The key issue that’s preventing Swansea City from emerging as serious play-off contenders – Guto Llewelyn

Swansea are part of an enormous mid-table blob, tightly packed with teams which are yet to set the world alight but could make the play-offs with a good second half to the season.

The Swans enter this weekend in ninth, six points off the top six, which is probably a decent return when compared with supporters’ lowered expectations back in August.

But they are one of a number of sides who could break into the coveted play-off spots with a consistent run of results. Just two points separate Swansea from Preston North End all the way down in 17th, making the middle of the Championship incredibly clustered.

It would take a dramatic downturn for any of these teams to get dragged into a relegation battle but breaking into those coveted play-off spots isn’t beyond any of these sides. Other than the imperious Fulham and Bournemouth, there isn’t a wealth of quality at the top end of the Championship, which makes this an incredibly open league.

There is an open door for clubs like Swansea and all the others battling it out in mid-table, and plenty of time to put together the kind of run which would get them into the play-offs. So do any of them have what it takes to bridge that relatively small gap?

A key factor will be matches against the teams around them. It sounds obvious but in such an inconsistent league, stringing together a few wins against those nearest to you in the table can be hugely decisive. Unfortunately this isn’t an area where Swansea have excelled this season.

If we split the table up into segments, we see that Swansea have been very efficient against the worst teams in the division. Ignoring points deductions, the six teams which have collected the fewest points are Barnsley, Peterborough, Cardiff, Hull, Derby and Bristol City.

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Swansea have faced them all, winning four and drawing two. So far this season only Sheffield United have picked up more points against these clubs than Russell Martin’s men.

The Swans have shown themselves to be extremely professional against the weakest in the Championship and they’ve also performed well against many of the teams above them.

Of the eight teams above the Swans in the table, seven of them have already faced the men in white, with three of them tasting defeat. That’s not a bad record although it must be said that Swansea have also suffered some hefty losses against the top teams.

However Swansea’s record against the other mid-table sides is pretty uninspiring.

They have failed to beat any of the teams which would be ranked 10th-18th if points deductions were taken out of the equation. Just four points have been collected against the division’s middling masses, which is very difficult to explain.

READ MORE: Everything Swansea City boss Russell Martin said on team news, Jamie Paterson and Chris Wilder ahead of Middlesbrough trip

Swansea seem to excel when they face the Championship’s worst and they’ve proven themselves capable of beating teams challenging towards the top end of the division, but they have found it very difficult to take points off those in between.

It’s such a strange situation and I can’t really explain this pattern of results. It’s difficult to understand why Swansea seem to struggle against their nearest competitors but it’s clearly something they need to rectify, starting with their upcoming fixtures.

Four of their next five opponents are floating around that mid-table mishmash.

Today’s opponents, Middlesbrough, were many people’s dark horses for the play-offs in the summer, having made some eye-catching additions to their squad in the transfer market. But they have failed to make the desired impact, with 73 per cent of their points coming against sides in the bottom half.

They have ambitiously recruited Chris Wilder to replace Neil Warnock as manager, in a bid to supercharge their anaemic campaign. They’re hoping the former Sheffield United boss can be the cheat code which helps everything click and in their last match they picked up arguably their most impressive victory of the season away at Huddersfield.

Middlesbrough are a classic example of a team who haven’t really done much of note but have the capacity to make a serious charge for the play-offs. They have no shortage of talent in attack and by now they also have a manager capable of getting the best out of them.

Today’s trip to Teesside certainly won’t be easy.

Teams like Middlesbrough, Swansea and several others in that mix are capable of challenging further up the table. Outside the top two, this is a very weak Championship and the top end of the table is begging clubs in mid-table to put together exciting runs of form to break into the top six.

That run could come from Swansea but it could just as easily come from a Sheffield United, Luton Town or Nottingham Forest. Nobody would complain if the Swans finished in mid-table. In fact it would probably be in line with most supporters’ pre-season expectations but the nature of the Championship means a play-off push is not beyond them.

If Swansea are to be that rider which breaks away from the peloton, they must start picking up wins against teams like Middlesbrough and the others around them.

The coming month could give us some valuable clues as to where Swansea will be competing in the second half of the campaign.

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