Stuttering Swans looking for a right Royals tonic
THE first six games of the Premier League campaign provide a first signpost about where a club might be heading.
And with seven points taken from their opening half-dozen league fixtures, Swansea City ought to be relatively happy.
If they can replicate that form throughout the season, after all, they will avoid relegation from the top division with something to spare.
Yet after three successive defeats, two of which were particularly demoralising, Swansea do not feel like a club destined for a spot somewhere in mid-table right now.
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Nobody expected Michael Laudrup's team to be able to sustain the sparkling success of his first week at the helm, when Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United were dispatched so emphatically.
But on the other hand, Swansea's followers were not anticipating a hat-trick of reverses to come during what is a fairly friendly early-season fixture schedule.
The campaign has barely begun — some argue the first significant landmark is ten games rather than six — and these are still formative weeks for the new regime in the Swansea dugout.
But Laudrup has not shied away from the fact that his team are already under pressure to perform.
He said as much before the Capital One Cup trip to Crawley Town last week, pointing out that it was important Swansea did not get stuck in a rut of defeats.
When they won in West Sussex — albeit in slightly scratchy fashion — Laudrup hoped his team had turned a corner.
They had not.
Swansea had been well beaten at home by Everton, even if they passed up opportunities to clamber back into the contest.
At Stoke City last weekend, Swansea did not even have missed chances for comfort.
They created little and were undone too easily by Peter Crouch, hence Stoke eased to their first victory since early April.
Laudrup now concedes that the Crawley win was an aside, and that his players must address their league form immediately.
In fact, Laudrup suggests, their upcoming fixtures against Reading and Wigan Athletic are "six-point games".
"They are two games at home against teams in our league," he says. "They are teams who you can say are in direct combat with us."
Laudrup is not one to give too much away, and displays of emotion have been almost unheard of in his brief time at the Liberty Stadium.
Yet even his temper may be tested if Swansea's poor form stretches into their next couple of games.
Wigan have been perennial strugglers in recent times and, for all their good work at the back end of last season, Roberto Martinez's side are still tipped by many to be in the relegation mix once again next spring.
The Latics would have won in SA1 but for a Michel Vorm penalty save last season, and Swansea need a result against them this time round.
Before that come Reading, whose visit is arguably even more significant as it comes before a two-week international break.
The Royals have not triumphed in a league game since returning to the top division as Championship winners, their two points to date coming courtesy of home draws with Stoke and Newcastle United.
If their winless streak comes to an end this Saturday, dark clouds will linger over the Liberty throughout the fortnight before Wigan come to town.
Swansea are warm favourites with the bookmakers to end their run of reverses, but it will take a significant rise in performance level even to see off opponents who are struggling for form themselves.
"We are facing the second run of six games now and we need at least the same number of points that we got from the first six," reckons Laudrup.
"That starts with the next two games at home."
The good news for Swansea is that Reading do not possess the attacking potency of Everton, who arrived in Wales in good shape and duly demolished their hosts.
And while Brian McDermott has some imposing players at his disposal, Reading do not have a power game to rival Stoke's.
Their journey down the M4 presents Swansea with an opportunity to win again, but Laudrup's team must improve if they are to take it.
More resilience is required defensively, for Swansea rolled over much too easily at the Britannia last weekend.
And much more quality is needed when Swansea go forward after their scrappy, disjointed effort in the Potteries.
"We have players who want to play an expansive game — that's the style that suits them," Laudrup says.
"We buy players to play this way, so we have to stick with it."
The recent problem, the Dane argues, is the way Swansea are performing rather than their tactical approach.
He has talked about having alternatives up the sleeve, about being able to turn to a ''plan B'' should Swansea's familiar passing style let them down.
But what he will demand in the wake of such a disappointing effort at Stoke is that Leon Britton, Michu and the rest get their possession game right.
"People can say that if you play Swansea, you just put pressure on them high up the pitch," Laudrup adds.
"But we should still be able to play out even if teams do that.
"There will always be space on the pitch and with the players we have, it should be possible for us to find it."