Sport The miracle at the Madejski proved post-lockdown Swansea City are a different beast and they could be dark horses for Premier League promotion
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It’s been three days since the Madejski Stadium miracle and I still can’t find the words to truly describe what happened.
Over the years I became pretty confident I had exhausted every possible emotion and seen just about everything from my club…. until Wednesday.
Swansea travelled to Reading on the final day of the season, knowing they had to win and pray for unlikely results elsewhere. Either Cardiff needed to lose, which was never going to happen against a Hull side with just one win since New Year’s Day, or Nottingham Forest needed to lose with a hefty five goal swing between their match and Swansea’s.
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The odds were stacked against Steve Cooper’s side.
Rhian Brewster put the Swans ahead with one of the goals of the season in the first half to give the Jack Army a bit of hope. Soon after, Cardiff went 2-0 up, killing any chance of catching the Bluebirds. But there was better news from the City Ground where Stoke took the lead.
Suddenly the door was ajar and a thin ray of light could be seen. This light brightened momentarily as Reading top scorer Yakou Méïté saw red but the door was slammed shut just before half time when the Royals converted a controversial penalty.
When news arrived in the second half that Forest had equalised against the Potters, Swansea fans could hear the key turning in the lock, seemingly ending their play-off hopes for good.
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Another goal of the season contender followed, this time from Wayne Routledge, but it all seemed to be in vain. It was a valiant effort but the Swans were destined to fall just short.
Suddenly, the rusty hinges creaked and that door began to open.
Stoke got a goal, then another one.
With six minutes remaining Liam Cullen volleyed the ball into the Reading net for his first senior goal and it was game on once again. The impossible now looked possible. Just one more goal for either the Swans or Stoke would elevate Swansea into the top six.
Then it happened. Conor Gallagher floated a cross towards the back post. Two Swansea players were lying in wait, one of whom was the legendary Wayne Routledge who guided his header into the corner of the net, sparking delirium both at the Madejski and in homes across south-west Wales.
As if that wasn’t incredible enough, Stoke finished off the demolition of Nottingham Forest with a fourth of their own.
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The celebrations were wild but clearly tempered with pure disbelief. Not even the biggest optimist could have possibly expected such a night.
With little more than 25 minutes remaining both Swansea and Forest were drawing 1-1 and the goal-swing which followed seemed like some kind of fantasy. But with Swansea scoring another three and Forest conceding three, the Swans pulled off the most unlikely of scalps to somehow leapfrog Forest on goal difference.
The sheer volume of goals between both games, the intense drama and the unbearable tension added to the ultimate adrenaline rush.
In terms of importance there are many games which rank higher in Swansea’s history than Wednesday night’s but I can’t imagine there have been many more dramatic evenings in Swansea’s 108-year existence.
For hours after the final whistle I felt like I was on some kind of potent hallucinogenic drug. The whole thing felt like a weird dream but one where I couldn’t stop smiling.
I struggled to fall asleep, still buzzing from one of the craziest evenings in Swansea City’s history.
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Within the space of 90 minutes I had been overcome with excitement, nervousness, anticipation, anxiety and finally pure and unfiltered joy which has sustained me ever since. If this is how I feel as a fan sitting in front of a TV, imagine what it must have been like for the players and coaches who orchestrated this remarkable success.
Emotion is such a vital element of football, it hooks supporters from an early age and turns them into football addicts for the rest of their lives.
We support clubs in the hope of getting that type of magical rush but in truth many fans go years, even decades without enjoying nights like Wednesday. It was a genuinely special evening and one which none of us will ever forget.
There’s one emotion I haven’t discussed yet and it’s one of the most prevalent. I, along with all Swansea fans, felt a massive amount of pride while watching that match.
The team played with freedom, guts and left no stone unturned in their quest for the play-offs. The energy in the side was incredible and their determination never wavered, even when it seemed things would not go their way.
It’s difficult to comprehend what the Swans achieved on Wednesday and I’ll be honest, the elation of simply getting into the top six has been so overpowering, I haven’t really thought much about the two extra games we have to play.
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Qualifying in itself is a fantastic accomplishment but the manner in which it was achieved should give the team plenty of confidence going into the play-offs.
In a repeat of the 2006 League One play-offs, the Swans will face Brentford. The Bees lost their final two games of the season to miss out on automatic promotion, meaning they approach these games in a totally different mindset to the Swans.
While Swansea will still be high as a kite following Wednesday’s madness, Brentford may feel slightly jittery.
Over the course of the campaign the west London side have been much better than the other three teams in the mix, but that does not necessarily mean they are best placed to win the play-offs.
While Swansea, Cardiff and Fulham are all entering these matches probably playing their best football of the season, Brentford will have some lingering concerns.
The Bees’ play-off record is also disastrous, having qualified on eight separate occasions without ever achieving promotion. These records can often have a negative psychological impact on clubs.
Of course, this may just be wishful thinking, after all Brentford are still a force to be reckoned with.
They only narrowly missed out on the top two and are the top scoring team in the division. In Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma they have two of the best players in the Championship.
They also comprehensively beat the Swans in both previous meetings this season, netting six in the process.
However the unsure, misshapen and flat Swansea team which faced Brentford earlier in the campaign is now gone. Over the past month the Swans have adopted a new formation which has enabled them to flourish. The post-lockdown Swans are a different beast, capable of giving Brentford a much tougher contest.
The Swans will not be among the favourites to make it to the Premier League but the way they’ve played of late, combined with the astonishing strength of attitude they have shown, could make them dark horses.
Whatever happens in these matches will be a bonus. Fans did not expect the Swans to make it beyond the regular season and that should enable them to play without pressure.
However with so much confidence running through this squad, so many players hitting top form at the right time and with the energy generated on Wednesday still coursing through their veins, it feels like anything's possible.
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