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for this Monday night contest as struggling Swansea City
host Watford at the Liberty Stadium. These two sides have both defied many pre-season expectations - for better or worse - so far, but both also come into this match in poor form over the last couple of weeks, so we should be in for an intriguing clash. Let's start with a look at the two teams...
SWANSEA STARTING XI: Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Britton, Cork, Ki, Sigurdsson, Routledge; Ayew
SWANSEA SUBS: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Barrow, Montero, Emnes, Gomis
WATFORD STARTING XI: Gomes; Nyom, Britos, Cathcart, Ake; Capoue, Watson; Behrami, Deeney, Jurado; Ighalo
WATFORD SUBS: Arlauskis, Prödl, Paredes, Anya, Guedioura, Abdi, Oulare
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, starting with the hosts, Alan Curtis
has made just the one change to the side that lost to Sunderland last time out, which is perhaps a little surprising considering the nature of that defeat. The likes of Gomis, Montero and Emnes all remain on the bench, with the only change seeing Jack Cork come into the midfield in place of Barrow.
That means that Andre Ayew once again starts as the furthest forward for the Swans having netted against Sunderland. He made a very bright start to his Swansea career in the opening stages of the season and has arguably been their best performer throughout the campaign, but that goal against Sunderland was the first time that he had directly contributed to a goal in seven matches.
Sigurdsson also scored against Sunderland, with his goal coming from the penalty spot, and he starts again as expected today. He will be flanked in a trio behind Ayew by Routledge and Ki, both of whom have the ability to cause the Watford defence problems but have not really shown that enough this season. Leon Britton, very much a first-team regular again under Curtis, plays alongside Cork at the base of that midfield.
There is also an inclusion for Kyle Naughton despite his sending-off against Sunderland last Wednesday. The full-back appealed the decision and was successful in doing so, so Curtis is able to name him in the starting XI once again, with Angel Rangel remaining on the bench. Fernandez, Williams and Taylor make up the back four, with Fabianski behind them despite being at fault for one of Jermain Defoe's three goals last time out.
Watford certainly have the players capable of pouncing on any more mistakes this evening, and none more so than Odion Ighalo, fresh from being named December's Player of the Month. The Nigerian striker enjoyed a magnificent 2015, both to help Watford gain promotion to the Premier League and then in the top flight itself. He has just gone off the boil a little in recent games, but he has shown that he is capable of scoring goals at this level and Swansea cannot afford to give him a sniff.
Whenever Ighalo is around, Deeney is rarely far away. The Watford skipper took a while to get on the goal trail in the Premier League, but even when he wasn't scoring, he was making an important contribution to the team. He has linked up brilliantly with Ighalo so far this season and will be looking to continue that fruitful partnership over the second half of the campaign. If they can do that, Watford will certainly fancy their chances of a top-half finish.
has made three changes to the team that was beaten at Southampton last time out, with one of those coming in midfield. Valon Behrami, who was sent off in the reverse fixture between these two sides back in September, gets a relatively rare start this afternoon, playing alongside the more regular fixtures of Capoue, Watson and Jurado.
Cathcart was something of a surprise omission against Southampton, and it didn't seem to do Watford any favours so the centre-back returns to the heart of the defence alongside Britos this afternoon, with Prodl dropping to the bench as a result. There is also a return for Nathan Ake at left-back after he completed his three-match suspension last time out. He comes in for Holebas, who drops out of the squad entirely.
That is what Swansea will be up against this evening, though, and before the season began they would not have been expecting such a disparity between the two sides in the table - certainly not in the favour of Watford, anyway. However, things have not gone to plan for the Swans so far this season and, having registered their best-ever Premier League finish last term, they now find themselves in the very real danger of being relegated.
The weekend's results saw Swansea drop into the relegation zone as Newcastle climbed out with a 2-1 victory over West Ham - a result made all the worse for Curtis's side as it was inspired by a player they had sold to the Magpies just days earlier. Jonjo Shelvey was heavily involved in both Newcastle goals at St James' Park, and the question as to why Swansea sold a player with the ability to be a match-winner to one of their relegation rivals is sure to come up frequently between now and the end of the season if Shelvey continues that form.
For now, though, Curtis must focus on the players still at his disposal and picking up an elusive victory from somewhere. A win this evening would lift Swansea back out of the relegation zone, but that is much easier said than done for the club at the moment. They have won only one of their last 12 matches in all competition and just two of their 19 since claiming the scalp of Manchester United back in August. Indeed, since that break opening month of the season, Swansea have picked up only 11 points from 51 available in the league.
That, of course, resulted in the exit of Garry Monk last month and, after a brief upturn in performances, Alan Curtis
was confirmed as the interim boss until the end of the season. However, Swansea have lost all three of their matches so far in 2016, and Curtis was today joined by Francesco Guidolin. The former Udinese manager will act as the head coach alongside Curtis until the end of the season, although the set-up could well cause a little confusion as to who is actually calling the shots, so it will be interesting to see how that develops.
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No matter who is on the sidelines, it is the 11 on the pitch who need to start performing too, particularly in the final third. Swansea have managed just 19 goals in the Premier League all season - only bottom club Aston Villa have scored fewer - while at the other end of the field they have the joint-best defensive record in the bottom eight. It is clear, then, that their main problems lie in an attacking sense, but it should also be noted that they have conceded nine goals in their last three games in all competitions, so those standards seem to be slipping too.
It is often the first goal that they concede too. They have done so 14 times in their 21 league games this season, which again is the second-worst in the division to Aston Villa. That all contributes to them being a full 11 points worse off than they were at the same stage of last season, and any hopes of a European challenge appear to be dead in the water. The sole priority for Swansea now is to remain in the top flight.
To do that, they will need to improve their form at the Liberty Stadium, where they have won just one of their nine home games since their victory over Man United in August. They have failed to score in five of those nine home games, and only Aston Villa have scored fewer in front of their own fans all season than Swansea. Sunderland and Villa are the only teams to have picked up fewer points on home turf this season too, although Swansea are a lot better in South Wales than they are elsewhere, picking up 13 home points compared to six on the road this season.
Swansea are a team in trouble, then, and while those dangers seem a way off for Watford at the moment, they will still be wary. Their Premier League status is by no means guaranteed for this season just yet, and looking further ahead they will be aware that Swansea were in a very similar position to the one Watford now find themselves in after 21 games of last season. It goes to show how quickly fortunes can change in the Premier League and, while Quique Flores
has limited experience of this division, he will be wary of that.
For the most part, though, Watford can be delighted with how things have gone on the whole this season. They are as close to the Champions League places as they are to the bottom three with less than half of the season to go and, while the whispers from a few weeks ago that a top-four challenge could be in the making have quickly subsided, relegation also seems to be a long way from the minds of the club's fans at the moment.
However, it may perhaps loom a little larger than it did a few weeks ago, when Watford had just beaten Liverpool 3-0 to make it four wins on the bounce. Since that haul of 12 points from 12, Watford have claimed just one from the next 12 on offer, including three consecutive defeats heading into this match. That has seen them drop back into the bottom half, while another defeat this evening would make it four in a row in the Premier League for the first time since May 2000.
However, on closer inspection their run of form is perhaps not quite as bad as it would seem. Watford managed to take a point off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before running both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City close in 2-1 defeats, the latter of which came courtesy of a late, late comeback from Manuel Pellegrini's men. The Hornets have generally played well against the top teams this season, despite those recent results not showing that.
By contrast, both the result and performance of their last outing was hugely disappointed for Watford. They never got going at all against Southampton at St Mary's and succumbed rather timidly to a 2-0 defeat. Quique Flores described it as his side's worst performance of the season, and Troy Deeney was also vocal in his criticism of the display as goals from Shane Long and Dusan Tadic saw the Saints ease to victory.
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That result aside, Watford have been impressive on the road this season. They have picked up more points on their travels than they have at home, and in fewer games too. Their only away defeats this season have also come against sides currently in the top half of the table, while their three away matches against Swansea's fellow relegation rivals in the bottom four have resulted in three wins. They will be confident of keeping that 100% record up this evening.
A victory today would lift the Hornets back up to eighth in the table after a number of results went against them over the weekend, and that stats are leaning in their favour. We have already established that Swansea have one of the worst attacking records in the league this season, and Watford have conceded just 24 times too. No side outside the top seven has let in fewer goals, while only five teams in the entire division have been breached more often.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff at the Liberty Stadium, which means that it is time for a prediction! Neither side are in very good form heading into this one, but Watford's performances - Southampton aside - have been much better than those of Swansea. Coupled with their away record, I can see the visitors returning to winning ways this evening. I'm going for 2-1 to Watford.
It was against Swansea that Watford got their impressive season well and truly up and running back in September. Odion Ighalo got the goal for the Hornets in a 1-0 victory at Vicarage Road, although it wasn't all straightforward for them as they had to play the final 26 minutes with just 10 men after Behrami had been sent off.
The last meeting here was back in 2011 when both sides were in the Championship, and that ended in a 1-1 draw. Watford have a decent enough record at the Liberty in recent years, though, losing just one and winning two of their last five visits in all competitions, in addition to scoring exactly one goal in each of their last four meetings in South Wales.
It is a different story when it comes to the top flight, though. Swansea have not lost a top-flight home game against Watford since falling to a 3-1 defeat way back in February 1983.
Right, the players are out, hands are being shaken and we're very nearly ready to go at the Liberty Stadium here. Both sides could certainly do with a return to form here!
KICKOFF: Watford get us underway in South Wales as they look to end a three-match losing streak to move back into the top half of the table.
Swansea think they are in straight away here as Sigurdsson back-heels the ball brilliantly into the path of Routledge. The winger is clean through on goal, but the flag is correctly raised and Gomes made the save anyway.
SHOT! Another shooting chance for Swansea as Taylor nips in to win the ball inside the Watford half before advancing and playing a pass to Cork. He in turn takes his time before letting fly from just outside the box, but his effort goes well over the crossbar.
Swansea have started this match well. They are seeing plenty of the ball and playing at a decent tempo as well, looking to really get at Watford.
Here is Swansea's new head coach Francesco Guidolin watching on from the stands at the Liberty Stadium. We may be less than 10 minutes in, but he will be happy with what he has seen so far.
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Again Swansea get in behind, but again the flag is raised. Ki was well off when he collected the ball, but Gomez was there to make the save once more regardless.
Watford just haven't got into their stride at all so far. That will be worrying to those who saw a similar problem against Southampton last time out. They have been second best in these opening exchanges.
Good work from Routledge as he looks to make something of a relatively aimless long ball forward. He beats Ake to it and hooks it into the middle, but there is no teammate in there and the best they get is a corner.
It is down that right side that Swansea's best moments are coming at the moment. They make ground on that side of the pitch once again here to win another corner, but this one also comes to nothing.
It comes to nothing for Swansea, but very nearly provides the base for Watford's first chance. They are quick to counter, with Deeney sending a pass over for Ighalo. The striker has only one defender between himself and the goal, but his first touch lets him down a little and he is dispossessed.
Good football from Swansea as they pass their way from back to front before Britton almost breaks into the box. Ake is around just in time to cover, however, which allows Gomes to come and smother the ball.
CHANCE! Almost a chance for the visitors as Deeney wins the ball off Taylor down the right flank and whips a cross in towards the front post. Ighalo throws himself at the ball, but can't get enough on it to steer it goalwards.
YELLOW CARD! Jurado becomes the first name in the book, and he can have no complaints having scythed down Routledge as the Swansea man was looking to break.
That was Watford's best spell of the match so far, and they are just beginning to settle a little more now. Swansea are still on top and enjoying the lion's share of possession, but that half-chance for Ighalo is the most threatening moment we have seen so far.
SAVE! Good work from Ayew as he collects a pass from Fernandez before cutting back on himself and exchanging passes with Sigurdsson to create space to shoot. He doesn't get much power behind his effort, though, and it is easy for Gomes to get down and make the save.
GOAL! Swansea 1-0 Watford (Ashley Williams)
Huge goal for Swansea as they take the lead from the unlikeliest of sources! Williams stayed up from a Swansea set piece and, as the ball was recycled out to Ki on the right, took up a position in the middle of the area. Ki is given plenty of time to deliver the ball, and when he does it is met perfectly by Williams, who plants a fine header into the corner.
They hadn't created any chances of note, but on the general balance of play Swansea deserve that goal. They are certainly not playing like a side who have only won twice since August.
Swansea really are stroking the ball around very nicely at times here. They will be desperate for a second goal now to give them a cushion.
YELLOW CARD! Nyom joins Jurado in the book for a bodycheck on Taylor, and again it is the correct decision from Michael Oliver.
Watford look like a shadow of the team that beat Liverpool 3-0 not so long ago. They were playing with such confidence in that match - and indeed in subsequent games against the likes of Chelsea, Spurs and Man City, but there is none of that swagger about them here.
Another shooting chance for Swansea as the ball drops to Ki around 25 yards from goal, but he is being quickly closed down and has to rush his shot as a result, blazing it well over the crossbar.
This time Cork comes charging forward through the middle to the edge of the box, but he can't find either of the two white shirts in support and his eventual attempted pass goes straight out for a goal kick.
Important contribution from Williams at the end you'd usually expect here as he comes around to mop up a mistake that almost allowed Ighalo in. Ki's loose pass was quickly pounced upon by the Watford striker, but his touch again lets him down and Williams makes the tackle.
A sniff of a chance for Watford as Deeney contests a floated ball into the box and reacts quickest to it dropping loose into the area. However, he is off balance and it would have taken some strike to even get it on target. As it is, he sends it well over.
It was a timely header from Williams to say the least...
SAVE! Fabianski finally has a bit of work to do here as Watford provide their best passage of play so far. Jurado finishes it by firing a shot towards goal, but it is fairly central and Fabianski has little trouble in collecting it.
There will be one minute of added time at the end of this first half.
There will be a bit more added on to the half as Williams is currently down and receiving treatment. He looks to be in some pain, so this will be a concern for the hosts.
HALF TIME: Swansea City 1-0 Watford
Michael Oliver brings an end to the first half at the Liberty Stadium, then, and it is Swansea to have a much-needed lead at the halfway stage. It is a deserved lead as well as the hosts have been by far the better team in this match so far, playing with confidence that belies their league position.
The goal arrived shortly before the half-hour mark as Ashley Williams stayed up from a corner and shrugged off the marking of Valon Behrami before planting a fine header into the corner. Watford will be a little disappointed with their defending as Ki was also afforded far too much time to cross the ball, but it was nothing more than the hosts deserve.
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Aside from that, there really hasn't been much to shout about in terms of clear goalscoring chances. As mentioned, Swansea have been on top and enjoyed the lion's share of possession, but Gomes has rarely been tested in the Watford goal. Most of Swansea's efforts have been from range and not threatened Gomes, whose only save has been a simple one to deny Ayew.
Watford, meanwhile, just haven't got going whatsoever so far. Ighalo has had one half-chance when he threw himself at a Deeney cross towards the near post, but couldn't get enough on his header to steer it on target. It took until the final minute of the first half for Fabianski to have his first save, and it was a simple one to deny Jurado's long-range strike.
It hasn't exactly been a thriller so far, in truth, but you can be sure that Alan Curtis would be delighted if the second half transpired in exactly the same way. Swansea will be desperate for a second goal to give them a cushion though as, with Ighalo on the pitch, a one-goal lead is never safe.
KICKOFF: Swansea get is back underway for this second half, complete with Ashley Williams, who appears to have shaken off that knock he sustained in the closing stages of the first half.
Fernandez and Williams have done a very good job of stunting the influence of Ighalo and Deeney so far this evening. The Nigerian has barely had a sniff all night, with at least one of those defenders being by his side at all times.
The early signs have been at least a little more positive for Watford in this second half. They are seeing more of the ball now and, while they haven't threatened as of yet, they do look to be more up for it than they were in the second half.
More good link-up play from Jurado and his strikers as he cuts inside and exchanges passes with Deeney, whose flick allows the Spaniard the chance to shoot. However, his curling effort is high and wide of the target and never troubling Fabianski.
CHANCE! Watford have their first real chance of the match, and it very nearly results in the equaliser. Watson delivers a fine ball into the box from a free kick and Britos climbs highest to nod it goalwards. His header is just a little too high, though, and ripples the top of the net on its way over.
Alan Curtis will be concerned at how the first 10 minutes or so of this second half have gone. Suddenly his side are no longer looking quite as confident in possession and Watford are looking a lot more capable of getting themselves back into the match.
Almost a chance for Swansea to get what could be a priceless second goal as Routledge races through down the right before sending a low ball into the box. However, it is just behind Ayew and Watford are able to clear the danger.
Good battling from Deeney as Nyom's low cross into the box causes problems. Williams looks to mop it up but is not given an easy time of it by the Watford skipper, who eventually crosses the line and concedes a free kick to let Swansea off the hook a little.
The majority of this second half has been played inside the Swansea half, and the hosts just need to get their foot on the ball and settle back into this match now. They controlled things in the opening 45 minutes but haven't got going since the interval.
SHOT! Half a chance for Swansea as Ayew knocks the ball down to Cork on the edge of the box, but it is a difficult one for the midfielder to take on the half-volley. That doesn't stop him from trying, though, and he blazes his effort well off target.
YELLOW CARD! Britton becomes the first Swansea name in the book for a handball that he tried to disguise as a header. He has no complaints, looking rather sheepishly up at the colour of card that was brandished.
It's all got a little scrappy in the last few minutes, which may suit Swansea at this stage in the game as it halts any momentum that Watford may be building.
CHANCE! Jurado has had the most sights of goal for Watford this evening and this is perhaps the best of the lot. He brings the ball forward before exchanging passes with Ighalo, only to steer his shot a couple of yards past the post.
SWANSEA SUB: The hosts make their first change of the evening as Modou Barrow replaces Routledge.
Painful one for Ayew here as he lands hard on his back after an aerial challenge with Jurado. He takes a moment of time to recover, but should be fine to continue here.
Barrow tries to cut inside Barrow and wins a free kick in a good crossing position for the hosts. Sigurdsson is the man to deliver, but Deeney is there to clear the ball away.
Very good defending from Williams to thwart a promising attack for Watford. Deeney was carrying the ball forward and had Ighalo in support, who Williams chose to leave to confront Deeney. It proves to be the right choice as he makes a good, clean challenge to halt the attack in its tracks.
Swansea are back on top right now, with Taylor beginning to make the sort of forward runs down the left that were causing Watford some problems in the first half too. They have just over 15 minutes to hold out for a valuable win now.
WATFORD SUB: The visitors make their first change of the contest as Nyom is replaced by Juan Carlos Paredes.
Ake is a little fortunate to get away without a yellow card here as he blocks off Barrow after the Swansea man had got a toe to the ball first. It was a hefty collision, but in truth there wasn't much the Watford man could do to get out of the way.
Swansea have got Watford penned back into their own half at the moment, and they are enjoying the sort of control over the game that they had in the first half too. Credit must go to their game management so far, but there are still more than 10 minutes to go here.
Watford have a chance from a free kick which is a little wide but still well within shooting range. Fabianski needn't worry, however, as Watson's drilled low strike hits the wall before it can trouble the keeper.
It's time for Bafetimbi Gomis
as Swansea look to see out this match. He replaces Ayew, presumably with the hope that he can hold the ball up better than the man he is replacing.
SAVE! Ighalo appeals for a penalty, and he has a point. He was holding off the challenge of Williams, who had both arms around the striker to prevent him from doing anything with it. The resulting corner is cleared out to Jurado, whose well-struck volley is straight at Fabianski.
SWANSEA SUB: A third and final change for the home side here as Jordi Amat replaces Ki.
WATFORD SUB: The visitors respond with a change of their own as Obbi Oulare comes on for Behrami.
CLOSE! Jurado is getting closer and closer! It is a poor clearance from Taylor which gifts the ball straight to the Spaniard on the edge of the box, but he fires a volley narrowly past the post.
Swansea have three minutes of stoppage time to hold on here.
OFF THE POST! Swansea are inches away from wrapping this one up as Gomis picks the ball up on the right before cutting inside, holding off a defender and thumping a shot against the post.
YELLOW CARD! Sigurdsson gets a late yellow for time-wasting.
CLOSE! One final chance for Watford as Deeney collects the ball on the edge of the area, taking it down on his chest before firing a powerful effort a yard or so past the post.
FULL TIME: Swansea City 1-0 Watford
What a huge win that is for Swansea! Ashley Williams's header hands them just their third victory since August and crucially lifts them out of the bottom three, now one point clear of Newcastle. Watford, meanwhile, have now lost four Premier League games on the bounce for the first time since May 2000 and may be beginning to cast one eye nervously over their shoulders.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
on what could prove to be a big day in Swansea's season as they picked up a valuable victory over Watford. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction from both camps. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!