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Apr 6, 2014

Weak Swans fall to Hull

So much for pep talks. In the wake of last week's satisfying 3-0 victory over Norwich, Swansea boss Garry Monk dared his players to go the remainder of the season unbeaten, and they responded by promptly falling at the first fence. Hull will not be the toughest game the Swans will have to play between now and season's end (that plum falls to Chelsea), and with points at a premium during the Premier League's craziest ever relegation battle, the Swans showed a surprising lack of focus in the 1-0 defeat.

Swansea weren't completely appalling, but with the exception of a sharp Wayne Routledge, rather strolled about their business with all the enthusiasm of someone forced to play Christmas board games at the in-laws’ house. Part of the reason for the listlessness was the fact Hull kept spoiling any chance of a football match from breaking out by choosing to play the ref instead the game.

Howard Webb wasn't the only one trading off a good reputation whilst phoning in a questionable performance, and his shortcomings frustrated Swansea as much as any of their own. Granted, there were no game-deciding blown calls, but Webb's willingness to buy every fallen Hull player's plight as a legitimate foul -- whilst ignoring one or two very similar situations for Swansea -- only aided the home side's strategy to disrupt the flow of the game and stop Swansea from developing any rhythm.

It almost looked as though Hull were trying to enact a piece of performance art in celebration of the recent refusal of their proposed name change, emulating not so much tigers but tiger skin rugs to demonstrate that Assem Allam's re-branding plans are well and truly dead. A shame then that Webb was somewhat less appreciative of Leon Britton's 'dying swan', happy to watch without a whistle whilst Britton was fouled twice in quick succession, leading to Jonjo Shelvey taking a deliberate yellow moments later out of sheer annoyance.

Hull and Swansea rank almost equally in discipline among Premier League teams this season at 11th and 12th respectively, and yet on Saturday, the foul count for the game ended up Hull six, Swansea 18. Swansea, a non-physical possession-based side fouling three times more often than their opponent? I don't believe it, and neither should you.

Hull's success in stemming any kind of flow before it could start on Saturday was one factor in the result, but two far more significant factors made the real difference: Angel Rangel allowing George Boyd a more-or-less free header for Hull's goal, and Swansea’s forwards lacking accuracy at the other end. The Swans easily had the better scoring opportunities, but with only two of 12 shots on target, Hull were rarely in real danger.

With any luck, the players will be embarrassed to have upset Monk's projection so early and with such an underwhelming effort, but perhaps the manager should consider some changes to help the cause. Michu is still clearly unfit, and spent the majority of his time on the pitch as a liminal figure, a wisp of the player he has proven to be at his best. Game time is important for the Spaniard to regain match fitness, but at what cost to the team effort? A start next week would make three in a row, surely enough time to start showing some of his old self.

Jonathan de Guzman followed last week's impressive performance with a noticeably less impressive one, whilst Shelvey appeared less deep-lying playmaker and more deep-lying pouter, jagged and surly in his new role having been fluid and decisive when played in the hole. I still think Shelvey has the tools to succeed in the deeper position -- his long pass alone is among the best in the league -- but whether he has the willingness to adjust is another matter.

Perhaps then one of those three might be rested, with Pablo Hernandez making a strong case from the bench for inclusion in next week's starting line-up -- that game against Chelsea. A loss in that match could be excused, but not another weak performance.