The dust has now settled on Swansea City’s play-off final defeat so it’s time to look back at a season which has surprisingly divided opinions among the Jack Army.
The headlines are all unanimously positive.
The Swans finished fourth in the table having spent almost an entire season in the top six. They amassed 80 points, equalling the tally of Brendan Rodgers’ legendary 2010-11 side. In fact only two Swansea teams have ever managed to pick up more points in a single season.
This was a clear improvement on the previous season when Swansea squeezed into the play-offs on the final day with 10 fewer points.
They had the third best defence in the division and conceded fewer than 40 goals for only the fifth time in the club’s history. Swansea may not have been rampant in front of goal but they still managed to score 56 times which was an improvement on the previous campaign.
Swansea only failed to find the back of the net in 10 league games this season. Only Norwich and Brentford drew fewer blanks, showing how Swansea were consistent scorers even if they rarely got carried away in attack.
This was achieved despite losing several key players last summer.
Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher were both highly influential in Swansea’s late play-off push in 2019-20 but they both departed when their loan deals expired. The Swans then had to contend with the loss of arguably the division’s best defender when Joe Rodon was sold to Spurs on the final day of the transfer window.
As if losing these players wasn’t bad enough, the club only had a month to rebuild after losing in the previous season’s play-off semi-final and had no time for a proper pre-season.
The odds weren’t exactly stacked in Swansea’s favour but they managed to sustain the momentum from the previous season and improved on their sixth-place finish.
Any casual observer would assume that all Swansea fans would be ecstatic with this level of success but that’s not strictly true.
There isn’t a Swansea fan alive who isn’t satisfied with the points total and the club’s lofty position in the table but there are many who didn’t approve of the way it was achieved.
It may sound like snobbery, even entitlement, but a lot of Swansea fans have said that despite all the fantastic results, the style of play has affected their enjoyment during matches.
It’s fair to say Swansea’s football has not always been easy on the eye. The approach has often been conservative and risk-averse, relying heavily on a solid defence. The Swans would usually sit deep and protect their lead after scoring rather than trying to hammer home the advantage.
The football was often direct and many fans complained about the lack of intricacy and refinement in the passing play.
This is why Steve Cooper’s excellent record over the past two years still isn’t enough to win some fans over. There are some who still haven’t been convinced by Cooper and openly wish he would leave.
There have been times this season when social media has genuinely been rife with debate between warring tribes, the #CooperOut camp against the #CooperIn camp. Fans of other clubs must think it’s mad that this was ever a serious discussion considering the Swans were genuine automatic promotion candidates until the final weeks of the season.
An unfavourable comparison has been made between this season and the 2009-10 campaign when Paulo Sousa led the Swans to a seventh-place finish which was the club’s highest finish for more than a quarter of a century. It was definitely a great achievement but fans don’t look back at Sousa’s tenure with much fondness due to the dull nature of performances.
Cooper’s critics believe we will look back at this season in a similar light, with relatively few sensational memories due to the unspectacular nature of victories.
I’m not going to argue too much with that opinion because it’s possible we won’t reminisce about this season the same way we do about other vintage years.
There have been some very exciting games but most contests weren’t showstoppers. The fact fans had to watch from home, combined with the relentless nature of the fixture list probably contributed to this but it’s fair to say this wasn’t the prettiest of promotion pushes.
If some fans struggled to enjoy the past year because Swansea’s football wasn’t particularly free-flowing or adventurous then who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Aesthetics matter and the Jack Army, more than most fan bases, value beautiful football.
But anybody who feels an inelegant style of play is a reason to discredit this side and its achievements is wrong.
Cooper and the players are not paid to entertain, they are paid to win matches and in that respect they have excelled this season.
They had to deal with the loss of several key players, a lack of preparation time between seasons, an outrageously busy schedule and the scourge of online racist abuse among other things but still managed to finish fourth.
They were constantly tested and yet time after time they showed incredible fortitude and resilience to grind out results. Their game management was proven to be among the best in the division, dropping just seven points from winning positions which was the best record in the league.
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The squad’s elder statesmen led by example while younger players rose to the occasion.
The club announced its annual award winners this week and there was fierce competition for the main gongs because players distinguished themselves all over the pitch. Whether it be Andre Ayew battling away up front or Connor Roberts’ remarkable energy and invaluable goals and assists from the wing. Matt Grimes’s marshalling of midfield, Marc Guehi’s unbelievable defensive abilities and Freddie Woodman’s clean sheet addiction were all invaluable.
So many members of this squad had magnificent seasons, showing incredible attitude against the odds.
This season wasn’t pretty but it was certainly memorable and worthy of celebration for so many reasons.
Summers at Swansea City are always times of change so once again fans are preparing to say goodbye to several players and tabloid speculation suggests there is at least a possibility Cooper may be wanted elsewhere too. Who knows how this side and even the dugout will look by the beginning of August but whatever happens, Cooper and his players deserve heaps of credit for the way they have dealt with the challenges of the past year.
It wasn’t always pretty but all things considered, it was very impressive.