Dead Leg

This evening Swansea City played Romanian football club Petrolul Ploiesti in the second leg of their Europa League qualifier. I’d attended the home leg at the Liberty last week where the Swans had cruised to a 5-1 victory, meaning that the only way the Eastern European team could progress was to hand the Swans a 4-0 thumping.

Michu celebrates scoring in the first leg.

Michu celebrates scoring in the first leg.

This seemed unlikely, given the fact that they didn’t appear that much of a threat in game one, and it seemed doubtful that even the home advantage would tip the balance in their favour.

Swansea had done a similar thing in the previous qualifying round, having given Malmo a 4-0 beating in the first game and then grinding out a goalless draw in the second. For the first hour of the game tonight Swansea seemed fairly in control, and the Petrolul attacks were rather toothless.

It was an unbelievably tedious match to watch, and while there was a flurry of excitement in the second with Petrolul scoring after 73 minutes before Swansea retaliated almost instantly to level the scoring. A second home goal followed and the Romanians led 2-1 with 7 minutes to go.

While the goals and a few tempers flaring provided some excitement in the dying stages, it was a damp squib of a match. What made it weird was the home crowd seemed well up for it and in good spirits when they took the lead, despite them still being three goals in the hole.

The game illustrated to me the problem with the two leg format.

Don’t get me wrong, it sort of makes sense- it lessens the chance of a total fluke win, anybody can get lucky once and it eliminates an unfair home advantage, while giving both teams a chance to make some money from hosting.

But at the same time, quite a few second legs devolve into tedium. If one team has a resounding victory in the first leg it can effectively make the return match meaningless. Swansea were without some of their key players, who they rested to keep for more important matches and while Petrolul did their best their was an air of futility to their attacks.

At least they tried to give their supporters something to cheer about. I’ve seen second leg matches where the trailing side have had their heads down at the start while the team who lead the scoreline often just park the bus and cling on. Dejected and defeated vs complacent and unimaginative does not make for a thrilling encounter.

So, I suggest a new way of solving things- a mercy rule.

If a team wins the first leg by more than a three goal margin, the second game is abandoned. This might sound harsh, and I’m sure some teams have overcome such a deficit in the past, but at the same time, most of the time it renders a match meaningless.

Take Tottenham Hotspur who, away from home, managed to defeat their Georgian opponents 5-0 in the first leg. When Dinamo Tbilisi came to visit White Hart Lane they received a 3-0 beating, leaving the aggregate score at an embarrassing 8-0. Spurs were through after game one, and the second leg was basically a waste of time.

A second leg where victory is pretty much assured is not an attractive prospect- players may get injured in a meaningless match or in the case of Swansea, pick up cards which may hinder the team in a later match against stronger opposition. Yes, they shouldn’t have got booked, but some were marginal calls and in a frustrating match like this there’s more chance of lapses in discipline.

Injuries, suspensions, and for what? A game that didn’t amount to much in the scheme of things. Petrolul’s fans may have had a win to enjoy, but they’re still out of the tournament, and the Swans go through victors but with the bitter taste of defeat.

Second legs? We can do without them.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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