Things are looking up for Hollins, his educated mark on the controlled football that had Swansea thinking about a notable success in the FA Cup until Julian Dicks brought West Ham level at 1-1 with less than three minutes left at Upton Park on Saturday.
Hollins does not have to make the point that he knows what he is doing. That was evident in the success of a plan he drew up after going over reports of West Ham's recent efforts in the Premier League. Carried out with encouraging diligence it was designed to force West Ham wide in the confidence that Swansea's powerfully built centre-backs, Jason Smith and Matthew Bound, together with their tall goalkeeper, Roger Freestone, would win aerial battles.
The smile on Hollins' face was party due to the effectiveness of Swansea's policy. "It worked a treat," he said when we spoke afterwards. What pleased him most, however, was the confidence Swansea showed in construction. "I told them that playing against West Ham would be a relief from the rigours of Third Division football. That there would probably be more space, more opportunities to show their ability."
The luxury of space sometimes confounded Swansea's midfielders but they soon learned to make good use of it, which explained why West Ham were thrown off their stride much to their manager's consternation. "We never got going," Harry Redknapp complained afterwards, the look on his face indicating that some harsh words had been delivered in West Ham's dressing- room. "We've got an excellent home record,' he added, "but we always seem to make hard work of matches against teams from lower divisions."
Earlier this season West Ham were put out of the Worthington Cup by Northampton and they came desperately close to another humiliation after Smith powered in on a centre from the artful 18-year-old Stuart Roberts to put Swansea ahead in the 61st minute. Shortly afterwards, Roberts confirmed his promise with a curling shot that Shaka Hislop only just turned for a corner. "If that had gone in I would have been out on the field lifting him up," Hollins said.
By then Redknapp had begun to make changes, first bringing on the prodigy Joe Cole in place of Eyal Berkovic, who had run out of ideas, then Samassi Abou for John Hartson. It can be confidently assumed that Hartson and Ian Wright incurred most of Redknapp's displeasure. "From what I could see Harry was in two minds about which of them to bring off," Hollins said.
With less than three minutes left, Swansea paid for a rare lapse in concentration, defending too deeply when Steve Lomas's cross-field pass released Dicks into space. Going on, Dicks unleashed a low left-footed shot that flew through a crowded goalmouth and beneath Freestone's attempted save to earn West Ham an undeserved replay.
Hollins reported that his players were deeply disappointed. "They did everything that was asked of them and more," he said. "I'd said all week that they could make names for themselves and once we settled down the confidence was high."
Bound, still feeling the effects of flu, was sick in the dressing-room at half-time. "But he wouldn't hear about coming off," Hollins added. "We've got a great spirit going and tremendous support."
At the end, Hollins, waving a Welsh flag, ran to the end from where Swansea's 5,000-strong contingent had out-shouted the West Ham fans. "They were marvellous," Hollins said.
On Saturday night, at the London home he still keeps, Hollins found it difficult to sleep. "I kept going over the match, thinking about one or two things we might have done and how close we were to pulling it off," he said. "But that's behind us. On Tuesday we've got another cup-tie, Gillingham in the Auto Windscreens Shield Cup."
As for the notion that nice guys haven't got a price in football, don't you believe it.
Goals: Smith (61) 0-1; Dicks (87) 1-1.
West Ham (3-5-2): Hislop; Pearce, Ruddock, Dicks; Sinclair, Lomas, Potts, Berkovic (Cole, 65), Lazaridis (Omoyimni, 82); Wright, Hartson (Abou, 70). Substitutes not used: Breacker, Forrest (gk).
Swansea City (4-4-2): Freestone; S Jones, Smith, Bound, Howard; Roberts, Cusack, Thomas, Coates; Alsop, Watkin. Substitutes not used: Bird, J Jones, Jenkins, Price, O'Leary.
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).
Bookings: West Ham: Ruddock. Swansea: Cusack, Smith, Coates, Thomas.
Man of the match: Smith.
Attendance: 26,039.Reuse content