There is a quick turnaround in the play-offs and the second-leg of the Reading vs Fulham semi-final tie is already upon us. The sides are currently level at 1-1 and there is all to play for at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday. During the first leg, there weren’t as many goals as was anticipated before the match kicked off, but it was a competitive clash and the pressing of both sides was impressive. It was clear that the two teams are desperate to earn promotion and won’t shy away from the pressure. The meeting on Tuesday will be a great occasion.
Reading were written off as having little chance when the play-off places were confirmed. This was a surprise as they were the team that finished third in the Championship. However, they showed on Saturday that they have a real chance of reaching the Premier League and the tactical approach of Jaap Stam was particularly impressive. The Royals shut down space in the final third and stopped Fulham from playing the free-flowing football that we have come to expect from them. A similar defensive performance will be required on Tuesday if the home side are going to reach Wembley.
Fulham have had the second best away record in the Championship this season and they will be confident that they can deliver a better performance on the road. Despite their dominance of possession on Saturday, they struggled to create many clear-cut chances and they will need to improve on Tuesday if they are to reach the final. Before a ball was kicked, they were seen as the favourites to reach the Premier League, but they will be disappointed not to have taken a lead in their home leg.
The Royals haven’t lost in any of their last ten league matches at home and that will feel them with confidence ahead of Tuesday. During that run, they managed to beat Fulham 1-0 and a similar result this time will see them reach Wembley to compete for a place in the Premier League.
On the road, Fulham have enjoyed a lot of success this season and they have won five of their last six. This included victories against top-six sides Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United. Reading may have a good home record, but Slavisa Jokanovic’s men can be excellent away from home and that is why this tie remains in the balance.
Jaap Stam could be forced into two changes as Jordan Obita and Paul McShane could both be out. If they are, Joey van den Berg and Tiago Illori would be the two men to come in. Garath McClearly will be fitter and could come into the starting eleven after sitting on the bench for the entire ninety minutes in the first-leg.
The Cottagers were at full-strength against Reading in the first leg and they could retain the same starting eleven on Tuesday. Ryan Sessegnon could feature at some point after being an unused substitute on Saturday.
Paul McShane will be unavailable after being sent off at Craven Cottage. He will leave a big hole in the defence as he has been one of the team’s key players this season. Jordan Obita is also a doubt after leaving the ground on Saturday with his foot in a protective boot.
On the other hand, Fulham don’t have any fresh selection concerns ahead of their trip to Reading. Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl will remain out, but there is hope that they could be available if the team reaches the final.
Match Prediction: Reading 2-2 Fulham (Reading to win on penalties)
It was a surprise that Fulham didn’t manage to win the first leg and they will need to be near perfect on Tuesday if they are to reach Wembley as most expected them to do. Reading were determined and aggressive out of possession on Saturday, but they didn’t offer enough in attack. It will be a big boost if Garath McCleary returns to the team as he has the dynamism to cause real problems on the counter-attack. This will be another close encounter and it could go to extra-time. Fulham have an awful penalty record this season and will be hoping to avoid a shootout. However, they may not be able to and if it gets that far, Reading should triumph.