Jackett suited to the Cup

FA Cup fourth round: Memories of Watford's knockout exploits stirred as Swans sail towards a brighter future
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The Independent Football

The cliché most often employed to describe Swansea City's fortunes over the past three decades, "a rollercoaster ride", is inaccurate as well as lazy. Rather than repeatedly lurching up and down, what they actually did was climb imperiously to the top of the football mountain and then slide all the way down on their backsides.

Only recently, ragged of trouser and thoroughly chastened, have Wales's second club begun the long haul back, winning one promotion and just missing another, then springing into the national conscious-ness again by way of the FA Cup. A thumping 3-0 victory away to Sheffield United was the outstanding result of the last round, and deserved better reward than a trip to Ipswich Town in the fourth round on Saturday.

The current manager, Kenny Jackett, has good reason to understand what they have been through. Not only did the Watford team he played for share many of the good times charging through the divisions at the same time as Swansea, but with both parents born and bred in the city, he had kept in touch with the club before joining as manager three years ago.

"I've always had uncles and aunts and cousins there telling me what was happening at the club and how they were doing," he said. "Now we've got no shortage of babysitters since going back."

Starting together at the lowest level of the Football League in 1978, Swansea and Watford seemed to be engaged in a manic race through the divisions. John Toshack's team made it to the old First Division one year earlier, in 1981, and finished sixth after briefly sitting on top of the pile. Watford made an equally bold impression and were runners-up in their first season before reaching the 1984 FA Cup final, a game Jackett recalls with less bitterness than many beaten finalists: "It's not very nice losing, but Everton were the better side, strong all over the pitch, and they deserved it."

Meanwhile, the Swans' rever-sion to ugly ducklings followed as dramatically as their original transformation, landing them back where they started by 1986. Watford managed to stabilise for longer, though Jackett was forced to retire through injury in 1990, aged 28, soon after Graham Taylor left for Aston Villa. The two men would be reunited at Vicarage Road later in the decade, briefly reaching the Premiership, but Jackett was then forced out by the fin-ancially disastrous Gianluca Vialli regime.

When appointed at the Vetch Field in March 2004, he became Swansea's 16th manager in the 20 years since Toshack (one of whom lasted six days). "It was quite a high turnover," he agrees. "But if you worried about that sort of thing you wouldn't go into the industry, would you?"

After serving under Taylor ("an excellent learning curve"), and then Ian Holloway at Queens Park Rangers, he felt he was ready, and proved it by winning promotion in his first full season. Happily that enabled the club to leave the cramped old Vetch on a high, moving 18 months ago to the Liberty Stadium.

Once there, attendances improved by a remarkable 66 per cent in a year that culminated in two visits up the M4 to the Millennium Stadium: 42,000 watched victory in the Football League Trophy final, and 55,000 endured the huge disappointment of losing a play-off final on penalties to Barnsley. This season, Swansea have remained regularly in the play-off places and among the two highest-scoring teams, thanks largely to the continuing exploits of the exuberant Merseysider Lee Trundle. After scoring 59 League goals in the past three seasons, he has been prolific again, and Jackett must be surprised, if delighted, to have received no offers for him other than Sheffield Wednesday's £250,000 a year ago.

As ever, there is danger of a long Cup run affecting the principal aim of promotion, but Jackett is grateful for the recognition earned by the victory over Sheffield United, diluted as it was in some quarters by the assumption that United fielded a weak team. "We beat a Premier League side, a very good side," he insists. "And after one of our lads came off in the first half, that made 10 players unavailable to us that day. Ipswich is a terrific place to go, a fantastic reputation in football. It's a game we can enjoy, and look to do well in."

Looking beyond Saturday's tie, he added: "The new stadium helped us become financially stable and makes us a club with Championship potential. The club is strong and going in the right direction, and will only get stronger."