Swansea City 4 Reading 2: The Swans fly out of the Football League
There were two themes prevalent in Swansea City’s play-off semi-final success over Nottingham Forest. Firstly, that Swansea are an excellent side and play some truly admirable football – essentially, that they deserved to win the tie. Secondly, that the margin of their victory was still narrow despite the two-goal advantage at the final whistle after their opponents hit the post when seeking a second half equaliser. At Wembley, these themes were repeated as the Swans triumphed over Reading.
Englishman Scott Sinclair struck a hat-trick for the Welsh side, two of which came from the penalty spot, while Scotsman Stephen Dobbie netted the Swans’ vital third to help secure his second successive promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs. Reading, three goals down at the interval, rallied impressively in the second half with goals from Noel Hunt and captain Matthew Mills but were unable to force an equaliser. The experienced Andy Griffin conceded a late penalty to finally sink the Royals when Sinclair struck for the matchball.
All the talk before the game seemed to be about Swansea’s possession football, perhaps heightened by Barcelona’s masterclass on the same pitch less than 48 hours before kickoff. The comparison between the two teams is beginning to wear thin with some people and understandably so, but the first half bore a resemblance to the Champions League final as Reading pressed to good effect early on. Gradually, however, Swansea asserted their influence and took the lead when Joe Allen made a probing run through midfield which eventually led to Zurab Khizanishvili tangling with Nathan Dyer in the area. Sinclair coolly dispatched his 25th goal of a magnificent season.
At this point, Reading needed to keep their heads after some strong tackles early on which showed their determination to make an impression on the occasion. McDermott’s side needed to show they had not been affected by conceding the opener on such a big stage. Instead, Swansea once more exposed a nervous Royals defence and it was Sinclair again who got on the scoresheet. Dobbie found himself in a surprisingly large amount of space in behind Ian Harte and his low centre was touched home at the far post by the former Chelsea winger despite Federici’s touch on the ball.
The third goal took longer to arrive, Khizanishvili stabbing a cross away from goal but straight into the path of the unmarked Dobbie. The former Blackpool loanee found the net with a neat finish on the half-volley with six minutes to go in a frantic first half. Before Phil Dowd could sound his whistle, Reading had the perfect opportunity to get back into the game only for their top scorer Shane Long to inexplicably mistime his swing at the ball three yards from an open goal.
If Long’s miss looked to have summarised Reading’s first half, it was soon forgotten as the Royals came storming back at the start of the second. A succession of corners brought two goals – one glanced home at the near post by Hunt before Mills rose high to power home a second. Reading were close to a third as well, Jem Karacan’s deflected effort striking the post before a follow-up was blocked superbly by Swans captain Garry Monk. Again, like in their tumultuous semi-final second leg victory over Nottingham Forest, Swansea’s class had been forced to rely upon a touch of fortune to prevail.
Nevertheless, there is a resilience to this team which is rarely found in others held up as examples of the beautiful game outside of the elite. Swansea join that elite because of their defence as much as their attack, with Dorus De Vries and Ashley Williams among those responsible for important clearances as Reading pressed for a leveller. And with the game perfectly poised for late drama, Griffin’s brainless tackle on Fabio Borini, a livewire for long periods up front for Swansea, finished the Reading challenge.
So we lose Swansea City from The Seventy Two. For how long remains to be seen, but their absence from the Championship removes one of the great stories of the Football League. Eight years ago, they nearly fell out of the fourth tier. They saved themselves with a 4-2 win involving a hat-trick comprising two penalties. This tale was repeated after the game by the current manager Brendan Rodgers, the man who has finally overseen Swansea’s return to the top flight after 28 years, and the Swans will be reacquainted with their former boss Roberto Martinez who played a huge part in their rise up the leagues before departing to Wigan Athletic.
It was a fitting end to a fascinating season in the Football League. A team that play good football and which finished third in the Championship table providing a thoroughly entertaining close to the campaign, with no little help from the form side of the division. Reading can threaten at the right end of the table again, particularly if they can cling onto their key players. For Swansea, the Premier plan starts here.