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Fulham 1 Swansea City 2: Signs all point to new year full of prosperity

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: December 31, 2012

Jonathan de Guzman scores the Swans’ second goal at Craven Cottage

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"COME on Swansea! 28 points!!"

Pablo Hernandez has not been in English football for long, but his weekend tweet proves he has already got the idea.

The Spanish international's mix of excitement and enthusiasm is mirrored throughout the Swansea City squad as they head into a new year.

2012 was an exceptional 12 months for a club who have rarely had it so good. 2013 promises to be even better.

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Swansea's tally of 28 points from 20 league games is worth a couple of Hernandez's exclamation marks.

When you add in the prospect of a first ever League Cup semi-final, there is much to make the mouth water.

Swansea have so much to look forward to, in fact, that the FA Cup tie with Arsenal which awaits next weekend is shaping up to be something of a sideshow.

Not long ago Swansea would have given anything for a cup tie with one of the heavyweights. Right now they could almost do without it.

Swansea's progress in the Capital One Cup means their fixture list is already bursting with big games.

"We cannot afford to start thinking only about Chelsea in the semi-final," Laudrup stressed this weekend.

"For me Aston Villa, even though we have less pressure on our shoulders because we won at Fulham, is a key game because they are one of the teams who are just below us and we play at home.

"It's a game we have to try to win.

"Then we play Arsenal in the FA Cup and you want to win against Arsenal, then we play Chelsea and then we go to Everton.

"I still remember when we played Everton at home (and lost 3-0), so that's a game I want to do something in.

"They are three really difficult games to play in six days, and then after that we play Stoke, Chelsea again and maybe another FA Cup game if we get past Arsenal.

"Then we go to Sunderland and West Ham — and then maybe it's February!"

Laudrup gives the impression that he is a little bewildered by the number of games he must prepare his team for.

But then Swansea are doing okay during the festive fixture rush, having taken five points from the nine on offer to date to cement their place in the top half of the table.

Swansea's squad strength is being tested during this hectic spell, and so far there is no sign of cracks appearing.

Laudrup, after all, made seven changes to his starting side at Fulham on Saturday, yet the reshuffled line-up was good enough to rack up a rousing road success.

"It was our third game in a few days, and it was away from home against a Fulham side who really wanted the win," Laudrup reflected.

"And even though our passing was not that good, we managed to get the win. Sometimes we have to accept that — sometimes you need a plan B or plan C to win a game."

Particularly pleasing for Swansea's management was that they ground out victory despite the absence of Michu, their most influential player so far this season.

The absence of the 14-goal Spaniard looked like a big problem for Laudrup, who gave Danny Graham a chance to prove his worth.

The result was Graham's second league goal of the season, a neatly taken volley after David Stockdale could only parry Nathan Dyer's shot, and a bright all-round display which suggested the £3.5 million striker still has a part to play at the Liberty.

Graham has been linked with the likes of Sunderland, Reading, Norwich, Wolves and Cardiff having failed to hold down a place this season.

And Laudrup concedes he would not be surprised if the former Watford man is interested in a move given his recent lack of game-time.

"I would not be surprised if he wants to play," said the Dane. "I can say that I want him to stay but I cannot guarantee he will play. I think it's fair in that situation to listen to what players want.

"I can say that about Danny, but also about Mark Gower, Kyle Bartley, Garry Monk, Gerhard Tremmel, Luke Moore or Itay Shechter.

"There are seven or eight who are not playing and I think that's the fair way to do things."

Graham insisted just before Christmas that he is not interested in leaving, but we wait to see if anything changes in January.

Swansea's squad is not exactly overflowing with goalscorers, yet Laudrup will not rule out the possibility of Graham departing — even with the big games piling up.

Presumably, Graham will get another chance to impress against Villa tomorrow — unless Michu is deemed fit to return.

"That's going to be a question about how much pain Michu feels — and whether he can actually get his ankle into his boot," Laudrup revealed.

The Swansea boss will have his fingers crossed, for he wants all his big-hitters involved in a game he targeted as one of the key Christmas fixtures.

Laudrup's men could put a 14-point gap between them and Villa, who are currently 17th, with a victory tomorrow.

Swansea would then have 31 points on the board on January 1, and it would be hard to imagine them going down from there.

"To have 25 points from the first half of the season was more than I expected," said Laudrup.

"To start off the second half with another three is fantastic for us."

Swansea had to work all the way for the Fulham maximum, for they were less assured in possession than normal and had to defend manfully in the second half. In truth their performance was a little scruffy at times, but Swansea scored two soft goals and then did just enough to hold on for victory.

Denied by Stockdale when the first genuine chance of the game fell his way, Graham found the net when his second opportunity arrived within 60 seconds.

At the other end Kerim Frei shot wide, then Bryan Ruiz drew a decent save from Gerhard Tremmel before floating a free-kick inches wide of the post.

Then Swansea were two up, Jonathan de Guzman producing a classy finish from Hernandez's pass after Stockdale, once a Liberty target for Brendan Rodgers, made a hash of a clearance.

Fulham surged back, Ruiz forcing another save from Tremmel before his shot was deflected into the net by Sascha Riether.

Now Swansea had to dig in, and they did just enough thanks chiefly to the efforts of Ashley Williams and Garry Monk.

Chico Flores, who made a surprise appearance on the away end at Craven Cottage having been rested, would have been proud of his fellow central defenders.

There were scares, most notably when Tremmel parried Giorgos Karagounis's shot and Dimitar Berbatov stroked in the rebound only for the offside flag to save Swansea.

And though Stockdale was the villain of the piece in the eyes of Martin Jol, the Fulham keeper made two saves from Graham and one particularly impressive stop from Angel Rangel to keep the home side in it late on.

And so to Villa, when Laudrup will shuffle his pack again in a bid to round off a happy Christmas with another victory.

"With so many games to play, part of my job is to make sure we have a competitive team in every one of them," Laudrup said.

"That's what we have done so far and that's what we'll do again, because we know this period can be decisive for our season."

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