Swansea City’s FA Cup setback to Oxford United appears emblematic of their decline

It came with a largely second-string side and in a competition that Swansea’s relegation struggle means is definitely not a priority. Yet it was easier to brand that as an isolated aberration, writes Richard Jolly.

Bafetimbi Gomis scored for Swansea City against Oxford United but was unable to stop the League Two side going through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. Stu Forster / Getty Images
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They were the role models. A decade ago, perhaps 30 clubs looked at Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic and imagined it could be them. Seemingly well-run constants in the Premier League, they appeared to have the models for sustained overachievement. Clubs who were no smaller but less successful could only eye them enviously.

Now Bolton and Charlton occupy the bottom two places in the Championship. League One, England’s third tier, beckons. Bolton are £185 million (Dh989.8m) in debt, on the brink of administration and conducting a fire sale of their players. Charlton have their fifth manager in two years. No one really wants to be them anymore.

Bolton and Charlton endured difficult weekends in the FA Cup. So did Southampton and Swansea City, their spiritual successors. They became the role models for the upwardly mobile middle class. Yet Southampton’s 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace was their eighth defeat in 10 games. Swansea were the victims of the FA Cup’s only major shock, as they were beaten 3-2 by League Two Oxford United. They only have two wins in 18 games. Suggestions they are the ones to emulate are disappearing.

Read more: FA Cup round-up – Arsenal and Man City march on, Southampton and Newcastle crash out

Certainly the notion that a club with an excellent record of recruitment, whether of players or managers, has a master plan has been dented. The appointment of Alan Curtis as interim manager for the remainder of the season amounted to proof that they sacked Garry Monk without a plausible replacement in mind. That Curtis celebrated his 61st birthday before becoming a manager is an indication his ambitions lay elsewhere.

The temptation is to dismiss internal appointments as over-promoted and unsuitable. The precedents of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Terry Connor, Bolton’s Sammy Lee, Southampton’s Steve Wigley and Charlton’s Les Reed are hard to ignore. Actually, Curtis’s first five games in caretaker charge, before the Oxford defeat, suggest he has more credibility and more ideas.

He has been flexible tactically, using a diamond midfield at times and a false No 9 at others. He tightened Swansea up defensively, as a run of three consecutive clean sheets indicates. His two defeats were away at the Manchester clubs, both courtesy of late winners and both arguably undeserved. Swansea looked more purposeful, more organised and more motivated. Until, underlining the huge task he faces, the Oxford debacle.

It came with a largely second-string side and in a competition that Swansea’s relegation struggle means is definitely not a priority. They have a track record of rebounding from FA Cup embarrassments. Monk’s side lost 3-1 at Blackburn Rovers last season and recovered impressively to finish eighth.

Yet it was easier to brand that as an isolated aberration. The grander narrative of this season is that Swansea have been on a downwards spiral since beating Manchester United in August. Losing to Oxford appears emblematic of their decline.

The teamsheet contained a couple of hints about the shift in their fortunes. Over several years, Swansea had established a reputation as astute buyers and accomplished bargain hunters. Yet at left-back was Franck Tabanou, the £3.5 million Frenchman who has not been deemed worthy of a Premier League debut. On the bench was Eder, the £5 million Portuguese forward who is still yet to score. Swansea, for once, seem to have wasted their money.

A club where players surpassed themselves is now one where some are failing to realise their potential. Look at Jonjo Shelvey, excellent in early season but who has lost his place in their strongest side. Or Bafetimbi Gomis, unstoppable in August but, while a scorer at Oxford, a stranger to goals since then. Or Jefferson Montero, another who was outstanding in the heady days of summer.

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