Swansea City aim to get season up and running at West Brom
THE early-season Premier League table shows Swansea City bottom of the pile.
Fortunately for Swansea, looking at the table at this stage of the season is a bit like appealing over a referee's decision.
It is a pointless exercise.
Swansea are below all the rest as things stand but, happily for Michael Laudrup, they have played just two of their 38 league games.
Not only that, but their opponents in the first two fixtures of the new domestic season have been heavyweight clubs against whom Swansea cannot expect to get results.
Occasionally they will trouble the top sides, particularly when they come to SA1, but Swansea must accept that they are not competing with sides like Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Bonus results will come against such high-class opposition — both United and Spurs have dropped points in Landore over the last couple of seasons.
But pointing out that Swansea cannot expect to avoid defeat against the big boys is not making excuses — that is the way it is.
The success or failure of Swansea's third Premier League campaign will not be decided by their results against the top sides.
If evidence of that assertion is required, it is provided by a look back at last season.
Against the sides who occupied the Premier League's top seven places on the final day, Swansea managed only one victory — that classic at Arsenal last December — in 14 league games.
The tale was similar in the previous campaign, Brendan Rodgers's class of 2011-12 managing two wins — against Arsenal and Manchester City at home — from 14 fixtures against the sides who ended up as the top seven.
The pattern is clear, and reinforces the point that it is far too early in the season for any concerns about Swansea's lack of league success to date.
Another tricky fixture awaits this weekend, although at least on this occasion they face a side who do not fall into the Premier League giant category.
West Bromwich Albion have had much more experience of the top division than Swansea, but right now they look like a club on a similar level.
Last season they finished one place and three points above Swansea in mid-table.
The story was the same in the Rodgers year, when all that separated the clubs was goal difference.
And when they have come face to face, Swansea have enjoyed themselves against West Brom.
They did the double over the Baggies in that first Premier League season, then took them apart at the Liberty last November.
At The Hawthorns in March, Laudrup's men should have come away with a point but were denied by the desperate refereeing decision which ruined Roland Lamah's biggest moment in a Swansea shirt.
Swansea, therefore, will make the relatively short trip to the Black Country on Sunday believing they are due some better fortune against Steve Clarke's team.
A slice of luck is always welcome, and it would be timely given that three league defeats going into the first international break of the campaign would leave Swansea feeling a little sore regardless of the opposition involved.
On the other hand, there was a sense that Laudrup's team might have to stomach a difficult start from the moment the fixture computer did its work in June. "We knew already when we saw the fixtures, playing the champions and Tottenham away, it would be difficult," Laudrup points out.
"But we know this competition is very long. There are a lot of games so it's no problem, but of course we want to get some points now."
It has been pointed out by plenty that Swansea's start to this season has been in sharp contrast to the beginning of last term, when they rattled up thumping wins against Queens Park Rangers (5-0) and West Ham United (3-0) in the opening week.
But Laudrup adds: "We had six points in two games last year, but after seven games we had eight points. Well see where we are at that stage this season."
There is another way of comparing campaigns.
You could highlight the fact that if Swansea get a draw at West Brom this weekend, they will have one point from nine — the same number they took from the equivalent fixtures against Albion, United and Spurs last term.
A draw would not transform Swansea's season, but it would help settle any jitters among their followers after back-to-back league defeats.
And any positive result would be a good effort from Swansea, who will start at something of a disadvantage given that they were in Europa League action last night.
Albion have had all week to build up to Swansea's visit, an important fixture in their eyes after a frustrating home defeat to Southampton on the opening day of the new season.
Clarke's side responded to that disappointment by battling their way to a goalless draw at Everton last weekend, but they will be eyeing Swansea's visit as a chance to get a first league win on the board.
The game promises to be a special occasion for Scott Sinclair, who has arrived in the Midlands on a season-long loan after a miserable year at Manchester City.
Angel Rangel and company must keep an eye on their former Liberty team-mate, but it must be said that West Brom look a little less menacing than they did last season with Romelu Lukaku no longer around.
Clarke has threats in his forward line, but the Baggies do not boast the firepower of United or Spurs.
If Swansea get somewhere close to their best after the trip to Romania, they'll have a genuine chance of putting something on the board.