Anyone hoping the play-off race would sustain the drama of the Championship to the very end will be sorely disappointed.
It’s all done and dusted with two rounds of the season left. Brentford, Bournemouth, Barnsley and Swansea will slug it out to join Norwich and Watford in next season’s Premier League.
Those four can jostle for position to decide the semi-final fixtures in the next fortnight but with the reassurance they can no longer be caught.
Tomas Esteves (left) hugs Alfa Semedo after scoring in the 93rd minute to earn Reading a draw
Steve Cooper’s men only needed a draw to qualify for the play-offs and achieved their goal
Reading were the division’s last hope of chasing them down but this draw with Swansea ends all that. They needed to win and couldn’t manage it.
Though they led through Yakou Meite’s first-half header, Swansea were always the stronger side after the break and turned it around.
It was thanks in large part to a player who was touch-and-go to even make the squad after an injury scare. But Andre Ayew was ultimately fit enough to make the bench and when Steve Cooper brought him on after 64 minutes, he made the difference.
His outrageous piece of skill sparked the move that saw Jamal Lowe equalise and then Ayew netted the winner from close range seven minutes from time to settle the argument once and for all.
Though Tomas Esteves swept home from 20 yards from a Sone Aluko cut-back, a clinical finish, in the third minute of stoppage time, it was too little, too late.
Swansea could and probably should rest Ayew’s hamstrings now for their final two matches to ensure he’s fit and firing for the play-offs. With 16 this season, the Ghana international will be key to their ambitions of returning to the big time, as will the in-form Lowe.
Ben Cabango headed wide early on as the Swansea dominated the early stages at the Madejski
As for Reading, this was merely confirmation of something we’ve known for a few weeks. It’s a curious situation for them. On the one hand, nobody in pre-season was expecting Veljko Paunovic’s team to be anywhere near the promotion race.
On the other, having been safely ensconced in the top six for the majority of the season, to slip out during the final stretch will be galling.
It was a meek opening to the game for Reading considering the onus was on them to win the game.
Wayne Routledge then had a shot deflected over as the Welsh side piled on the pressure
All the early possession and pressure was Swansea’s and they almost snatched the lead inside the first two minutes with Reading dozing on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
A quickly taken free-kick on the left resulted in Lowe’s deep cross and Ben Cabango heading into the ground and wide having evaded the attention of two defenders.
Swansea obviously wanted to get the job done and Wayne Routledge saw a shot deflected over after Jake Bidwell had been able to cross second time from the left.
Lucas Joao then had the hosts’ first big chance of the game but fired his low shot wide
Not long afterwards, Lowe hit a clean volley from just inside the area that cleared the bar following Conor Hourihane’s free-kick on the right.
It took a good 20 minutes for Reading to get close to the Swansea goal and fashion an opening. John Swift spun his marker in midfield and fed a pass into Lucas Joao, who stumbled before recovering his footing and sending a low shot wide. He might have been better returning it to Swift, who’d run into the box.
But Reading’s goal did arrive just after the half-hour. Meite and his marker Bidwell engaged in a bit of pushing and shoving while waiting for a delivery to come in from the left.
Yakou Meite’s thumping header gave Veljko Paunovic’s side the lead against the run of play
Eventually it was Swift who delivered and Meite, who’d backed off Bidwell for a couple of seconds, found himself with the momentum of the forward dart to get goalside and stoop to head home.
It was the Ivorian winger’s 11th goal of the season and another headed goal at the Madejski Stadium after his late equaliser against Cardiff last time out.
Suddenly, Reading were brimming with confidence and growing into the contest. They finished the half the stronger, with Hourihane sloppily presenting the ball to Joao with a loose pass.
Jamal Lowe then equalised after some superb build-up play by recent substitute Andre Ayew
The striker advanced into a shooting position and it took a good save from Freddie Woodman, diving left, to keep out the shot.
But Swansea re-emerged with greater impetus and very nearly levelled when Liam Cullen wriggled away from his marker to head Lowe’s cross inches wide.
Marc Guehi then decided to cross from what was a shooting position after Reading failed to clear a corner and Liam Moore was able to hack the ball away ahead of Cullen.
Ayew then got his name on the scoresheet as he clinically fired home past Rafael Cabral
And the pressure would eventually tell midway through the half. It was also an almost instant vindication of a triple substitution made by Cooper.
Ayew, who wasn’t fit enough to start after his hamstring injury, was introduced for Cullen and Reading’s players obviously felt he was the man to watch.
That explains why three of them rushed out to hem Ayew in by the touchline. But with a little drag-back, Ayew nutmegged Liam Moore and set Jay Fulton scampering down the right channel.
Lowe then hit the post in stoppage time as Cooper’s side pushed for a third to kill the game off
FACT BOX TITLE
Reading (4-2-3-1): Cabral; Yiadom (Esteves 81), Holmes, Moore, Richards; Rinomhota, Laurent; Meite (Semedo 65), Swift (Olise 65), Ejaria (Puscas 81); Joao.
Subs not used: Southwood, Gibson, Tetek, Baldock, Aluko.
Goals: Meite 31, Esteves 90+3
Manager: Veljko Paunovic
Swansea (3-5-2): Woodman; Naughton (Roberts 64), Cabango, Guehi; Routledge (Whittaker 64), Hourihane, Fulton, Grimes, Bidwell; Cullen (Ayew 64), Lowe.
Subs not used: Hamer, Dhanda, Latibeaudiere, Smith, Bennett, Cooper.
Goals: Lowe 67, Ayew 83
Yellow: Guehi, Fulton
Manager: Steve Cooper
Referee: Simon Hooper
His shot was pushed out by Rafael but straight to the waiting Lowe, who tapped in one of the easiest of his 14 goals this season. It was his fifth in five outings to boot.
It was a do-or-die 20 minutes for Reading and their players were soon yelling for a penalty when Joao was manhandled by Fulton at a corner. The referee was some distance away and not interested.
But Swansea were in truth the only likely victor and when the winner arrived on 83 minutes, it was always going to be one man.
Esteves (No 2) then saw his left-foot stretch nestle in the bottom corner to snatch a late draw
There were mixed emotions at the final whistle as Reading knew the play-off dream had gone
Bidwell exchanged passes with Lowe before crossing from the byline under pressure from Rafael. He found Ayew in the centre and he showed expert composure to lash home with his second touch.
Lowe almost made sure in stoppage time, cracking a shot against the far post. Esteves levelled but it’s Swansea who will extend their season.