Halfway into the EFL Championship season and Swansea City are very much in the hunt for automatic promotion. Head coach Steve Cooper has clearly built on last term’s top-six finish and, from their current position, the Liberty Stadium side will be looking to go better than defeat in the play-off semi-finals.
Not all clubs that endure disappointment can be so resilient and come again, yet the Swans have responded to that setback in the right spirit. Pontypridd-born boss Cooper has only ever managed youth teams before, but his relative inexperience has been no barrier to success in South Wales.
Going for up-and-coming managers is something that has, by and large, worked well at Swansea over the last 15 years. From Roberto Martinez to Brendan Rodgers and Graham Potter, some of Cooper’s predecessors have gone on to bigger and better things. After going close to reaching the Premier League last season, the Swans are naturally among the favourites in the English Championship odds for promotion this term. They are doing plenty to justify their price too.
Cooper has made the most of his past connections to bring some talented youngsters from Premier League academies to the Liberty Stadium, lured by the prospect of regular first-team football. These include players he coached when part of the England youth team setup.
Signing Chelsea centre back Marc Guehi on loan is the perfect example. There is no way at this stage of his career that the Ivorian-born defender could breakthrough at Stamford Bridge, but Blues boss Frank Lampard might just sit up and take notice if he were to help Swansea get promoted.
As well as clever use of the loan system, head of recruitment and one-time Brentford boss Andy Scott has an eye for a bargain buy. For just over a combined £1,000,000, the Swans signed the Republic of Ireland left-back Ryan Manning from QPR and Wigan Athletic forward Jamal Lowe over the summer.
These additions have increased the strength-in-depth available to Cooper in what is a relatively small first-team squad. Lowe has scored eight goals, roughly 30% of Swansea’s league total of 27 for the first half of the season.
His partnership with Ghana’s Andre Ayew in attack has helped propel the team into contention for automatic promotion. The old saying goes that strikers win matches but defenders win championships, and they may yet be proven once again.
The Swans boasted the best defence in the division during the first half of the Championship campaign with just 13 goals conceded. They kept 13 clean sheets in their first 22 games with long-term Newcastle United loanee Freddie Woodman organising the back three in front of him from goal.
Again, it is a familiar tale with the keeper. The path to first-team football at his parent club is blocked, so Woodman is gaining vital experience during an extended stay in South Wales.
Both Swansea and Cardiff City made the Championship play-offs last term and neither got promoted. If the former continues in the same vein during the second half of this season, however, there could well be a Welsh club in the Premier League once again.