If Swansea City have a defining quality, it is probably niceness. Just look at their team. Jack Cork. Tom Carroll. Kyle Naughton. Alfie Mawson. All of them: just really lovely lads. Leroy Fer once bought a horse for his girlfriend. Who doesn’t love horses? This is Swansea in a nutshell: nice lads, nice club, nice to watch. And unfortunately, even nicer to play against.
West Ham discovered that here. In glorious east London sunshine, they drifted to a win that lifts them eight points clear of the relegation zone, a win that may well have saved Slaven Bilic’s job, a win that was less stressful than they had dared to hope. Cheik Kouyate’s emphatic low shot proved good enough, and even if West Ham were never quite able to relax, the second half simply leaked away, as sunny afternoons tend to do.
This is now five games without a win for Swansea, and a performance that raises serious questions about whether they have the resolve to stay in the division. They dither on the ball just long enough for you to get back into position. They delay the tackle just that extra moment. They let you play.
“I can’t sit here and make excuses, it wasn’t good enough,” manager Paul Clement said afterwards. “When you’re in a battle for survival, you’d expect the basics to be done a lot better than that. They’re clearly anxious.”
Some of Swansea’s errors verged on the elementary. Had Lukasz Fabianski not been at his very best, the scoreline might have been embarrassing. Passes went astray, set pieces went straight out of play. Most gravely of all, shortly before half-time, when the wily Kouyate bore down on goal after receiving the ball from Roberto Snodgrass, no Swansea player ventured near him.
For West Ham, this was a flawed but deeply-satisfying three points. There is still clearly a great deal of affection for the manager here, both in the stands and in the boardroom, and Bilic revealed afterwards that co-owner David Gold had already been downstairs to offer his congratulations.
“I told you, I’m relaxed about my job,” Bilic said. “It doesn’t bother me. The players are the ones who have to perform in front of 60,000 people. To win with a clean sheet was very important. That proves it was a solid team performance.”
The only speck on the windscreen was a hamstring injury to Michail Antonio, which could put him out for another couple of weeks. But with three winnable games coming up and survival almost secure, Bilic is finally close to putting a traumatic season behind him. It may not feel like a triumph, but as Swansea remind him, things could certainly be worse.