Swansea almost there... but who would they prefer in the play-offs?
SWANSEA City’s automatic promotion hopes were effectively ended after their 1-0 loss to Queens Park Rangers.
Lyndon Dykes struck in the final minute to earn the Rs a deserved victory at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday night.
It leaves Steve Cooper’s men nine points adrift of second-placed Watford with three matches left to play in the regular season.
As of yesterday morning, they still had a nine-point buffer over seventh-placed Reading ahead of the trip to the Madejski Stadium on Sunday.
But with five teams slugging it out for four play-off spots, one of the Swans, Brentford, Bournemouth, Barnsley and the Royals will miss out on a top-six place.
Swansea are, of course, in the strongest position as things stand, although they have played a game more than each of the other four aforementioned sides.
The Swans have 76 points from their 43 games ahead of their final three matches against Reading, Derby County and Watford.
Brentford are now the 6/4 favourites to gain promotion along with Norwich City and Watford, while Bournemouth are at 2/1 with Sky Bet to secure an immediate return to the Premier League.
Swansea’s loss to QPR saw them drop to 4/1 – which gives them the same chance as Barnsley of playing in the top-flight next season according to bookmakers.
Reading have a four-point gap to make up to the top six, and Veljko Paunovic’s side are significantly further back at 25/1 to go up.
It would take an almighty collapse for Swansea to miss out on a play-off spot, but given the way they played for large parts against Wycombe and QPR, fans are understandably concerned of what lies ahead.
Of course, the fact Swansea look destined to secure a play-off spot is no doubt something supporters would have grabbed before a ball was kicked this season – although the drop-off in recent weeks and months has been concerning.
So, who would the Swans actually want to face in the play-offs – should they clinch a spot in the top six as expected?
Brentford have drawn six of their last seven games and, while Barnsley’s 2021 has been largely excellent, Valerien Ismael’s side have hit a few stumbling blocks against the likes of Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday of late.
Reading have won just one of their last seven outings and looked lacklustre as they were held to a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City on Friday night, so it’s fair to say that the sides in contention for the play-offs are struggling to make a case for themselves at present.
Then there’s Bournemouth. Since losing to Barnsley on March 13, the Cherries have won six Championship matches on the spin, and, based purely on form, they’re the side to beat at the moment.
Swansea impressed away from home against Brentford, but were comfortably second-best in the home fixture, while they perfectly adapted to tough conditions to beat Barnsley 2-0 twice this season.
As for Reading, the Swans were close to their free-flowing best against the Royals in December, despite being held to a 0-0 draw.
And, again, then there’s Bournemouth.
Cooper’s side were dominated by the Cherries at the Liberty Stadium, but held on to secure a point while they were outclassed when losing 3-0 to Jonathan Woodgate’s side at the Vitality Stadium.
Given how things have panned out, you’d feel it would be far better to face either Barnsley or Reading over two legs in the semi-finals, while you could argue Brentford would be favourable over Bournemouth at present – although that one is much of a muchness.
And if that stage was successfully negotiated, it’s a one-off match in the final at Wembley.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After impressive away displays against Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday, Swansea dropped back to the levels fans were subjected to witness against the likes of Birmingham, Preston and others.
The reality is that they need to significantly improve on their last two performances to stand any chance of competing beyond the regular season.
Three huge fixtures lie ahead, and then, hopefully, a further three enormous ones. That’ll be where it matters.