In many ways it felt like another of those days when it was hard to make sense of the storyline that is unfolding at Swansea City this season, yet at least on this occasion there was a happy ending for the Welsh club. Ashley Williams chose a good time to score his first Premier League goal at the Liberty Stadium, the captain’s first-half header enough to lift Swansea out the relegation zone and giveFrancesco Guidolin, who was watching from the stands, something to build upon.
Guidolin, who has been named as the new head coach in the latest bizarre development at Swansea, was looking down from the directors’ box on a night when Alan Curtis took charge of his last game before preparing to take step backwards.
It was not exactly comfortable viewing for Guidolin and at one stage near the end, after Neil Taylor’s careless header gave José Manuel Jurado a chance to equalise, the Italian could be seen running a hand over his face in despair.
Swansea, however, held on and the raucous celebrations that greeted the final whistle provided evidence of how significant this victory was regarded for a club that had won only two of its previous 17 league matches and, in terms of results, has been playing relegation football since September.
Curtis had initially been charged with the task of reviving the club and it is hard to escape the feeling that there is something very odd about the way that Swansea have handled things since, even if the Welshman sounded relaxed about the chain of events that has effectively seen him replaced only 11 days after he was told he had the job until the end of the season.
“I’ve always been quite happy if the club thought it was necessary to bring somebody in,” Curtis said, reflecting on Guidolin’s appointment. “It sounds an obvious thing but I think if we had won more games, then possibly there might not have been a need. I think our performances have been good and we haven’t had the results those performances warranted. You’re bringing in an experienced coach and manager and maybe he can get points out of those good performances. Again, I haven’t really got a problem with that.”
Gabriele Ambrosetti has joined the coaching staff and the impression that Curtis gave is that the former Chelsea midfielder will be used as an interpreter as much as a coach. What is clear, however, is that Guidolin, who led Udinese to third place in Serie A and has a colourful CV with a vast amount of coaching experience over several decades, will pick the team and take the lead in the training. “You can’t have a joint managership, it’s got to be one or the other, I’m quite happy for Francesco to have that,” Curtis said.
With eight points from his seven games in charge since Garry Monk’s sacking last month, Curtis may privately reflect that he was a little unfortunate to be asked to hand over the reins so soon. At least he has the satisfaction of doing so on the back of a win and with Swansea above that dreaded drop zone.
Swansea did enough to pick up three points here but it was not a hugely convincing performance and Watford, who slumped to a fourth straight league defeat, proved to be obliging opponents. Quique Sánchez Flores’s side were particularly flat in the first half, which the Watford manager attributed to a hangover from their disappointing display at Southampton last Wednesday, and although there was an improvement after the restart the visitors never did enough to expose Swansea’s weaknesses.
Miguel Britos headed Ben Watson’s deep free-kick onto the roof of the net and Jurado, who offered a sporadic threat drifting in from the left flank, had that late chance but otherwise Watford struggled to create much. “We are not happy with the first half,” said Flores, who will hope that the arrival of Nordin Amrabat from Málaga in a club-record £6.7m deal will give the team a lift. “But we have enough points to be positive.”
Williams’ goal was something of a collector’s item and provided a rare moment of excitement in a drab first half. Wayne Routledge, one of the smallest players on the pitch, won an important header on the edge of the area and Williams was able to hook the ball onto Ki Sung-yueng. Afforded the time and space to pick out his man, Ki delivered a measured centre from close to the byline that Williams headed emphatically beyond Heurelho Gomes. Swansea looked anxious in the second half although Bafétimbi Gomis did thump the upright late on.
“It was a massive win, takes us out the bottom three and psychologically that will give us a lift,” Curtis said. “I think over the course of the 90 minutes we deserved it. We got a little bit edgy in the second half, that’s probably more down to the situation we find ourselves in. Certainly I think if we had got that second goal we would have relaxed but I suppose that’s going to be the way between now and the end of the season.”