Swansea 4-2 Reading: Sinclair hat-trick takes Swansea into the Premier League
Swansea won an exciting play-off final at Wembley to earn their place in the Premier League for the first time.
Brendan Rodgers named his expected side, in a fluid 4-2-1-3 shape, with Stephen Dobbie shuttling between the midfield and the attacking three.
Brian McDermott used his usual 4-4-2, and was boosted by the welcome news that Jimmy Kebe was fit to start on the right wing.
The game took a slightly strange pattern – Swansea were probably the better side, and yet their goals often came against the run of play.
Swansea are renowned for their slick passing football, so McDermott told his Reading players to press intensely from kick-off, putting pressure upon the Swansea back four and goalkeeper, and making it difficult for them to get the ball forward from defence.
This worked well early on, and meant that the opening stages were mainly spent in Swansea’s half of the pitch, with Reading looking to get the ball wide before crossing.
The pressing was less effective when the ball was played forward, however, because Reading had a numerical disadvantage in the centre of the pitch. When Reading’s two central midfielders looked to close down the two deeper Swansea midfielders, it meant that Dobbie was left free to run with the ball – a little like how Australia became exposed to Mesut Ozil between the lines when they tried to press Germany at last summer’s World Cup.
Another result of the pressing was that the Reading players confronted the Swansea attackers quickly, and flew into tackles. Right-back Andy Griffin picked up a completely unnecessary booking after just seven minutes for a rash challenge from behind on Scott Sinclair. With Sinclair always likely to outpace Griffin, this meant the right-back was unable to make another tackle in the game without fear of being dismissed, and Sinclair looked to run with the ball every time he picked it up, becoming the game’s key man. Clumsy tackles also resulted in Swansea’s first and last goals, both scored from the penalty spot.
Reading were looking dangerous at points. Their football was more basic than Swansea’s – not route one, but it involved long balls from the back (Swansea passed out of the back from goal kicks) and plenty of crosses. Kebbe was by far the greatest threat down the right. He delivered a couple of good early crosses into the box, but midway through the first half Swansea started to double up on him quickly, with Joe Allen coming across to help out left-back Alan Tate. Reading could have been cleverer in exploiting the space vacated by Allen, but Kebbe tended to just put crosses into the box.
This was one of those games where the confidence and fitness levels of the players seemed to be heavily influenced by the goals going in. For example, Reading had been playing well until they lost the first goal, and then they allowed Swansea to take command of the game. In tactical terms, this had the biggest impact upon their pressing – it dropped when they conceded goals – and Swansea were far better when Reading stood off and allowed them to play.
The second half saw no initial substitutions, but Reading forward Noel Hunt started to play deeper, dropping off Shane Long much more and making Reading more of a 4-4-1-1, or 4-2-3-1 when the wingers got forward. Hunt was in and around Leon Britton and therefore Reading’s pressing – which was reinvigorated after the break – worked much better.
Sure enough, they got back in the game and the pattern of the match was similar to the first few minutes – the ball spent most of the time around the Swansea box. McDermott’s side still lacked creativity, though, and whilst Kebbe continued his runs down the right, Reading were a little one-dimensional. Their width and constant supply of crosses won plenty of corners – by midway through the second half they were 12-0 up on this count, and corners brought both of their goals.
Rodgers replaced Dobbie with Darren Pratley, a more defensive-minded player that helped scrap in the centre of the pitch and protected the back four along with his two central midfield colleagues, and whilst Reading had one excellent chance at 3-2 that hit the post, Swansea dealt with the pressure well and started to push forward for a fourth. That arrived when Griffin’s stupid tackle brought down Fabio Borini, and Sinclair completed his hat-trick from the spot.
Swansea were the better side and used their wide players to good effect. Reading competed well, pushing the Welsh side back into their own half of the pitch, disturbing their passing and having efforts of their own, but they were too easily exposed when Swansea managed to break quickly, and their elderly back four couldn’t deal with pace and trickery.
Swansea seemed well-equipped for the Premier League, with a formation that favours attacking football and technically-gifted players across the side. Signings will be needed, of course, but it will be exciting to see how Rodgers adapts to the step up.Swansea 4-2 Reading: Sinclair hat-trick takes Swansea into the Premier League