Alan Tate battling to prove himself at Swansea City - all over again
ALAN Tate doubled his career tally of Premier League starts when he walked out at Aston Villa last weekend.
Now in his 31st year, the defender will no doubt consider himself unfortunate not to have more top-flight appearances to his name.
In Premier League terms at least, he remains wet behind the ears.
But Tate is a streetwise footballer, an experienced pro who has been around the block enough times to know that defeat at Villa should not be the cause for alarm within Michael Laudrup's squad.
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"There's no need to panic," says Swansea City's vice-captain.
"We've been here before. We know what it takes to come back from a defeat.
"The manager was a great player but he's been beaten before as well. We all know to learn the lessons and bounce back."
Swansea were not at their best in the Midlands last weekend, yet they were not exactly overpowered by their hosts.
Laudrup's men failed to capitalise on an impressive opening spell and, after falling behind to Matt Lowton's spectacular volley, they could not find a route back into the contest.
Swansea kept competing right up until Christian Benteke sealed Villa's victory in the 88th minute, though, leaving their manager relatively satisfied even in defeat.
Villa had been on awful run before last weekend, failing to win any of their previous 13 league games, but they look a side destined for better things under Paul Lambert.
"It was a disappointing result for us, but overall the performance wasn't too bad," Tate adds.
"The first goal was a great strike and the second was a mistake — that's all that cost us.
"In the second half we probably could have been a bit more creative when we were going forward, but I felt as a team our defensive performance was actually okay.
"They didn't cut us to bits all the time or get lots of chances, so we can take a lot of positives from the game into Everton."
Swansea's efforts as a defensive unit were a big plus for Laudrup given that so much focus had been on his rearguard in the build-up to Villa.
Neil Taylor and Kyle Bartley will not be seen for some time after picking up serious early-season injuries, while Chico Flores must sit out two more games following his Sunderland red card.
Hence the chance for Tate, whose only other Premier League start came when Taylor was suspended at Manchester City on the opening day of last season.
A Swansea stalwart, Tate will treasure the memory of leading the team out — Garry Monk was injured — at the Etihad Stadium 13 months ago.
But having worked so hard to climb all the way back to the top level, the former Manchester United youngster wants more.
After the injury problems of last season, Tate accepted he was unlikely to start this campaign when Laudrup added Flores to a squad already featuring Ashley Williams.
The Dane soon made the situation clear to Tate, when he suggested both he and Monk could look into the possibility of moving on this summer if they wanted regular first-team football.
Predictably, Tate's response to that idea was to get his head down and focus on forcing his way into Laudrup's plans.
His chance to shine has come very quickly thanks to injuries and suspension. And after a very sound, very accomplished showing at Villa Park, Tate hopes to do enough while Flores is absent to convince Laudrup he should be picked even when the Spaniard is available again.
"I was happy with how Villa went for me and now I'm looking forward to the next game," he says.
"That's all I've ever done. I've worked hard to get back to fitness and I felt I played well on Saturday.
"Now I want to play that well in every game.
"There wasn't any rustiness at Villa. Like I said before the game, I trained every day over the summer to be fit and although that's not the same as playing games, I was happy to slot back in.
"I felt fine in myself and a lot fitter than when I came back into the squad last year after the injury."
If Tate keeps playing like he did at Villa, it will be interesting to see how Laudrup handles things when Flores returns.
Williams may not have started the season at his best, but the Wales man will be surely be given every opportunity to recapture peak form.
Quite right, too, for he has been a model of consistency in the last few years.
That means Flores and Tate appear to be tussling over one jersey — unless Laudrup decides to try the latter at left-back — and managers usually go with their big-money recruits.
Tate, therefore, faces an uphill battle, but then he has overcome plenty of hurdles in a distinguished Swansea career. He will be confident of doing the same again under Laudrup, and another solid defensive showing against Everton at the weekend will strengthen his case for regular involvement.
On the evidence of last season, after all, David Moyes's team could be difficult to contain.
Tate was on the substitutes' bench in March when the Blues ran out comprehensive 2-0 winners at the Liberty last March after perhaps the most complete performance by a visiting side seen in these parts all season. "We've got to learn from Villa and move on," he adds.
"We know we have to be good at home, and last year Everton were one of the best sides we played against.
"They were very organised and tactically they were very good against us, so it's probably going to be our toughest game of the season so far."
And one Tate, making Premier League start No. 3 of his career, will be determined to come through unscathed.