Crystal Palace-Swansea City Preview
Swansea City's slow climb from danger doesn't have them jumping past many teams on the table, but they're potentially two matches away from waving as Crystal Palace free-fall right on by.
A club who once were setting their sights on Europe over a fruitful festive period have lost five in a row, and if they go another match without points following Saturday's visit to the Liberty Stadium, the Eagles will likely be closer to the drop than qualification for any continental football.
The only results keeping Palace's collective head up at all have been FA Cup progressions, which have them through to the round of 16. But after a 1-0 win over Stoke City last Saturday, it was back to more of the same in the league: An uninspiring attack and an inability to hold a lead resulting in Tuesday's 2-1 home loss to Bournemouth. The Eagles (9-4-11) took a 27th-minute lead on a strike from Scott Dann, but that lasted seven minutes and Palace found themselves behind for good 12 minutes after the interval.
The Eagles last managed a league point in a goalless draw with Swansea at Selhurst Park on Dec. 28 - their final match of a six-match unbeaten stretch in the league. But the glass is now half-empty - that match is the second of a seven-game winless streak on which goals have been a rarity to say the least. Dann's was just their second on the winless streak, and they're now in danger of their first six-match losing streak in the league since dropping seven on the bounce from Sept. 14-Nov. 2, 2013.
"We're professional footballers and we've got a lot of strong characters in that changing room," midfielder Mile Jedinak told the club's official website. "We're not feeling the best at the minute but once you walk out of the stadium you've got to put it behind you and look forward to the next game and try and find a formula and solution that's going to win us a football game."
The problem is this streakiness is becoming known as the formula of Alan Pardew, for better or worse. The former Newcastle United manager had the Eagles in rare company in his first 12 months as boss with one of the Premier League's best records dating to his January hire. The rise and fall is reminiscent of his final months on Tyneside when the Magpies won six straight across all competitions after going winless through the first seven league matches of the season, which had them at the bottom of the table and supporters protesting his existence at the club.
"It really was one of those nights when you have to kind of just accept and move on," Pardew said.
The reverse fixture to end 2015 marked the sixth clean sheet kept by Swansea against Palace in the last nine matches dating back to their time in the Championship, over which the Swans are 4-4-1.
Swansea (6-8-10) have started to eradicate the struggles that had and still have them very much a part of the relegation conversation. But a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion followed a 2-1 win at Everton and a 1-0 home win over Watford, bettering their point total from their previous 11 matches in a mere 270 minutes. Even so, they feel they left two points at The Hawthorns by allowing the Baggies to equalise in the second minute of stoppage time.
"We are playing a lot better than what we were a few months ago. We weren't picking up points and were not creating chances or playing well," Gylfi Sigurdsson told the club's official website after giving his club a 64th-minute lead. "But we seemed to have got our confidence back with some good performances and points. We have a few home games coming up and we would look to get at least four points from them."
It has them in 16th - far from comfortable - but Swansea enter the weekend with a five-point lead over 18th-place Newcastle and five back of 12th-place Palace, with the Eagles now nine adrift from fifth-place Manchester United - a spot they were threatening to occupy not long ago.
While Francesco Guidolin and Alan Curtis might elect not to tinker much with a lineup that's shown recent promise, at some point they'll debut Leroy Fer. The Holland midfielder inked a deadline-day loan from Championship side Queens Park Rangers after Jonjo Shelvey's move to Newcastle last month.
"Swansea always want to play football, starting from the back. That's what we were brought up to do in Holland, so that suits me perfectly," Fer said.
"It's not gone the way the club would have wanted so far this season, but with this squad and the way we play I believe we will be fine."