The EPL’s promised land: Reading or Swansea?
Following a pulsating UEFA Champions League Final, Wembley again plays host to a match of very high importance, as Reading and Swansea square off at the home of English football, where a place in the Premier League is at stake.
According to accounting firm Deloitte the winner will earn $140 million (90 million pounds) through television revenue, merchandise sales and gate takings next season, which makes the Championship playoff final the richest one off game in the history of football.
Route to the final
Reading head into the final choc full of confidence after a comprehensive semi-final victory over Cardiff City, in the process spoiling the dreams of an all-Welsh final.
Following a 0-0 draw at home in the first leg, the Royals turned on the style in Cardiff cruising to a 3-0 victory, thanks to a brace from top scorer Shane Long and a dazzling individual goal from Jobi McAnuff.
Swansea City on the other hand had a much tougher task against Nottingham Forest.
It came away from the first leg with a credible 0-0 draw on the road. This after having defender Neil Taylor sent off in just the second minute.
In the second leg, the Swans took the lead thanks to a 25-yard stunner from Leon Britton and then doubled their advantage four minutes later through Steven Dobbie.
Forest was not without their chances as it hit the woodwork on no fewer than four occasions and they pulled a goal back through Robert Earnshaw ten minutes from time to ensure an interesting finale.
However, in injury time, as Forest piled everybody forward for a corner, including goalkeeper Lee Camp, it was hit on the counter as Swans midfielder Darren Pratley fired home a shot from the halfway line into the empty net.
Reading’s star winger Jimmy Kebe is fighting to be fit for the Wembley showpiece, having missed the past six matches with injury. If he is passed fit, he will start from the bench. In better news Welsh international Hal Robson-Kanu appears to have shrugged off the groin injury he suffered in the first leg against Cardiff and looks set to replace Shaun Cummings in midfield.
Reading Likely Starting 11: (4-4-2)
Adam Federici, Andy Griffin, Matt Mills, Zurab Khizanishvilli, Ian Harte, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jem Karacan, Mikele Leigertwood, Jobi McAnuff, Shane Long, Noel Hunt
Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers has no new injury concerns to worry about, but Taylor will be serving the second match of his suspension as they look to reach the Premier League for the first time.
Swansea Likely Starting 11: (4-3-3)
Dorus de Vries, Angel Rangel, Garry Monk, Ashley Williams, Alan Tate, Leon Britton, Joe Allen , Nathan Dyer, Scott Sinclair, Stephen Dobbie, Fabio Borini
This encounter has the hallmarks of being a classic. Swansea love to pass the ball around and dominate possession akin to FC Barcelona, against Reading who are more circumspect, willing to absorb pressure and then hit the opposition with lightning effect on the counter attack.
There is also the major battle between the two managers Swansea’s Rodgers and the Reading gaffer Brian McDermott.
Rodgers, the ex-Reading manager had a disastrous spell in charge of the Royals winning only six of the 23 matches he took charge of, before being replaced by his Chief Scout and assistant manager McDermott.
Since then McDermott has done wonders by taking the club from battling relegation to just missing the playoffs last campaign, following it up by leading them to the playoffs this time around, after a run of eight consecutive wins from mid-February.
Rodgers has rebuilt his reputation by leading Swansea to a playoff berth, despite expectations being they would slide down the table.
During the week Rodgers has said he has no animosity towards Reading after his tenure, but one makes me think this is a driving factor in motivating him and his players to get the job done.
Swansea defender Ashley Williams feels it deserves to be the first Welsh club in the Premier League but admits plaudits for the stylish brand of football mean nothing if they don’t get the job done.
“I think we deserve to go up as it takes brave players, a brave team and a brave manager to play the way we do, But the plaudits mean nothing if we don’t get promotion.” said Williams.
Swansea will look for young midfielder Joe Allen to control the game from his defensive midfield role- similar to Xavi for Barcelona. If he is able to dominate in the centre of the park Reading could face a barrage of crosses from wide areas where the likes of Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair are very dangerous.
The Welsh international has been linked with a move to Sunderland and if he puts in a fantastic performance there is every chance he could be playing Premier League football next season regardless of the result.
I would expect Swansea to have the lion’s share of possession and it will be up to the Royals to hold firm and then take their opportunities when they arise.
Reading will have a major reliance on Irish striker Shane Long whose brace in the second leg of the semi-final took him to 23 goals this campaign.
He has attracted the interest of Merseyside rivals Everton and Liverpool, but has stated that he wants to play in the Premier League for Reading so he certainly won’t be lacking motivation.
It is very important that it dominates the midfield exchanges, as if they give him enough quality service he can fire them to glory.
However, their outstanding defence is their major asset. Captain Matt Mills and Zurab Khizanishvilli are no-nonsense defenders and with goalkeeper Adam Federici in top form, they form a formidable rearguard.
In the two previous encounters between the sides this campaign Swansea has been the victors on each occasion winning 1-0 in both games. They have also kept clean sheets against Reading in all but one of their last five meetings.
Reading’s record in playoff finals is far from flash having lost to Bolton in 1995 and Walsall in 2001- both in extra time. But they arrive at Wembley in fantastic form losing only one of their past 12 matches.
Swansea is deserved favourites, but will be under immense pressure to deliver Premier League football to Wales for the first time. Chairman Huw Jenkins has done an incredible job in turning the club around from virtual oblivion, as only eight short years ago the club was only one game away from slipping out of the Football League.
The side will have two survivors from that dramatic last day victory against Hull City in 2003 – Alan Tate and Britton.
On the other hand, Reading has slipped under the radar beautifully, having hit peak form just at the right time of the season. They have a very experienced squad and give very little away.
I see this being a very tight game, with the distinct possibility it will go to extra time, even penalties and despite all the stats seemingly against them Reading will deny the Swans their piece of history with a hard fought victory.
But, if Swansea taste victory it would be fantastic to welcome them to the English Premier League.
Prediction: Reading 2-1 Swansea City
English Championship Final Kickoff Time
Swansea City v Reading, Wembley Stadium, Tuesday 31 May, Midnight 0:00 (AEST) – Fox Sports
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