This is fifth final between the clubs that finished third and fifth: three of the four previous games were won by the team that finished lower in the table – the only exception was Watford’s win over Leeds in 2006. In some ways, that fact seems to support the argument that the Championship playoff final is usually between a team that has been challenging for promotion all season and one that’s shown good form over the last few weeks of the season – both Burnley (2009) and Wolves (2003) came from the pack to win promotion.
However, there’s a slight difference in this season’s final – Reading reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup by beating two teams from the Premier League and were only beaten 1-0 by eventual winners Manchester City. Despite the obvious distraction, the Royals were never outside the top ten places for the last third of the season and have only lost once in their last eighteen games.
Swansea had no distractions – early exits in both the Carling Cup and the FA Cup look as if they may have helped Brendan Rogers’ side – and they’ve been automatic promotion candidates all season. It’s not hard to see why: a fearsome home record with the second best defence in the Championship. Only Cardiff, Portsmouth and Bristol City won at the Liberty Stadium this season and only Pompey and Nottingham Forest scored more than one goal there. Additionally, their fourteen home clean sheets was the best in the Championship this season.
Sadly for Swansea, the playoff final doesn’t take place at the Liberty Stadium and this could be a major disadvantage for them this afternoon. Their 2-0 win at Millwall at the end of April was their first away win in six games and despite drawing with ten men against Nottingham Forest in the first leg of the playoff semi final, it was Swansea’s away form that ultimately cost them automatic promotion: they lost at all three of the clubs that will be playing in League 1 next season.
Reading were the Championship’s away draw specialists in 2010/11 and their ability to grind out results away from the Madjewski stadium is one of the main reasons they find themselves one game away from a return to the Premier League. Their last away defeat was at Norwich in February: since then they’ve won four and drawn four of their regular season road trips.
Sixteen of last 20 Championship play off finals have been settled in normal time, the last game that went to extra time was when Birmingham City beat Norwich in 2002, which was also the last final to go to a penalty shoot out. Until last year’s spectacular final, nine of the last ten games had been either been tight (five 1-0 victories) or one sided blowouts (3-0 wins for Bolton, Wolves and Watford) with only one team scoring in nine of the last ten games.
Although a repeat of a five goal first half would be fun to watch from a neutral point of view, seven of the last ten games (including Blackpool v Cardiff) have been settled by one goal – and considering that Swansea beat Reading 1-0 at home and away this season, this game looks as if it could be a return to the low scoring finals of recent seasons. Both teams have competed in the Championship since 2008/09 but Reading haven’t beaten Swansea since a 4-0 win in Berkshire in September 2008 and Swansea have won three of the last five – and all of those games featured under two goals.
Finally, congratulations to Peterborough United, who returned to the Championship after one season in League 1 following a 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town in yesterday’s play off final. The Posh’s all out attacking style could be fun to watch next season, although the only team that conceded more goals than them in League 1 (Bristol Rovers) were relegated and the club doesn’t have a history of success in the second tier, having been relegated in two of their three seasons at Championship level in the last two decades.
Upate No.1: It was announced on Monday lunchtime that Dave Jones has left Cardiff City. Sean O’Driscoll of Doncaster Rovers becomes the longest tenured manager in the Championship.