If it is possible for a manager to be under pressure five matches into his reign – and in the Premier League, it undoubtedly is – then Bob Bradley is a man in trouble.
The former United States coach is honest enough to admit that he has made mistakes since his appointment at the beginning of last month, with tactical naivety and multiple team changes doing little to convince fans of his merits.
Yet even when he gets his selection right, as he did at Everton, it is not enough. Swansea were moments from their first league victory in three months when some feeble defending allowed Seamus Coleman, no giant at 5ft 10ins, to loop in an equaliser with a free header.
The goal, which cancelled out the impressive Gylfi Sigurdsson’s first-half penalty, dropped Bradley’s team to the foot of the table. Even though it was Swansea’s best display in weeks, the storm clouds continue to gather. They are five points from a position of safety, and have no margin for error when a Crystal Palace side with troubles of their own visit the Liberty Stadium this Saturday.
Bradley, to his credit, is not looking for excuses. “There are different ways you can approach it,” he said. “You can just blame everybody. But in the early stages, it is a two-way street. I’ve got to get to know the players and they’ve got to get to know me. It’s important they understand that if something is wrong at my end, I am going to look right at them and take responsibility. And then together, we’re going to figure out how to get this thing right.”
The manager is aware that he may not be given much time to improve matters. His appointment was a controversial one; Swansea’s Supporters’ Trust, which retains a 21 per cent stake in the club, believed they were not consulted properly by the new American owners over the decision. Bad blood remains, and Bradley realises that a touch of honesty, allied to better results, may be his best hope of winning over sceptical fans.
“Honesty means good and bad,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we start going nuts about giving up a late goal. There were good things. We know that. The players need to have some positive reinforcement as well. But I keep saying the same thing: The spot we’re in is going to take more work.”
Hanging on to Sigurdsson in January may be crucial to survival. The Iceland international, Swansea’s best player at Goodison Park, appears to appreciate the manager’s straight-talking ways. “He’s very straightforward as to what he wants,” said the midfielder, pressed into a forward role against Everton. “He tells you straight if you are not doing it right. We owe him and we owe the club a few wins.”
Everton, who have won just one of their last seven league matches, need quick improvement too, especially after a poor first-half display on Saturday.
“It is frustrating for all of us,” said Ashley Williams, Everton’s former Swansea defender. “We are trying our best but, for whatever reason, this is happening. This week we will speak a bit more about that because I feel that it is definitely something we need to work on in the 90 minutes and from game to game. Whether that is with the gaffer or just the players, we will see.”
Everton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg 6; Coleman 7, Jagielka 5 (Valencia 83), Williams 5, Baines 6; McCarthy 6 (Mirallas 72, 6), Gueye 6; Lennon 6 (Deulofeu 66, 5), Barkley 5, Bolasie 6; Lukaku 5.
Substitutes: Robles, Holgate, Funes Mori, Cleverley.
Swansea (4-3-3): Fabianski 6; Naughton 7, Fernandez 6, Amat 7, Taylor 6; Cork 7, Fulton 7 (Ki 87), Fer 7; Barrow 7 (Dyer 81), Sigurdsson 8, Routledge 7.
Substitutes: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Van der Hoorn, Borja, McBurnie.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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