Preston North End are the latest side to attempt to end Steve Cooper’s unbeaten run as Swansea City boss. But the away side can’t buy a win against the Swans, losing all four fixtures at the Liberty. Can Cooper keep the run going or will the Lilywhites end Cooper’s unbeaten start and lay their South Wales bogey to rest? ATFV poses those very questions in our Swans v Preston match preview, sponsored by Drop Bear Beer.
Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup victory over Northampton will no doubt have left Steve Cooper with more questions than answers. A disjointed performance that threatened to end in a shock Cup upset was turned around not only by the introduction of the precocious Jordan Garrick but by the two emphatic headed goals by the Ayew of the Andre variety.
Unable to shift the astronomically high earner off the books, perhaps it would have been easier for Cooper if Ayew had flopped or stropped and was left to rot in exile rather than being a viable, if expensive, option to get the goals so desperately needed.
Add into that the assured performance of Ben Wilmot at the back and the incisive running of Declan John in the left back spot and it means Cooper has some decisions to make at either end of the field.
On the flip side, any pondering Cooper might have done over the inclusion of Barry McKay and Jan Dhanda probably turned into ironic laughter pretty quickly after poor performances by both in midweek.
One area where Cooper can engage selection autopilot is goalkeeper; Freddie Woodman’s heroics at Pride Park last week helped secure the Swans a point against Derby and slammed the dressing room door shut on glove wearing rivals Nordfeldt and Mulder.
Wilmot will have made a strong case to start in front of Woodman but the established pairing of Joe Rodon and Mike van der Hoorn will likely remain intact for a third league game in succession.
Naughton’s run out against Northampton won’t threaten Connor Roberts’ place in the team but on the other side of the pitch there could be a change. Despite starting in solid fashion Jake Bidwell has had one or two ropey moments and Cooper might want to inject some real pace and penetration on the left side with the introduction of Declan John.
The young Welshman struggles with his defensive duties at times but brings real impetus going forward. It’s an area where we’ve struggled so far with our play too often ponderous and pedestrian this season. Cooper might look to shake things up by installing John on the left hand side, although playing him in front of Bidwell sounds quite appealing.
The other way to accommodate John would be to play Wilmot in addition to Rodon and van der Hoorn with John and Roberts as wing backs. But, having typed all of that, I come to the conclusion that Cooper will stick with Bidwell and an orthodox winger in front of him (likely Kalulu) as so far he hasn’t shown much desire to chop and change for the sake of it. An anti-Tiunkerman if you like.
Captain Grimes will confidently swagger into his usual position and, fresh from a strong performance at Derby, Fulton will likely be beside him. I wince now every time I type this but **grits teeth** in at 10 it’s Bersant Celina…if the lad ends up on the flank today I swear I’ll go all “Fluff” Freeman on Cooper’s ass because IT DOES NOT WORK!!
The wings are where the options are again, despite the departure of Asoro and the virtual departure of McKay since he got here. Aldo Kalulu is fit and could get the nod ahead of Kris Peterson who had a quiet game against Northampton in midweek. On the other side Routledge has a squeak but having just come back from injury it may be too soon for a start after a full 90 last Tuesday. Dyer is likely but what if…what if Cooper threw Ayew into the mix, playing from the right with a license to wander? Hmmm…expensive luxury option but one that could be devastating against a Preston side that struggles with movement from out wide.
Aye could of course start up top where he would be vying for the place currently occupied by fellow luxury item Borja; Sam Surridge had an okay debut in midweek although his “White Man’s Emile Heskey” act i.e. hitting the floor every time the ball was played up to him, did get on my flabby moobs after a while. Well, 90 seconds actually. So it’s Borja from the start with Ayew or Surridge as later game replacement.
Options, options – great to have so many permutations with a fully fit and, in comparison to last season, a bumper squad. We’ve yet to see Cooper to change too much round yet as it’s still so early and that’s why my anticipated line up below will have a familiar look to it…except for the bombshell of Ayew starting on the right…!
The Anticipated ATFV Line-Up: Woodman; Roberts; van der Hoorn; Rodon; Bidwell; Grimes; Wilmot; Celina; Kalulu; Ayew; Borja
A poor opening day defeat to Millwall saw Preston manager Alex Neil ring the changes and it worked a treat with two subsequent wins, two clean sheets and seven goals. Admittedly, four of them were against lower league opposition Bradford in the Carabao but the three nil win over wigan was impressive and should serve as a warning for the Swans.
Veteran striker Dave Nugent remains out but fellow veteran Paul Gallagher’s good form has carried forward into this new season and he’s back in the goals and assists groove.
First choice left back Andrew Hughes is the biggest fitness doubt having missed the midweek win over Bradford with a tight hamstring. Should he miss out then Joe Rafferty is likely to switch sides and deputise. A half fit first choice or a right back covering on the left would make very tempting targets for an Andre Ayew **shudders with forbidden pleasure**
Former Wrexham striker Louis Moult made a difference when he started against Wigan having been left out of the squad for the opening day game at Millwall and he’s already got off the mark for the season with a header against the Latics.
Right winger Tom Barkhuizen could be one to watch; a tricky player that weighs in with goals, he helped himself to two in midweek and will be full of confidence. Barkhuizen would much prefer going up against Declan John than risk being on the end of one of Jake Bidwell’s now trademark “Sunday League” challenges, that’s for sure!
Despite the simply awful record against Swansea in general and at the Liberty in particular, Preston manager Alex Neil will have no fears…after all, he does moonlight as the main star’s stuntman and double in Ross Kemp on Gangs!!
Two sides in good form and full of confidence – but only one of these sides ever triumphs in this fixture and that isn’t going to change today. Preston are decent enough going forward but have concerns at the back, especially with quick football around the box and people picking up the bits and pieces, something Swansea excel at at times. I’m quietly confident of a comfortable 3-0 win (which means it will be anything but and I’ll get the blame, plus a visit from a gloating Ross Kemp look-a-like)