The play-off semi-final between Fulham and Reading is finely balanced ahead of Tuesday's second leg at the Madejski Stadium. The Londoners may consider that they have a slight advantage after Paul McShane, the Reading captain, was sent off ten minutes from the end of yesterday's game and will miss Tuesday's match and the final if Reading get there.
But Jaap Stam, the Reading manager, was confident that the loss of his captain and central defender will not turn the tie. “I've seen it back, he hits the player,” Stam said. “He doesn't do that on purpose, he's trying to reach the ball and the player nicked it away and he was just a bit late.
“He's been very important for us throughout the season but he's had injuries as well, other players needed to step up so we can win a game without Paul McShane and they did well. We trust all our players. McShane is an important piece of the puzzle but other players can do that job as well and we are still confident. I've seen plenty today to say we can still do it.”
Reading took the lead early in the second half through Jordan Obita before Fulham hit back with a goal by their captain, Tom Cairney after an error by Reading goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi. Obita is a doubt for Tuesday's game after leaving the game with a twisted ankle late on.
The match kicked off at a frantic pace, which made good football difficult. Instead of Reading's often glacial possession game, the Craven Cottage crowd saw the ball knocked forward early and from one such delivery Lewis Grabban had a clear run on goal thanks to a collision between Fulham central defenders Tim Ream and Tomas Kalas. However, Grabban seemed unaware that he was now clear of the defence and Ryan Fredericks had just enough time to get across from right back to knock the ball away for a corner. but the Reading man was too slow to appreciate the opportunity and the chance was gone.
It was a surprising approach by Reading after their 5-0 defeat in a regular-season game here but their relative lack of caution allowed Fulham some openings and Cairney took advantage of one after 11 minutes, striking a shot from 25 yards that looked in until it faded late and dropped past the far post. Then Floyd Ayite exchanged passes with Scott Malone on the left and cut the ball back for Sone Aluko, but Aluko's shot was just wide of the far post.
And Ayite charged down the left just before half time but the Togo winger could not make up his mind whether to pass or shoot and by the time he had opted for a shot, Liam Moore had closed down any space he might have aimed for.
Obita was far more decisive as Reading took the lead eight minutes into the second half. McShane won a tackle on the half-way line – cleanly despite the home fans' objections - and made ground through midfield before finding Obita out on the left. Unlike Ayite, he wasted no time and sent a powerful low left-foot shot across Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli and in off the foot of the far post.
Fulham responded and were level on 65 minutes. Malone was involved twice and when he got the ball from Ayite, he sent a dangerous cross towards the six yard box. Al Habsi fumbled it and the ball reared up off the turf in front of Cairney, who could not miss.
Ten minutes from time came McShane's red card when he followed through into McDonald's knee as he went into a challenge. Reading protested that McShane had been fouled himself by sub Neeskens Kebano as was thus off balance but referee Stuart Attwell was unimpressed.
“We showed a good reaction after they scored,” Fulham manager Slavisa Joanovic said. “They didn't give us any space to play today, but in the second half we found more. We had many chances but we were not clinical enough, but I didn't expect to win 5-0 like we did in December. We will push hard on Tuesday night and I expect something similar.”Reuse content