Reading 2 // Swansea City 4
LONDON // Few social climbers rise with the speed or the style of Swansea City. Eight years ago, they were 90 minutes away from exiting the Football League. Now they do leave it behind, but in a different and very desirable direction.
In 2003, relegation from League Two was averted at the last. Yesterday, they surged into the Premier League, overwhelming Reading to complete an extraordinary ascent with a magnificent flourish. The Championship's play-off final is deemed the world's richest game and Swansea applied the final chapter to their rags-to-riches tale.
They will give the Premier League a first representative from Wales: the Promised Land merging with the Land Of My Fathers. Swansea's own top-flight history is brief: two seasons among the elite ended in 1983, a relegation seeming to have a finality during their subsequent struggles over two dreadful decades.
"Eight years ago, they couldn't even pay the electricity bill, which is absolutely incredible," said Brendan Rodgers, the manager. "Now they have won a £90 million game. It's a real ironic story that eight years ago, the club won the last game of the season against Hull to stay in the league, 4-2 and one player scored a hat-trick with two penalties." History repeated itself: James Thomas then, Scott Sinclair now. "To score a hat-trick in a game of this magnitude is fantastic," Rodgers added.
"Over the course of the season, we deserve the opportunity to be in the best league in the world," the manager said. Over several, underachievers have been rebranded as compulsive passers. Roberto Martinez reinvented Swansea during his spell in charge. First Paulo Sousa and now Rodgers have followed his blueprint, with the Northern Irishman ending an outstanding first season in charge in extraordinary fashion.
But West Wales owes a debt to West London. Both manager and match-winner were schooled at Stamford Bridge, even if they received contrasting treatment there. Rodgers flourished under Jose Mourinho's guidance, with his subsequent career aided by the Portuguese's willingness to recommend his friend to prospective employers, while Sinclair's floundered.
The winger started a solitary league game for Chelsea. Rescued from their reserves, he has become Rodgers' trump card. A treble took his tally for the season to 27, the third effectively ending Reading's spirited challenge.
He is the headline act, but Swansea's is a team of progressive talents. It was a combination with too much verve for Reading's ponderous defence. When Zurab Khizanishvili bundled Nathan Dyer over, Sinclair, with enviable coolness, rolled his penalty past Adam Federici. Two minutes brought as many goals for the winger; the second was as simple, steered in at the far post after Federici only succeeded in clawing Stephen Dobbie's low cross into his path. Then a failure to clear Dyer's centre enable Dobbie to finish smoothly.
With the half-time dismissals of the substitute, Jay Tabb, and the assistant manager, Nigel Gibbs, for dissent, Reading, it seemed, were going down arguing. Then came the fight. Reading turned the corner, in more ways than one. A stooping Noel Hunt headed in one of Jobi McAnuff's set-pieces, a soaring Matt Mills converted another.
This, it seemed, was one of the great comebacks. The energetic Jem Karacan hit the inside of the post, a flying Garry Monk blocking Hunt's rebound. "I honestly thought that was in," said McDermott. "When we got to 3-2, I thought we were going to go on and win the game."
They didn't. Swansea's best form of defence is attack. Andy Griffin clumsily upended Fabio Borini. Sinclair scored from the spot. Now the elite await. "The Premier League will be a better place with Swansea in it," said Rodgers. Briefly and unsuccessfully Reading manager, he had mixed emotions. "I'm very proud," he added. "I've had a wonderful journey. Now it goes into a different stratosphere."