Swansea City can strike late at Tottenham Hotspur
SWANSEA City should not give up the fight at Tottenham Hotspur this weekend even if they are trailing in the dying moments.
In fact, they should be aware that the last few minutes may be the most productive of their afternoon.
Swansea have made a habit of scoring second-half goals wherever they have played this season — of the 36 they have netted in all competitions, only ten have come before half-time.
But even more pertinent than that statistic this Sunday is the one which is haunting Tottenham right now.
If Premier League games had ended after 80 minutes this season, Andre Villas-Boas's men would be three points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table.
Their tendency to concede late on is in focus right now after last weekend's defeat at Everton.
Spurs led as the clock ticked into the 90th minute at Goodison Park, yet they came away with nothing thanks to last-gasp strikes from Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic.
It has been a familiar tale.
Vilas-Boas's team have been breached no fewer than ten times in the last ten minutes of league games this season, which represents a whopping 40 per cent of all the goals they have conceded.
The nasty habit has cost them nine points.
Swansea, therefore, should never accept they are beaten even if they find themselves behind at White Hart Lane.
Of course, Michael Laudrup hopes it will not get to that.
The Swansea boss has fingers crossed that after two below-par first-half performances this week, his team will impose themselves on this game earlier in the piece.
Swansea were miserable in the opening 45 minutes against Norwich City last Saturday and as a result found themselves 3-0 down.
They fought back admirably after the break, but the damage was irreparable.
Swansea were short of their best once more in the first half of Wednesday's League Cup tie against Middlesbrough, but the Championship side failed to take advantage.
Laudrup's team got up to speed in the second period and eventually found the goal which means their followers will spend Christmas salivating over the prospect of a possible trip to Wembley.
For now Swansea's focus must be on a different corner of North London and, while Spurs have had all week to prepare, Laudrup has no concerns about mental fatigue kicking in among his players in the wake of the Boro success.
"For me, Tottenham away is the perfect game," says the Dane.
"We are through to the semi-final of the Capital One Cup and that is fantastic for everyone at the club, but before the first leg we play Tottenham, Manchester United, Reading, Fulham, Aston Villa and Arsenal in the FA Cup.
"We have six games in front of us, so there is no time to think about the semi-final.
"It's great to have that to look forward to in January, but we have some very important games before that and I'm happy that we're playing a top name away from home this weekend.
"It would have been much more difficult if we were playing at home against a smaller team, but I know on Sunday everyone will be focused once again because it is Tottenham away."
There are question marks over whether Gareth Bale will feature this weekend after the Wales winger missed out at Everton with a hamstring problem.
Even if he does not recover in time to square up to Angel Rangel, the Spurs team sheet will sparkle with big names.
Villas-Boas's squad is littered with top-flight stars, with England men Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe, Kyle Walker and Swansea old boy Steven Caulker all in line to feature.
Scott Parker could play for the first time all season in a midfield which is likely to include the highly regarded Mousa Dembele, while Emmanuel Adebayor will hope for more joy against Swansea this weekend having tormented Brendan Rodgers's rearguard during Tottenham's 3-1 win back in March.
Such is the competition for a place in the Spurs side that Gylfi Sigurdsson, who scored Swansea's goal in that game, may have to make do with a place on the home bench this time around.
"They have a squad full of talent," concedes Garry Monk, captain of Swansea and childhood supporter of Spurs.
Even so, Villas-Boas's first few months in charge at the Lane have been bumpy at times, like when they lost at home to Wigan and got thumped at Arsenal shortly afterwards.
Nevertheless Wigan are one of only two visiting sides to have won at Spurs in the league this term — the other was Chelsea — so Swansea head down the M4 knowing even a draw would be a fine result against opposition who are genuine top-four contenders.
The return of Ashley Williams after suspension will help the cause, while Laudrup could also reinstate first-choice keeper Michel Vorm after his long spell out.
Ki Sung-Yueng will hope for a start in midfield following his bright cameo against Boro.
A recall for the South Korean would probably mean Michu reverts to centre-forward, and Swansea's followers do not need reminding about what happened the last time he played in London.
Spurs are a trickier proposition than Arsenal right now.
But that fabulous win at the Emirates a couple of weeks back should mean there is more confidence than ever before in the away dressing room this weekend.
"I don't think Swansea are a surprise package anymore," Caulker conceded this week.
"Everybody knows what they are capable of in this league."
Swansea did not show it against Norwich, at least not until it was too late.
Laudrup hopes they can change that on Sunday. And against Tottenham, the evidence of this season suggests it is never too late.