Ashley Williams broke a Swans record of successive league starts
By Peter Shuttleworth
at the Cardiff City Stadium
Swansea City's slick style may have stolen the south Wales derby headlines but it will be their steel that will make them realistic promotion contenders.
Their domination of Cardiff City, a side supposedly feared in the Championship, in their own lair cements Swansea's credentials in their chase for the Premier League.
But behind the pretty pass-and-move stuff and possession, possession, possession, there is a resolute defence and backbone that teams with aspirations of moving up must exhibit.
Rodgers hails 'outstanding' Swansea
Scott Sinclair's dribbling, the pace of Nathan Dyer, Joe Allen's intricate passing and the boundless energy of Darren Pratley, their midfield talisman who was banned ahead of their humbling of Cardiff catch the eye.
The Swans, though, do what football pundits call 'the ugly things' with a ruthless efficiency that helped them look pretty.
Swansea's backline has not been breached in the Championship for nine hours of game time and has been the foundation of their charge into the top three in the table.
Their current defensive lockdown is currently the longest in the whole English League and Brendan Rodgers' boys have faced the other three of the division's top four sides in those six games - including spiking the formidable guns of Cardiff with a 1-0 win on Sunday.
And Ashley Williams epitomises Swansea's style with steely philosophy as he is comfortable with the ball at his feet but likes a tackle - a combination that has earned the Wales defender admiring glances from the Premier League.
Yet a top-flight move with the Swans is not out of the question as they hope for third time lucky after successive seasons narrowly missing out on the play-offs since their promotion to the second tier.
"We have missed out on the last two seasons but this one is different as we have the belief," said Williams, a centre-back in the Rio Ferdinand mould.
"Over the previous two years we let ourselves down by conceding sloppy goals whereas this season our philosophy is to keep a clean sheet as we will then probably win the game.
"So the job of the defensive unit is to give the rest of the boys a solid base to get us the three points.
"In our first year in the Championship under Roberto Martinez we found it tough going to the bigger, more established teams like Southampton as were little overawed.
"And we were so open under Roberto, which is no criticism of him as he did wonders for us, but it was frustrating having all of the flair but conceding stupid goals.
Emnes and Allen hail Swansea win
"Then Paulo Sousa was brilliant for us last season, he was just what we needed. We played such an open style under Roberto, we needed Paulo to take us to the other extreme and make us solid and rigid as a team.
"Brendan is now reaping the benefits from those seasons in the Championship. We play with a nice combination of style and steel and feel we can win anywhere."
Williams is well-placed to discuss Swansea's gradual improvement in the Championship as he has played every league game since Swansea returned to this level - and the 26-year-old made a club record 107th successive league start in the shutout against Cardiff.
Williams knows Martinez is a messiah at Swansea as he established the fluid footballing philosophy that guided them to eighth in their first season back in English football's second tier in 24 years.
Portuguesa Sousa replaced Spaniard Martinez who moved to Wigan in 2009, but despite inspiring them to seventh last term - and just a point shy of the play-offs - Sousa never enjoyed the popularity of his predecessor before leaving for Leicester.
Sousa did, though, establish a defensive cornerstone which resulted in a club record 24 clean sheets last season.
Swansea's ninth clean sheet of the season at the Cardiff City Stadium is their fourth successive away victory - after losing their opening four road-trips.
"We pride ourselves on our team ethic and everyone gets credit for the clean sheet, not just the defenders," said Williams.
"Cardiff have great firepower and with Craig Bellamy and Michael Chopra are one of the best attacks outside the Premier League so we very proud of extending our clean sheet record here.
Skipper Garry Monk is a cornerstone of the Swansea City defence
"We work hard on defending, we're organised, know our jobs and are disciplined with no stars in this team. And we didn't play our normal Swansea way and can improve but we did what was required against Cardiff.
Rodgers' mantra is "possession with penetration" and Marvin Emnes' winner at their fiercest rivals was their 21st goal this season - a total that took Sousa's Swans until Boxing Day to reach last year.
Yet with Williams continuing to impress alongside inspirational captain Garry Monk, the whispers will be whether Swansea can hold on to an all-round centre-back Martinez bought for a bargain £400,000 from Stockport in 2008.
Williams was linked with a Martinez reunion in the summer and as the current Wigan boss was at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, expect the rumour mill to go into overdrive.
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