We’re almost there. After a big win on Good Friday at Sheffield United, Reading could all but secure safety on Easter Monday, depending on how results elsewhere go. But our own opponents, Swansea City, are a tough prospect - underlined by a recent run of four wins and two draws in their last six.
Still, when speaking to Swans fan Declan Terry about his side, some cause for optimism arises. Despite showing their potential (particularly in a 4-0 thrashing of Cardiff City on the Bluebirds’ patch), they’ve not had the consistency. As he says, Swansea have “been so unpredictable and to our downfall so inconsistent”.
How would you sum up your season on the whole so far?
After Russell Martin’s appointment just a few days before the start of the season, we all knew that this season was going to be one of transition and the first chapter of a new long-term plan. Under Steve Cooper, despite finishing in the play-offs two seasons in a row, the style of football did become quite negative and defensive.
Martin came in and we have definitely gone from one extreme to the other… we’re more often than not ending games with around 70% possession. It hasn’t been ridiculously successful because, despite having so much of the ball, sometimes we find it really hard to break down opponents and we often lack pace, but we’ve had a few glimpses of the potential of Martin’s system and when it all clicks I think Swansea could be a force to be reckoned with.
This season has mainly been a period of transition; we’ve had some really good spells but some really bad spells too. We’ve been so unpredictable and to our downfall so inconsistent so I have no arguments with a mid-table finish. We’ll be in a much better position next season though, I’m sure.
Swansea have been in great form recently: four wins and two draws in the last six, including a hammering of Cardiff to complete the double. What’s been behind that purple patch?
It’s been a real good spell of late - and that 4-0 hammering away at Cardiff was not only one my favourite games of the season but one of my favourite games of all time! I think the form is just down to a bit of consistency to be honest. This season has been a real rollercoaster week by week, looking like we can beat anyone one Saturday but the next we could go and get comfortably beat by a relegation battler.
The players look like they’re really gelling and Martin’s probably only now really got a settled core of around 13/14 favoured players, whereas earlier in the season he was chopping and changing a lot and maybe experimenting people in different positions. Joel Latibeaudire is a good example of this: he started at right wing-back and struggled, then was chucked in as left wing-back cover and struggled again but the last four/fives games he’s excelled at centre back. We’ve just needed to be patient during this first year of Martin’s Swansea because it will all join up eventually.
What do you make of the job Russell Martin’s done?
I think what Martin has achieved so far, on the whole, has been positive. Sometimes it’s been a little frustrating when we have completely dominated possession in games but struggled to do anything productive in the final third, however patience is needed amongst the fans.
This is a very young side playing a very specific and intricate style of football so it’d be unfair to expect it all to click straight away and turn into prime Barcelona overnight. As Martin says: ‘trust the process.’ I trust and believe wholeheartedly in what Martin’s doing in South Wales.
What are the main strengths of this Swansea side?
Keeping possession is the obvious one for the Swans. Every single player, including goalkeeper Andy Fisher, is really comfortable with the ball. Swansea will play out from the back at all times, even when it seems like the difficult thing to do, and more often than not we can work it nicely between the back three and into a midfield position where skipper Matt Grimes and Flynn Downes have been instrumental this campaign.
After a bit of experimenting, Martin has now settled on a 3-4-2-1 formation and it’s been interesting that top scorer Joel Piroe has been dropped back to one of the two number 10s to accommodate the in-form number nine Michael Obafemi. Obafemi couldn’t get in the team for the first half of the season following his seven-figure move from Southampton in the summer but of late he has been on fire, netting nine goals in 14.
Obafemi at nine, with Piroe and Jamie Paterson as 10s, has worked tremendously the last month or two, so Reading will have to keep an eye on all three who all boast completely different attributes.
Are there any weaknesses Reading could exploit?
Teams who have pressed Swansea high have caused a few mistakes this campaign - I’m no professional analyst but I always wonder why some teams sit back, don’t bother pressing, let us control it so easily and these are the games we have found so easy… the 4-0 at Cardiff for example.
When the back three drop so deep to the receive the ball, if you’ve got maybe two strikers pressing and narrowing the angles, we are liable to make a few errors. We’re also terrible at set-pieces so if I were an opponent at a corner I’d genuinely sacrifice a player or two in the hope to hit us on the counter. We haven’t scored direct from a set-piece, including penalties, all season!
How will the game go and what will the score be?
As mentioned before we’re so unpredictable so I struggle to call any Swansea match these days. I think Reading will be fine in terms of relegation but it’s still mathematically possible so they’ll be looking to get another three points to make sure of it.
Against Barnsley on Friday the Swans looked tired but I’m hoping Downes will return to the starting 11 and give us his energy back into the midfield. I honestly can’t call Monday’s game so I’ll go right down the middle and say 1-1 draw.