Swansea City are the jammiest team in the league, relying on a combination of skulduggery, questionable refereeing and pure, unfiltered luck to keep themselves in the promotion chase.
Well, that is according to supporters of rival clubs.
Judging by many of the discussions taking place on social media over the past week, Swansea’s recent success is down to a shady EFL conspiracy in conjunction with referees and Steve Cooper’s dad to deny Watford and Brentford their rightful place in the top flight.
I’ll be honest, there’s something strangely satisfying about watching the rest of the league head into meltdown whenever the Swans pick up points. Boiling the opposition’s blood is one of the great childish joys of being a football fan. Regardless of who you support, winding up the competition can be a lot of fun.
Some of the hysteria surrounding the Swans’ last few matches has been laughably melodramatic but it all stems from the widely-held belief that Swansea have had a lot of luck with referees.
This belief is not entirely misplaced.
Since the start of December there have been five blatant and highly consequential refereeing mistakes by my count which have gone Swansea’s way, either enabling them to score or denying goals for opponents.
These include soft penalties given in Swansea’s favour such as the 96th-minute winner against Stoke. It also includes the controversial decision not to disallow Swansea’s late equaliser against Brentford, despite a clear foul on the Bees’ keeper by Jake Bidwell.
There have also been decisions which have unfairly denied the opposition, as was the case last week when referee Gavin Ward inexplicably ruled out a stunning equaliser by Middlesbrough’s Marc Bola and gave Swansea a free-kick when if anything it should have been a penalty for the Teessiders.
These incidents were all indisputable errors which came at key moments and had a huge bearing on the final results.
There have of course been bad refereeing mistakes which have not gone in Swansea’s favour but these are a minority and many of these incidents came in games which Swansea won, lessening their impact.
One of the worst calls seen at the Liberty this season was the decision not to award a penalty when Jordan Morris was blatantly fouled in the box against Norwich. Thankfully the Swans were already 2-0 up by then and cruising to victory.
The Swans have definitely been lucky in this department and the glut of poor decisions which have gone their way over the past fortnight has not helped this perception.
It has led to a situation where every decision in Swansea’s favour, even the correct ones, is milked for all it’s worth by pundits and rival fans alike.
The late penalty call in the Middlesbrough match which eventually secured three points would not usually be a particularly controversial decision in my opinion. George Saville clearly fouled Bidwell and little would have been made of the incident had there not been earlier controversy in that game and had Swansea not been given a genuinely dodgy penalty at a similar point in their previous match.
Likewise there was plenty of bellyaching on social media when Jay Fulton was fouled for the penalty at Ewood Park in midweek despite Sam Gallagher clearly kicking him.
This whole discussion about referees giving us a helping hand has become quite comical but it’s also helped masked the fact that Swansea have become even more reliant on other forms of luck.
Results over the past month have remained quite positive but they have not matched performances.
Swansea have looked limited in attack for most of the season but the past month has been particularly poor.
Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe have been getting more and more isolated as the rest of the team struggles to build coherent attacks.
The last few fixtures have seen Swansea revert to a more direct approach, relying on long balls which they hope will force mistakes or yield throw-ins.
A team can play well without being entertaining, as Swansea have proved for most of the season, but there’s nothing about their attacking play in recent games which can be described in any way as good football.
Excluding penalties, Swansea managed just three shots on target in their last two games and seven of their last eight league goals have either come from set-pieces or random, unforced errors by the opposition.
There have been too many games in the past month where Swansea have not functioned as an attacking force and therefore failed to create much from open play.
They have gotten away with being one of the least creative sides in the division all season because their defensive play has been second to none but even that rock-solid rearguard is beginning to look shaky.
Mistakes have crept into Swansea’s play and this sloppiness at the back means they have conceded as many goals in their last six league games as they did in their previous 22.
Not long ago there was talk of this back line potentially breaking Championship records but they now only have the joint-second best defensive record in the division.
Swansea have been poor at both ends of the pitch but they have still managed to pick up results. Some will argue this is down to resilience and the winning mentality instilled by Steve Cooper which is true to some extent but it’s also undeniably down to luck.
This luck has been there all season. There have been plenty of games where the Swans have not clicked but fortuitous moments have enabled them to snatch points they probably did not deserve.
Luck is essential to any promotion campaign, it’s very difficult to go up automatically without it but the Swans have relied too heavily on this rare commodity lately.
Whether it’s refereeing mistakes gifting us points or fluke goals against the run of play, I’ll take any win no matter how fortuitous it may be but Swansea’s current run of luck cannot realistically be sustained.
Winning while playing poorly is great but it has its limits and at some point Swansea’s cache of get out of jail free cards is bound dry up.
The Swans have put themselves in a fantastic position but this is the stage in a campaign where teams have to show what they are made of and relying on luck will not enable Swansea to finish what they’ve started.
They have to find a way of rediscovering the composure, energy and assuredness they showed against Norwich just five weeks ago.
Performances have dipped since then but Steve Cooper’s men have more than enough ability to up their game and start winning games on merit again.
To sign up for our daily Swansea City newsletter, click here.