Paul Clement dragged Swansea out of relegation danger last season, but 10 months after his arrival, the Welshmen are right back in the mire.
A 1-0 defeat at home to Brighton saw the Swans drop into the bottom three and offered little optimism that their slide might be arrested anytime soon.
Glenn Murray condemned Clement’s side to a seventh defeat in eight games, while Swans season-ticket holders have watched their team lose six of the seven matches they have played at home this season.
There was an inevitability after Murray’s goal that will concern Clement as much as anything else. “Sometimes you start thinking ‘where’s the next point coming from?’ because you just can’t see it,” he said on Friday and no matter how the manager tried to improve his side’s prospects, Swansea remained terminally jittery and fearful.
Clement attempted to change the tone by switching to a 4-3-3 and he asked for a fast opening from his team to get the home fans back on side. It was a relatively simple request to fulfil. Pass with purpose if you have the ball; chase it down in packs if you don’t. But the Swans are shot of all belief and their sluggish start sums up their lack of confidence and their appreciation of the high stakes.
Chris Hughton would have been content with Brighton’s opening half hour and the hosts’ frustration was evident when Federico Fernandez went through the back of Glenn Murray to earn a booking. Barely a minute after that, Murray lost Fernandez to bundle the ball past Luksaz Fabianski and put the Seagulls ahead, making the Swans even more jittery.
Swansea were lucky not to be two down by the break, when boos rang around the Liberty Stadium. Those catcalls were audible when Tom Carroll made way for Luciano Narsingh as Clement tried to affect what was unravelling in front of him, and again midway through the second period when yet another set-piece went awry. On that occasion, Sam Clucas was unable even to lift the ball off the ground and Clement admitted after that some of the deliveries from dead balls “were really difficult to explain”.
The home supporters, who saw a late rally but not enough quality, have had enough, though most of their ire was dispatched in the direction of the directors’ box rather than the dug-out. ‘Get out of our club’ chanted the Swansea faithful, rehashing the same songs that were sung a year ago towards chairman Huw Jenkins and American owners Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan.
In the long-term, the hierarchy has plenty to learn and much to prove as responsible stewards of a Premier League club. That won’t concern Clement, though, who can only think in terms of days and, if he is fortunate, weeks. Even if the former Chelsea, PSG and Bayern Munich coach is not an experienced boss, he has been around the game long enough to know that if the owners go looking for a scapegoat, then the manager is first in the firing line.
Clement’s body language upon the final whistle when he sloped off down the tunnel after congratulating Hughton suggested he is very much aware of how precarious defeat leaves his future at Swansea. This was a “must-win” game, he said on Friday, which surely makes defeat during the upcoming visits of Bournemouth and West Brom even more unthinkable.
The manager’s modest-but-realistic target was to reach 20 points by halfway through the campaign which leaves Swansea looking for four wins during an eight-game run in which they face Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal. Clement was appointed when the Swans’ prospects appeared similarly dire and his tone after the game suggests he is struggling to see a way to repeat the turnaround he inspired when he arrived.