Emphatic derby win signals Swans return

Posted by Max Hicks

There really is something special about Swansea City Football Club. On the evidence of Saturday's convincing 3-0 victory over arch-rivals Cardiff, the sacking of manager Michael Laudrup looks entirely justified.

- Report: Swansea 3-0 Cardiff

The decision polarised the Swans fan base, and might have seriously damaged the Swans' bid to avoid the drop. Instead, the team responded with a first-class performance in the biggest game of their season. It might be early days, but so far, it looks like Swans chairman Huw Jenkins was right once again.

Jenkins' track record of inspired managerial hirings is well-established, but less heralded is his ability to handle potentially destructive situations at the club with an equal deftness of touch. Managers have come and gone, players have come and gone -- all moves which have been sanctioned by Jenkins -- and with every change the club continues to prosper, evolve and strengthen.

The way Swansea not only survived the departures of one-time key players like Dorus de Vries, Darren Pratley, Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair, but actually improved as a result, shows how Jenkins has long had a knack for making the right moves at the right time.

Sacking Laudrup -- a legend of world football and the biggest name ever associated with the side -- was probably Jenkins' bravest decision to date, but was apparently exactly what was needed. I admit that I had serious reservations. Laudrup's effect on the club had been so positive. The Dane improved the squad considerably through expert exploitation of the transfer market. He brought the side its first major trophy. But the rot had set in.

From outside the dressing room, it is impossible to say how much the players had to do with the decision, or how those players felt once the decision was made. However, on the evidence of the Swans' performance on Saturday -- one in which the side showed focus, energy and desire for the first time in weeks -- it looks like the squad is very much united around new boss Garry Monk.

Monk's squad selection was largely as expected, save for one eye-opening decision -- the inclusion of new Swan Marvin Emnes, starting in the hole behind Wilfried Bony. Jonjo Shelvey, who has lately occupied that position, was absent with injury, but Alejandro Pozuelo -- a consistent part of Laudrup's side and obvious choice for the role -- didn't even make the bench.

Instead, Emnes instantly endeared himself to Swans fans for a second time around (he scored against Cardiff while on loan at the club in 2010) with an exquisite first touch and positive forward-focused play thereafter. Emnes has long been admired by Jenkins, who finally got his man last month. The move didn't inspire much excitement at the time, but perhaps Jenkins was right. Again.

After Emnes withdrawal at the half due to injury, a resurgent Pablo Hernandez took the field and dominated the second half, paying an active part in all three Swansea goals. Having been typically deployed as a winger under Laudrup, Pablo was instead allowed free run of the centre of the field, dominating the attacking third with intelligence and creativity.

If Pablo's individual performance was excellent (as was Wayne Routledge's), it was the Swansea team performance from which fans will take most heart. With his defensive partner of old now calling the shots from the sidelines, captain Ash Williams stood tall and led the Swans defence to a clean sheet, allowing only a single shot on target in the process.

All the while, Monk inspired his men to keep going, to not let recent bad habits of easing up and drifting off to take over, screaming at his players to close the opposition down, to stay close, to keep pressing. Opting to wear a club tracksuit rather than a formal suit -- because he believes he has to "earn the right to wear that suit" -- Monk blended in with the rest of the Swansea coaching staff on the sidelines.

In its own way, Monk's track-suited anonymity was a statement about the Swansea Way, the power of the collective, the team-ethic of this partly supporter-owned club. No man is ever bigger than the team, or so the cliche goes. There are few bigger men in football than Laudrup. In a sense, the Dane's spell with Swansea was always going to be brief and volatile, even if it was extremely beneficial.

Now, the affair is over, and it's back to business for Swansea City and their unfashionable, unassuming and inspired new manager. There's a lot of work yet to do, but a 3-0 thumping of the club's biggest rivals in front of an anxious home crowd is an even better beginning than Laudrup's own mystical 5-0. Stoke are next. Swansea are back.

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