It’s a clash of the two surprise packages as second in the table Swansea City visit high flying Championship new boys Charlton. Can Cooper’s side shrug off the disappointment of last Saturday’s last gasp equaliser for Reading by getting back to winning ways at the Valley? ATFV assesses a fascinating contest in this Charlton v Swans Match Preview, sponsored by Drop Bear Beer.
It’s no wins in three for Steve Cooper now as the Championship table starts to take shape. There’s a number of ways you can look at things though, two draws in that sequence meaning points are still being accrued but the home defeat against Forest and the late, late equaliser for Reading at the Liberty put a downer on the early season optimism.
It wasn’t just the result against Reading that was disappointing though; equally galling was the tapering off of the performance. Concerns about the creativity in the side are gathering strength and they manifested themselves in the Reading contest the moment the Royals abandoned their three at the back midway through the first half.
The Reading second half surge also served to make the Swans look very tired and sluggish and so surely now Cooper will shake things up a bit?
I speculated extensively in that Reading preview that changes would be made but Cooper resisted make any other than the enforced change at left back to cover Jake Bidwell’s suspension. Hopefully the pack will be shuffled for this second of three games in a week…we need a spark and fresh impetus.
There’s unlikely to be any changes in the back four. Joe Rodon and Mike van der Hoorn performed well last Saturday and Kyle Naughton did well enough to retain his place for Bidwell’s final game of suspension.
The lone striker should stay the same too; Borja Baston got back on the scoresheet and his all round game was excellent, strong hold up play and persistent tracking back typifying the Spaniard’s efforts this season.
It’s what to do with the midfield five that should be occupying Cooper’s thoughts the most…how does he get them functioning smoothly again, creating chances whilst keeping the door closed at the other end.
As I said in the last preview there are a host of options and permutations and I’ll speculate on a few before trying to guess what Cooper will actually go with in the “anticipated line up”.
Bersant Celina’s poor performance against Reading makes him particularly vulnerable to either a positional change or bench duty. With Kristoffer Peterson lurking in the (left) wings and Wayne Routledgs, Ayew of the Andre variety, Wayne Routledge and even Declan John all candidates for that spot, it’s an area that needs attention and has options.
The simplest thing to do would be to shift Celina back to his natural place at No.10 and bring in Peterson or Routledge. George Byers did well at 10 in the first half of the Reading game but was found wanting when the opposition upped the ante in the second half. He could be dropped back to partner Grimes, at Fulton’s expense, or he could get benched.
Fulton looked more tired than most in that Reading contest which leaves him vulnerable, especially with Tom Carroll back on the scene and a manager eager to work with him. Trouble is, if you take Fulton out of our midfield we lack any sort of bite and an away trip to in-form Charlton is not the game to pull your only tooth out. The only alternative there really is to introduce Ben Wilmot to proceedings…tall, strong but comfortable on the ball, the Watford man deserves to come into the reckoning and would serve to release Grimes a little more forward.
The old arguments about Ayew are starting to emerge again with debate raging about what his best position is; I’ve seen plenty of posts on social media suggesting he should be the one to occupy the 10 role whilst others think he should be allowed to rove around as the lone striker. And there’s also the ability to switch him to the other side to accommodate a Dyer or Jordan Garrick.
Garrick is the one player that’s bringing pace and the ability to beat a man at the moment and if he was a little older/more experienced then he’d be a certain starter but he’s being nursed along (and rightly so) and so again I can’t see him starting. That said, he came on in front of Nathan Dyer last Saturday which I found telling. It’s more likely that Garrick will come as an impact sub should he be needed as Cooper looks to keep it relatively tight to begin with.
Another option is to restore Yan Dhanda to the side and that might up the creative ante a little, whilst right out there on the radical scale would be a change of formation to allow Sam Surridge to partner Borja in front of a flat midfield four.
Wow…my head’s spinning now!
I know what I would do; Peterson would come in to the left wing with Celina replacing Byers at 10 and Wilmot anchoring at Fulton’s expense.
What will Cooper do? Here’s the obligatory “Anticipated Line Up” where I guess what the gaffer will put out there…
The Anticipated ATFV Line-Up: Woodman; Roberts; van der Hoorn; Rodon; Naughton; Grimes; Carroll; Celina; Routledge; Ayew; Borja
Charlton might have slipped down to eighth in the table but they are only a single point behind the Swans, beat highly fancied Leeds last time out, and are on a home run of just one defeat in 22 games. Make no mistake, they may be a promoted side but they will be a challenge.
Manager Lee Bowyer has a couple of injury concerns with top scorer Lyle Taylor still missing a month after suffering a knee injury. Fellow striker Tomer Hemed and midfielder Beram Kayal are also set to miss out. That means Macauley Bonne will continue up front, empowered by his winning goal against Leeds last time out.
Anchoring the Addicks midfield will be old friend and former Swan Darren Pratley. The veteran is not so box to box these days but is still a fierce competitor as his three yellow cards in six games will testify to. Pratley will be licking his lips at the prospect of tangling with any of the our candidates for the number 10 role but might struggle should we click into a passing rhythm and starting moving opposing players around.
Further forward Bowyer will be looking to Welsh international Johnny Williams to provide the creativity and guile and further back he’ll be relying on another Welshman, Tom Lockyer, to keep Borja quiet.
One to keep an eye on will be Conor Gallagher; with three goals in eight games this season the wide left midfielder is a threat and will need to be policed properly by Connor Roberts and van der Hoorn.
The Swans will be smarting after letting lowly Reading off the hook but his side will have to show an awful lot more fight than they showed in last Saturday’s second half to subdue a Charlton side that is difficult to beat on its own patch. That said, the Swans have performed well away from home this season and just a single away goal conceded suggests Charlton will have to work for anything they get tonight. There are tendrils of pressure starting to wisp around Cooper, partially due to the standards he set to begin with, and this is an important game for him – win, we got back top of the table, lose and the first fingers will start to be pointed. I’ll choose to be an optimist (for a change) and back Cooper to bring home the points with a scrappy 0-1 win. Come on you SWANS \0/