate their opposition and have the ability to play out of defence effectively and at pace without fumbling around under pressure. Easy for us to say but that’s exactly what the swans boss needs. For his defence not to let him down again next season he needs players he knows can succeed at Swansea City under his guidance. Playing a game of risk with players coming in when the game you play on a match day is also a risk is a recipe for disaster.

Rhys Williams has made a few loaded comments about Swansea City

The retention of players isn’t the thrust of these thoughts, it’s building from the back, and as Swansea City do that almost every time a game restarts you would think Russell Martin is also doing that in his preparations for next season. He can’t get this wrong, he is already experiencing a lack of faith in his strategy with fans at times forgetting the great moments we have also witnessed.

But that’s football fans.

Andy Fisher has struggled in the championship

In defence of Russell Martin we do know he will give it all he can, and his best shot could well work. If the closed season is long enough for him to bring in his desired players to shore up a flaky defence then an equal opportunity next season is available to Swansea City. Passing the ball to someone you know is a relatively easy skill for a professional footballer, but to implement that in to a game that travels through the thirds and demands a strong defence is a very difficult thing to manage.

Especially when possession is lost and once again the emphasis and focus is on your defensive ability.

We have seen this season how possession means nothing if you continually concentrate on ball retention but don’t get anywhere, we have also seen it work fantastically. These are the most important few months of Russell Martin’s football career, and he isn’t even kicking a ball. He is reliant upon players he puts his faith in to do that for him, and in his defence is where it starts.

More to come on this we are certain.

Photographs licensed from Reuters

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