Laudrup upbeat despite Swansea City's first loss
THE metalwork on the mantelpiece tells a story about Michael Laudrup's attitude to defeat.
"I hate to lose," Swansea City's manager said on Saturday, in case there were any doubts.
Laudrup is a serial winner, a man used to medals who has spent the majority of his career not having to handle the sting of defeat.
Swansea have not always been so lucky down the years, although Laudrup's arrival at the Liberty had prompted a rousing unbeaten run.
The four-game streak without defeat ended at Aston Villa this weekend and yet, for all his previous successes, Laudrup was far from downbeat.
"I can't say I'm disappointed with the performance," he added. "We were not poor in possession and it's not as if we didn't try.
"And the big thing for me was that we were in the game right up until the 88th minute.
"I want my team always to be in the game. We cannot say 'Oh today we were not here'.
"We must not give games away. We must always be competitive until the end, and we did that here just like we did against Sunderland."
The difference between Sunderland, when Swansea claimed a gallant draw in difficult circumstances, and Villa was that when their opportunities came in the Midlands, Laudrup's team failed to take them.
Swansea had good spells in the game, starting with enough confidence to suggest that a repeat of last season's victory on this ground may have been on the cards.
But after a couple of weeks spent focusing on Swansea's troubles at the back, the spotlight ended up falling on their forward line.
Laudrup's frontmen had begun the campaign spectacularly, rattling in 13 goals in their first four games under the Dane.
Chances had been snaffled with spectacular regularity prior to the international break, but Swansea could not find a way through Villa.
"We created five or six chances," Laudrup pointed out. "But it's the same for everybody — you will have days when you don't take any of those chances, and days when it is the other way round.
"You have to be honest. The day we beat West Ham, we scored three goals from five chances. Against Queens Park Rangers, we scored five from eight or nine. That's fantastic if you can do that, but then there will be days when you don't score and that happened here.
"I would be much more worried if we hadn't created the chances, or if our level of performance was up and down each week.
"But we tried to play football, we played quite well and we did create chances to score.
"And if we had scored the first goal just before they went in front, things could have been different."
Had Swansea's control of the play — particularly in the first third of the game — been reflected on the scoreboard, a Villa side who have struggled desperately for successes in recent times would have been staring at another bleak afternoon.
Swansea began with purpose and poise, reflecting their excellent start to the campaign, but could not find a way beyond Brad Guzan in the home goal.
There were near-misses, first when Ashley Williams powered a header straight at Guzan, then when Nathan Dyer's curling shot was pushed away by the stretching American goalkeeper.
"That was a world-class save," suggested Villa boss Paul Lambert.
The hosts had not won in 13 Premier League games before this, and Lambert's young side were creaking in the opening stages.
Then, from nowhere, they seized a foothold in the contest when one of many menacing Barry Bannan corners was only cleared as far as Matthew Lowton.
Villa's recent recruit from Sheffield United, a right-sided defender, unleashed a remarkable left-foot volley which swerved inside Michel Vorm's dive.
"You can't say it's a mistake by us," said Laudrup, "it's just a great goal."
Even after falling behind, Swansea had their moments. Michu volleyed awkwardly over, then Danny Graham failed to connect with Dyer's inviting centre. Laudrup sent on Pablo Hernandez, who showed pace, good feet and hunger but could not find the touch of magic Swansea needed in the final third.
Graham scuffed a shot before substitute Luke Moore had three late efforts against the club where he started out.
His best chance was a header which flew straight into the arms of Guzan.
A yard either side and Swansea would probably have left with a point.
As it was, Guzan punted up field and the visitors got themselves into trouble, Christian Benteke marking his Villa debut with a goal after Williams misjudged his back-header.
Swansea's captain has had a rough couple of weeks, having made a mistake which let in Sunderland's Steven Fletcher and then suffered on international duty with Wales. And here he had to battle through the pain for much of the contest having taken a bang on the ankle.
"I've told Ashley that it's better that everything comes in one week," Laudrup said.
"He is strong and he will recover, and we are a team anyway. Sometimes one player is missing and he feels like he is the only one on the pitch, but this is a team sport.
"I told Ashley to go and relax for a couple of days, to think about something else and then come back ready for Everton."
After such a serene start to life at the Liberty, Laudrup must now inspire a response from his team when Everton come to Wales next weekend.
Swansea might have felt they were good value for a point at Villa, that they deserved to continue their unbeaten start. Lambert argued his team were well worth the first maximum of his tenure, and he had a good case given that Vorm made decent saves from Andreas Weimann, Ciaran Clark and Karim El Ahmadi, while Leon Britton cleared a Weimann drive off the line.
Either way Swansea, who are down to fifth in the early-season table, must switch their focus to David Moyes's ever impressive Everton side.
"We knew we were going to lose games," Laudrup stressed.
They just don't want to do it too often. And even in defeat, there were signs that Laudrup's Swansea will not.