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Swansea City 0-4 Leeds United: Being here

Written by: Moxcowhite • Daniel Chapman
Wilf Gnonto going full Alioski in Swansea, wiggling his hands by his ears and sticking his tongue out as he looks down the camera

Back when the EFL fixtures were announced in June this was immediately the week nobody wanted. First of all, nobody wanted these fixtures at all, 46 of them, with Sky Bet logos all over, a hidden optical illusion, if you squinted, revealing Keith Andrews’ tiresome frown. But mid-February stood out, the week of Saint Valentine, a distinctly unlovely pairing of Swansea Tuesday, Plymouth Saturday, while Rotherham Saturday looked after us aghast like a scorned lover. What a league. What a week. What a lot not to look forward to.

What a night. Down the road in Bristol, where Daniel Farke forbids us to look, Southampton were regretting the calamitous end of their unbeaten run and packing their things to go back down south, and back down to 3rd place. The problem with conceding three at Ashton Gate is that Bristol City announce each goal with a gif so tightly packed with cringe it is inevitably seen far across social media. The problem with Southampton’s run of 22 unbeaten games, starting with a 3-1 win over Leeds, is that at the end of it, they are not above Leeds and not in the automatic promotion places. They, maybe, are wondering if they’ve made the most of it. Perhaps, after conceding six in two games to Huddersfield and Bristol City, they’re wondering if one defeat will be the worst of it. On Friday they’re going to West Brom.

We’re supposed to be concentrating on Leeds. Sorry Daniel. Seven consecutive wins. One goal conceded. Seven scored in the last two games. We thought Pascal Struijk was the rock but the defence has hardened without him. We thought Ethan Ampadu was the anchor but midfield is blooming with Ilia Gruev. This season was Dan James’ resurrection but since he has fallen Wilf Gnonto has risen. Perhaps it was Pat Bamford, returning to fitness, making everything work. He dropped out injured in the warm up, and Joel Piroe scored one of United’s four. A difficult away trip in a difficult and dreaded week, made more difficult since June by accumulating more difficult away fixtures around it, looked easy. That it took Leeds into the top two made it worth celebrating.

The real victory was that this win felt so ordinary and looked so replicable. I know I’m placing a curse on the whole thing, but this winning run becomes eight in a row at Plymouth on Saturday. Before the game at Swansea, Farke was talking about what it takes to instil a winning mentality into a relegated club, and his basic message was first that it isn’t easy, second that it takes time, and third that it’s all based on good habits – you have to start winning before you can work out how to keep winning. Once winning commences, improvements can follow. You have to see the problem before you can solve the problem and Farke has, recently, been bemoaning United’s lack of attacking “efficiency”, from behind a healthy position formed by winning anyway. Then Bamford scored after ten minutes on Saturday and it was 3-0 by the hour; and at Swansea Crysencio Summerville and Piroe had both scored after ten minutes, and it was 3-0 by half-time. At this rate, expect three goals in the first ten minutes at Home Park and 5-0 by the half-hour.

Okay, it probably won’t be that easy, or as easy as it was to beat Swansea – Plymouth have made our results against them difficult, and have the extra motivation of our recent history. But how easy Swansea made this game is open to interpretation – would they have been more stubborn had Leeds not kept things going after a corner until Summerville, cutting in, got his shot deflected in? It’s hard to say. The Swans had barely looked present in the eight minutes to that point, and were nowhere at all two minutes later when Piroe dropped deep, played a long one-two with Gnonto, swapped feet in the penalty area and booted the ball in off the goalie. I don’t know if Swansea had given up or had nothing to give. Farke, though, must have been delighted by those two goals – low blasts deflected in, the kind of good old fashioned finishing he yearns for amid United’s yen for complicated panenkas.

Gnonto restored some of the old order when Glen Kamara, perhaps having heard Swansea boss Luke Williams praising his coach (and ex-Leeds defender) Alan Sheehan’s set-piece architecture at the weekend – “I loved that Alan Sheehan gave us this work of art of a set-piece … To watch Alan go to work with the set-pieces and watch the players concentrate, it’s a privilege to witness it” – intercepted one of Sheezdogg’s rehearsed corners and started a counter attack that Gnonto delivered to the goalkeeper when he had to score. That would have been 3-0 on fifteen minutes. Instead Gnonto made it three on 35, doing the right amount with the finish – cutting across defenders, zipping the ball inside the near post – after a simple but not subtle set-up. You could and maybe should praise Gnonto’s movement here, before he was found by his visionary right-back Archie Gray, but honestly, he just waited until the Swansea players surrounding him all looked the other way then ran off, ‘see ya!’, towards the box.

Ironically, given all the fears about travel wearing Leeds down, Williams seemed to think a weekend in the air of Hull had hindered his players. “The output in that game was the highest of the whole season,” he said. “It’s not something we’re accustomed to at the moment.” There’s the habit factor again. 1-0 at Hull was Swansea’s first win after four defeats. Against Leeds, he said, Swansea were “too timid”. “We caused ourselves huge problems. Then when we got in close contact, we didn’t win enough tackles … If you look at the way they applied pressure to our back line, that’s the difference.”

He may have had United’s fourth, specifically, in mind. Out wide, Paterson and Placheta were given a tough ping by Matt Grimes, and after Gruev and Georginio Rutter had hassled them into giving up, Grimes saw Summerville go by him with the ball like he was scrolling through a half-read vaguebook post. Summerville passed to Gnonto on the run, who positioned himself and composed himself within chopping distance of Bashir Humphreys’ chasing, knowing no chopping would come. A simple finish into the bottom corner quelled any question of Leeds’ relative second half slackness letting Swansea back in; United had taken their lead before the heaviest rain, and let Gruev take them ticking through to full-time.

Leeds are at the point, now, where even discomfort can be feigned. Georginio Rutter’s upset at being substituted without scoring was real: he’d have loved to make it five. But after a word with Farke on the touchline, glum Georgi in the tunnel was an actor, hamming for the camera as he slouched past, hiding behind Bamford, his hands covering his eyes as if he was crying. A word from Piroe – “No speaking? Come on, we win 4-0, bro!” – and Georgi span right round, trying not to let a smile ruin his put-on as he stared down the camera, before breaking character back into character. “No party, no Piroe! Let’s go!”

“Meanwhile, he’s already smiling in the dressing room as you can hear,” said Farke, as he did his post-match press conference on the edge of the party bounds. “Probably the loudest singer as well.” There they all are, then, where nobody wanted to be, Swansea on a wet Tuesday in mid-February in the Championship, the best examples of what it’s like to change habits, from losing to winning: Rutter, a year from joining, now so happy to be frustrated that he can pretend to be sad; Gnonto, who wanted away, scoring three in two; Bamford, his knee hurting him again, all grins in the tunnel; Piroe, who has been sitting watching Bamford play, making sure Rutter threw away his sad cloak to enjoy the moment. “We win 4-0, bro! We win 4-0!” They did, and they do, and there’s nothing bad to say about being here now it’s happening. ⬢

(Photograph by David Davies/PA Images, via Alamy)

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