Swansea saw off Watford 1-0 Monday night in a bottom-tier clash decided by a header from defender Ashley Williams. The win took Swans out of the drop zone by a single point, and continued Watford's recent slump.
This was a meeting of two teams heading in the same direction: down. Watford have now lost four straight in the league and appear to have lost the momentum that made them one of the stories of the season to date. Swansea have been in freefall for much of the year, and opened the day in the drop zone. Having foolishly sacked manager Garry Monk at the first sign of trouble, Swans have subsequently been worse under interim manager Alan Curtis.
Today, the Welsh club made another surprise move, signing former Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin as the "head coach" of the club, and giving the Italian final approval on all lineups. (What this unusual, shotgun marriage between a man with no Premier League experience and the overmatched Curtis means is yet to be seen.) With Guidolin watching from the stands, Curtis sent out Swansea in a diamond, with Wayne Routledge as an unlikely central striker.
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That diamond did seem to work, with Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson steering the play. But it must also be said that the Hornets offered little tonight: totally overrun in the middle of the park, the only flashes came from workhorse Troy Deeney, but to no effect. Swansea might have done more damage had they possessed any width â but they did not, and with Routledge frequently the only man in the opposition penalty box, when a cross was sent in, it was met by a pack in black shirts.
Still, Swansea did deserve their goal on 27 minutes. Ben Watson made a poor clearance off a corner kick, and the ball was recycled wide right to Ki, who was able to get behind the line and loop the ball into traffic. For once, Swansea had bodies in the box and Williams was able to make just a little hop up to nod the ball back to the far post, beating Heurelho Gomes.
There was little quality after that. Odion Ighalo, who has been such a threat for Watford, seemed to be taking the night off, and was frequently seen strolling about near the center circle. Swansea tried to grab another, but they lack both basic quality and confidence, and were unwilling to risk advancing further numbers.
As the game advanced, the quality dipped. Swansea stormed forward more frequently but too often passes were wayward and there was little sense that they would be able to grab another. Bafetimbi Gomis hit the post in stoppage time, but even then, the big man was so far off balance on the shot that htting the woodwork felt like luck. Watford were worse, however: Lukas Fabianski was untroubled in the Swansea net as the Hornets had just one shot on frame, a header from Miguel Angel Britos that went over the crossbar. Jose Jurado had six attempts, none on net, but almost leveled late when a speculative effort took a big cut and nearly dipped in at the far corner.
Despite the result, one suspects that Guidolin saw he has much work to do in the coming weeks. Swansea desperately need another striker and could use another holding midfielder as well. (The curious decision to discard Jonjo Shelvey on the eve of hiring Guidolin is likely to be a well-examined subplot, especially if Shelvey continues to impress at relegation-rivals Newcastle.)
As for Quique Flores, recently given the curse of being named the league's manager of the month for December, he needs to find some way to reenergize his very small squad. Watford cannot lose sight of the fact that they still need to collect 11 points from their remaining games to ensure safety; the lofty thoughts of Europe they enjoyed this fall should be shelved.