Swansea’s win at Sunderland not only eased their relegation concerns but also brought the prospect of a more relaxing Sunday for Paul Clement.
The Swans boss admitted on Friday that the outcome at the Stadium of Light would dictate how the rest of his weekend would be spent. Win, and Clement could nestle on the sofa and at least attempt to enjoy Super Sunday, which gets underway with Hull’s visit to Crystal Palace. Fail to take maximum points on Wearside, however, and “I might lie in a dark room somewhere”.
After a 2-0 victory. the immediate future appears brighter for Clement and Swansea. By the time the manager tucks into his Sunday lunch, the Welsh club’s Premier League status for next term could be confirmed should Hull take their jitters from last week down south to Selhurst Park. If, or rather when, safety is sealed, Clement deserves great credit for a job well done.
He inherited a team that, at the start of the year and halfway through the season, were rock-bottom of the table, two points below Hull and three adrift of Sunderland. To think of anyone being worse off than the Black Cats illustrates the scale of the mess Clement had to clean up.
Appointed during the same week Marco Silva took over at Hull, the second half of the season has almost been a shoot-out between the two new managers. Silva, rightly, has received huge credit for keeping Hull competitive to this point, while Clement’s work has slipped rather more under the radar.
The Swansea boss has inspired not one, but two upturns of form during his brief stint so far. The ‘new manager bounce’ saw his players earn four wins in his opening six games which took them to 15th in the table, but their form levelled out, with three consecutive defeats to Tottenham, West Ham and, most miserably, Watford leaving them back in the bottom three.
Despite their predicament, the Swans re-established a united front, with Clement leaning on the players who know the club best, even if they were not in his starting XI. The manager name-checked Leon Britton, Jack Cork, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Angel Rangel when asked this week which players had contributed most to get them to this point. Of that quintet, only Britton was in Clement’s XI at Sunderland, with Cork making a late appearance off the bench. Keeping a struggling squad pulling in the same direction seems to be becoming harder in the modern game, with the contrast at already-relegated Middlesbrough showing Clement’s savvy leadership in an even more positive light.
Britton has been especially pivotal in the Swans’ most recent revival. The 34-year-old made his first contribution on the pitch under Clement as recently as three weeks ago at home to Stoke. With the skipper back at the base of their midfield, Swansea have won three and drawn one – at Man Utd – keeping three clean sheets in the process.
The togetherness extends beyond the dressing room. Britton led a whip-round among the squad to buy Swansea’s entire ticket allocation of 3,000 and Clement, whose rare displays of emotion appear as strategic as his training sessions, made sure the whole travelling squad took to the field to celebrate their first away win in eight matches with the Jack Army.
Such scenes appeared most unlikely when Clement replaced the hapless Bob Bradley on January 3. Since then, after dusting himself down following a difficult spell at Derby, Carlo Ancelotti’s former right-hand man has demonstrated the necessary leadership qualities to prove himself as more than just a hugely talented coach and trusted assistant.