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Swansea are Premier League bound after a 4-2 victory over Reading in the nPower Championship playoff final, becoming the first Welsh team to reach the top flight of English football*. It was a game that's probably best described as 'absurd', with Swansea earning a 3-0 first half lead despite playing rather poorly (Reading didn't deserve to go into the break down by one, let alone three) before proceeding to very nearly throw said lead away and letting their opponents right back into the game. A late Scott Sinclair penalty seals the win, but it was by no means as emphatic as the scoreline suggests.
*It's a historical thing. Most Welsh sides are not eligible.
Reading started out the first half by trying to force the Swansea back line into mistakes, and they did so extremely effectively and could have scored mutliple goals in the opening twenty minutes, most notably from an early goalmouth scramble following a mistake by Swansea goalkeeper Dorus de Vries and then from a Garry Monk handball that really ought to have resulted in a penalty. Referee Phil Dowd waved off the protests by Reading and added injury to insult when he then immediately gave Swansea a penalty (correctly) for a foul on Nathan Dyer by Zurab Khizanishvili, who really ought to have been shown a second yellow card and dismissed.
Scott Sinclair stroked the ball confidently past Adam Federici for the opening goal, and he added another within a minute as Swansea seized possession straight from the restart and marched down the Reading left, a low cross by Stephen Dobbie ending up right under Sinclair's feet at the far post with Federici stranded. He couldn't miss, and didn't, and suddenly Swansea were up rather implausibly by two goals.
They'd add to that total before the first half was up, Dobbie turning goalscorer when a Nathan Dyer cross was deflected into his path in miles of space in the centre of the box. It was probably a mistake for him to have hit it first time, since he really did have all the time in the world, but he got his shot perfect and left Federici with absolutely no chance.
Reading could have cut the deficit before the interval, but Noel Hunt contrived to waste a brilliant chance, shooting into the side netting when it looked easier to score and then de Vries pulled off one of his few competent saves of the afternoon to deny midfielder Mikele Leigertwood when he attempted a long-range thunderbolt. At 3-0, it looked like the game was over before the second half had even begun.
It wasn't. the Royals came flying out of the box after the break, and unlike the first half they were actually rewarded for their efforts. Hunt made up for his earlier miss by glancing homer a near-post header from a very nice Jobi McAnuf corner, and then some combination of Matt Mills and Joe Allen forced the ball home from another a few moments later to cut Swansea's lead to just one - just after Dobbie had missed an easy chance to make it 4-1.
Reading were dominant, and were extraordinarily close to an equaliser shortly after the Mills goal, with Jem Karacan cracking a long-range effort off de Vries' left-hand post via a deflection from Ashley Williams. The ball rebounded straight to Hunt, and with the goalkeeper completely out of the way he must have thought that he'd scored, only for Monk to make an absolutely remarkable sliding tackle to deny him.
The game entered a little bit of a lull after that as Swansea attempted to stifle the threat of a ludicrous collapse by keeping Reading away from the ball, but the Royals were still threatening to level the game and take things to extra time. All their good work, however, was undone by a moment of madness from Andy Griffin, who for some reason opted to bring down Fabio Borini as the Italian forward was bringing the ball away from the goal in the Reading area. Dowd blew his whistle and pointed to the Scott, and Scott Sinclair secured Swansea's win with his hattrick, blasting the ball past Federici to ensure that Swansea would indeed reach the top flight for the first time in almost thirty years.
And based on today's game, we have a fairly worthy replacement for Blackpool already.
Oh my goodness Andy Griffin, why on earth would you do that? The Reading defender has just undone so much of his teams' good work by bundling Fabio Borini over in the penalty area for no reason at all. Borini wasn't even really going towards goal! Phil Dowd instantly pointed to the spot, and Scott Sinclair stepped up looking to make it 4-2 and also to claim his hattrick.
Sinclair scored the opening goal from the penalty too, sending Adam Federici the wrong way and rolling the ball into the net, but this time he opts for power, blasting it to the goalkeeper's right. Federici guesses the right way and so nearly gets a hand to the ball, but he can't stop it going in. 4-2 Swansea with just a few minutes left - that's Reading's astonishing comeback rather derailed, one would suspect. Really, really unfortunate for the Royals, and unless they can get a goal very quickly we've been robbed of a tense end to the match.
For some reason, the commentators are saying that Swansea have less composure and that Reading are pressing higher in the second half, which is manifestly untrue. Reading have been dominant all game, and were only down by three thanks to a freak series of events. This second half is going just about the way the first half should have. It's 3-2 Swansea with less than twenty-five minutes to go.
There's plenty of time for Reading to equalise with the way that the Swansea defence has been playing, but if the Welsh side manage to get the next goal we go right back to it being (more or less) game over. Fabio Borini has a chance to give them that goal from a free kick thirty-five yards out, but he opts to pass rather than shoot and Joe Allen's shot is charged down. Immensely wasteful from Swansea, considering how the second half has gone so far.
After an absolutely dreadful first half, Reading are on the verge of an absolutely unbelievable comeback, as they have scored two goals in the second half, both off corner kicks, to bring their once 3-0 deficit down to 3-2. While the first goal was created by a combination of poor marking and creative set piece play, this one was an old-school goal.
The corner was swung into the far post in the 57th minute and the captain Matt Mills out-jumped everyone, getting to the ball at a very high point. He hit a powerful header into the back of the net and just like that, Reading are very much back in the tie.
Just moments earlier, Stephen Dobbie missed an absolute sitter on the other end. After beating three defenders during a counter-attack, Dobbie was one-on-one with the goalkeeper with Scott Sinclair supporting behind him. He could have easily scored or laid off the ball for Sinclair, but instead screwed his shot well wide of the goal - so much so that it almost went out for a throw-in. Just moments after the Reading goal, Jem Karacan struck the post with a great shot, and an attempt on the rebound was saved. It's absolute madness right now at Wembley Stadium, and it would be surprising to see the game end 3-2.
Coming back from three goals is a lot more difficult than coming back from two, and Noel Hunt has just ensured that Reading are just 3-1 down rather than 3-0 mere minutes into the second half of the 2011 nPower Championship playoff final. The Royals started the second half much in the same way as they began the match, putting Swansea's defence under immense pressure and forcing them into errors. This time, however, they've received a reward for their far post.
Jobi McAnuff's corners have been superb all game, and Noel Hunt has finally taken advantage of that, making a diagonal near-post run to glance a header past Dorus de Vries and into the back of the net. Is that going to give Reading much hope of a comeback? No, probably not, but it's certainly more hope than they had at the end of the first half. They deserve to be in this one, too.
What a strange half of football. Reading find themselves 3-0 behind Swansea in the nPower Championship playoff final despite arguably being the better team. Considering how the game has gone, this is a completely implausible scoreline, but a Scott Sinclair brace (the first a penalty and the second a tap-in thirty-eight seconds later) and a classy finish by Stephen Dobbie have more or less assured the Welsh side of a place in the top flight next season.
Reading have had their fair share of close chances - they might have gone ahead in the second minute after Dorus de Vries made a complete hash of a cross and the ball ended up pinballing around the Swansea area and they've had several chances to get themselves back into the game that somehow haven't gone it. Phil Dowd hasn't done the Royals and favours either, denying them a possible penalty and handing out yellow cards like they're going out of fashion. So, disaster for Reading, rapture for Swansea. Forty-five minutes left to play at Wembley.
3-0 Swansea and that's got to be game over, despite Reading seemingly able to carve through the Swansea defence like butter. Dorus de Vries has been making an absolute mess of things all match, and he has to rely on his back line to scramble clear after mishandling a pair for crosses (scrambling being the best wortd for what Swansea have been doing all match), but he will be remarkably unconcerned with a poor performance as he sees his side go yet further ahead.
A low cross from the right led to the Swans' second goal, and it Swansea strike there again, with Nathan Dyer's delivery deflected into the path of Stephen Dobbie, who is all alone and making a late run into the box. His assured first time finish leaves Adam Federici absolutely helpless, and probably puts Reading out for the count. Crazy scenes at Wembley. Oh, and Jobi McAnuff was booked just prior to the goal thanks for a nasty foul on Leon Britton.
Reading nearly get the goal they deserve after a decent delivery by Jobi McAnuff is glanced just wide of Dorus de Vries's near post by Noel Hunt following yet another spell of pressure from the Royals. It's a bit of a mystery as to how on earth they can be 2-0 down to Swansea right now - they've had the vast majority of the game thoroughly under their control and Swansea had absolutely zero right to have scored once, let alone twice.
Then again, Reading might be a man down, seeing as Zurab Khizanishvili ought to have been shown a second yellow for his tackle on Nathan Dyer that lead to the Swansea penalty, and now he's elbowed Fabio Borini in the face in the Reading box, which could easily have resulted in another penalty and a straight red card. Phil Dowd appeared disinclined to give either, and play continues. It's still 2-0 Swansea in the 31st minute. Scott Sinclair has scored both goals and he looks like the best player on the pitch by some distance.
Wow. No less than a minute after having a penalty appeal of their own turned down, Reading find themselves conceding a spot kick after Nathan Dyer burst into the area only to be felled by a silly challenge from the already-booked Zurab Khizanishvili. Phil Dowd points to the spot, but doesn't send off the Georgian. That won't cheer up Reading fans too much, as Scott Sinclair coolly slots the penalty home, sending Adam Federici the wrong way.
Oh, and things get worse for Reading, as Swansea grab another goal straight from the restart, robbing their opponents and marching upfield, splitting the Reading defence down the right. A low cross courtesy of Stephen Dobbie is hammered across the six-yard box and Federici can only parry it (very weakly) straight into Sinclair's path at the far post. With an open goal two yards away, it would be impossible to miss, and Sinclair gleefully claimed his second goal in less than forty seconds, making it 2-0 Swansea. Nightmare for Reading.
Dearie me. Swansea might look dangerous going forward but their six defensive players look like they're pub footballers right now against a well-armed Reading attack. They're simply failing to stay composed under pressure, which is resulting in things like not botherring to clear the ball and running straight into their opposition 30 yards from goal. Another ludicrous goalmouth scramble eventually leads to a Reading corner, the first for either team in the match, but it's wasted and Swansea are allowed to escape.
A few minutes later and Swansea forward Fabio Borini finds himself in the book for a bit of a spat with Reading defender Zurab Khizanishvili with the ball out of play (Khizanishvili is shown yellow as well by Phil Dowd), which all seems a bit unnecessary. Swansea aren't able to get any possession going right now - ooooh, that's interesting. It looks like Garry Monk just handled in the Swansea area from a cutback. For me, that's a penalty, and replays confirm. Dowd gives nothing. Oops. Still 0-0 in the first half.
We are underway int he 2011 nPower Championship playoff final, and we've had an action-packed match so far. Reading are pressing their Welsh opponents very high up the pitch, and that's paying off as it leads to a series of Swansea errors, culminating in a low cross that Dorus de Vries made an absolute mess of. The ball bounced around the penalty area with de Vries prone for several heart-stopping seconds before Swansea could finally clear their lines - Reading were literally within inches of taking the league here.
Of course, Swansea are doing more than defending - Scott Sinclair won a dangerous free kick with one of his trademark slashing runs, but Fabio Borini completely wasted the effort, skying the ball well over Adam Frederici's goal from about nineteen yards. Sinclair found himself a victim of another foul seconds later, this time seeing his opponent Andy Griffin receive a booking for a two-footed tackle from behind. End to end stuff so far, still 0-0 nine minutes in.
Reading take on Swnasea in one of the most lucrative matches of the year, the winner receiving promotion to the Premier League and the loser receiving... well, nothing. Them's the breaks. It's the nPower Championship playoff final, and it's going to be a quite a lot of fun. Reading run out a 4-4-2 relying on the work rate of its central midfielders and strikers to overpower the opposition, while Swansea play a 4-2-3-1 built around possession and the finishing ability of on-loan Chelsea man Fabio Borini. What will prevail today? We'll find out in a few short minutes.
Substitutes: Alex McCarthy, Jay Tabb, Simon Church, Hal Robson-Kanu, Brian Howard, Shaun Cummings, Alex Pearce.
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Dorus de Vries; Angel Rangel, Garry Monk, Ashley Williams, Alan Tate; Nathan Dyer, Leon Britton; Stephen Dobbie, Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair; Fabio Borini.
Substitutes: Yves Makabu-Makalambay, Darren Pratley, Craig Beattie, Albert Serran, Luke Moore, Mark Gower, Ashley Richards.
On Monday evening, Swansea City and Reading will play what is well documented as the richest game in football. Unlike the UEFA Champions League final, in which both finalists take home an absurd amount of money, the financial differences between the winner and loser of the English Football League nPower Championship final are vast.
No one has pinned down the exact number, but the difference in income between the winner and loser of the game could be as much as £100m even if the winner is instantly relegated the next season. Even if the team who goes up is run by poor businessmen and completely unable to take advantage of potential new sponsorship deals, the prize money, television money, and parachute payments alone equal an estimated £60m.
Reading have been to the Premier League before. Though many of their stars have departed, their strike partnership of Noel Hunt and leading scorer Shane Long is made up of two players who were on the team during their Premiership stint, though they were up and coming youngsters and not stars at that point. Two years of Premier League money and a parachute payment, along with some transfer income has allowed Reading to reload, and they're just one step away from a return to the promised land.
Swansea City appeared to be close to going up to the Premier League a couple years ago when Roberto Martinez was the manager, but he set the team back a bit when he departed to Wigan. The Swans have survived that departure, along with the departure of Jason Scotland and the chronic health problems of one time star Ferrie Bodde. Their re-tooled team finished third in the Championship this year, and their firepower and tactics make them a favorite for Monday's playoff final.
Reading play with a 4-4-2 formation, while Swansea play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Stephen Dobbie playing behind Fabio Borini. Dobbie's presence, along with the work rate and intelligence of central midfielders Joe Allen and Leon Britton should give Swansea a significant advantage in the center of the park. Swansea showed in the first leg of their semifinal tie that they can play a possession game even with ten men, and then they showed their skill with 11 men in the second leg, as they won 3-1 to advance.
With Cardiff City missing Craig Bellamy for the second leg of their semifinal tie against Reading, the Royals completely out-classed their opponents, winning 3-0 as Shane Long put in a stellar performance. However, they did not have to deal with the problems that they will have to deal with on Monday in the center of midfield. Cardiff matched Reading with a 4-4-2, Long was great, and their midfield out-worked Cardiff's. On Monday, they might work harder than Swansea and still struggle to get the ball.
Swansea won both regular season meetings between the two teams, they finished higher in the table, they have more Premier League talent, and they will have an inherent advantage in midfield? Why believe that Reading can win? There are a few reasons, though they may be minor stretches.
First of all, Shane Long has 26 goals in all competitions for a good reason. He's an excellent player and he's particularly lethal on the counter attack. Second, Swansea got a bit of luck against Nottingham Forest, despite being the better team. Ashley Williams is generally regarded as one of the better defenders in the Championship, but he committed three penalty kick worthy offenses in the semifinal that were not called. Swansea's luck has to run out eventually in that department. Finally, they're playing this game in Wembley Stadium the same place where the Champions League final took place on Saturday. The pitch might not be in perfect condition, and it may make it difficult for Swansea to play a passing game.
All things considered, it should be a fantastic final. Swansea and Reading kick things off at 10 am ET, 3 pm local time from Wembley Stadium, and the winner gets a place in the Premier League, along with a whole lot of cash.
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