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Reading (1) vs Fulham (1): Championship play-off semi-final match preview, predicted line-ups and score prediction

Jake Jackman

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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.

Recent form

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.

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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.

Predicted line-ups

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.

Injuries/Suspensions

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.

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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.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Fulham

How Fulham’s Denis Odoi went from defensive liability to play-off hero

The 29-year-old grabbed the Cottagers’ winner in the play-off semi-final

Max Cohen

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Denis Odoi
Photo: Getty Images

Carried off the pitch on the shoulders of an adoring Craven Cottage crowd, Denis Odoi enjoyed his finest footballing moment in Fulham’s 2-0 play-off semi-final win over Derby.

The Belgian defender scored a sensational headed winner to send the Whites to Wembley, but few would have predicted Odoi would play the hero on Monday night.

How did a player once derided as a defensive liability become Fulham’s play-off saviour?

Ever since making the switch from Belgian football to Fulham in the summer of 2016, Odoi had struggled to nail down a starting spot at the Cottage.

Previously best known for an audacious bit of skill he pulled off against Newcastle on his debut, the 29-year-old became infamous for defensive lapses and poor giveaways.

Perhaps his lowest point in a Fulham shirt came this December, when Odoi was senselessly sent off in a dreadful 3-1 loss to Brentford.

His two yellow cards in quick succession were easily avoidable; afterwards, it looked set that the centre-back pairing of Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream would reign supreme for the rest of the season.

But after Kalas suffered a hip injury against Wolves in late February, Odoi has seamlessly marshalled the Fulham backline alongside Ream.

Even when the Chelsea loanee returned to fitness, the Belgian has kept him out of the starting lineup with superb performances filled with excellent tackles, a strong aerial presence, and intelligent interceptions.

Since Odoi replaced Kalas, Fulham have kept a remarkable seven clean sheets in the following 14 matches, in which Odoi has played every minute.

Odoi’s play-off performances have thrust him firmly into Fulham folklore.

In the narrow first-leg defeat at Pride Park, the centre-back made a number of stunning interceptions to cut out dangerous crosses that would have resulted in certain goals.

These vital interventions meant the scoreline was kept a manageable 1-0, allowing Odoi to rise highest from a corner and send Fulham to the play-off final.

During May 26’s match at Wembley, expect Denis Odoi to continue his recent resurgence

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Tottenham must loan back Ryan Sessegnon to Fulham if they sign him this summer

Tottenham Hotspur is the best place for Ryan Sessegnon long-term, but he still has a lot to learn.

Mathew Coull

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Last night saw Fulham book their place in the Championship play-off final with a 2-0 win over Derby County. Denis Odoi’s unlikely header proved the crucial goal as Fulham won 2-1 on aggregate. But there is no stopping Fulham’s teen sensation Ryan Sessegnon from making headlines. He scored the equaliser in the game, helping send Fulham to Wembley.

Sessegnon’s fine season at Craven Cottage has seen him linked with a number of top clubs around Europe. One team considered to be a favourite in the race for his signature are Tottenham Hotspur. Their London proximity and ability to develop young talent has seen them tipped as his best move by many.

Sessegnon, who The Times report is valued at £50 million by Fulham, should undoubtedly be a target for Spurs.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Last night’s performance only highlighted the fact that Sessegnon could be a star in the making and Spurs would be right to make a switch become reality.

However, his performance over both legs of the play-offs also confirms another matter. If Tottenham were to sign the 17-year-old, they should send him back to Fulham on loan for next season.

Sessegnon is clearly a world-class talent in the making. But throughout the play-off fixture, it became apparent that the finished article he is not.

He struggled at times with Derby’s defensive work and, tracking back, he often found himself out of position. Obviously, he is a fantastic talent but there are still many aspects of his game that need improving.

He still needs another season at Fulham to truly blossom into the player Spurs want and, in an ideal world, Tottenham would wait until next summer to sign him. But with the likes of PSG and Manchester United loitering Spurs have to act fast.

Bringing him and sending him out on loan would not be a bad idea. Hopefully, Fulham will be in the Premier League and the teenager can learn the ropes of top-flight football whilst still at his boyhood club.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Then, next summer, Spurs would have an even more developed young talent – similar to the situation when they signed Dele Alli from MK Dons.

Sessegnon will still only be 19-years-old by the start of next season and Spurs will have acquired an even more rounded footballer in the process.

It would be the best move for all parties, especially the player himself.

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Why Fulham fans shouldn’t despair ahead of Monday’s play-off second leg

The Whites lost 1-0 away to Derby in the first leg.

Max Cohen

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Fulham
Photo: Getty Images

In the aftermath of Fulham’s 1-0 play-off semi-final first leg defeat away to Derby County, a feeling of disgust and dismay fell over the Cottagers fanbase.

Despite dominating shots, possession, passes, and corners, Fulham failed to find a cutting edge and continued their shocking winless play-off run.

However, Fulham supporters should avoid the tendency to panic heading into Monday’s second leg at Craven Cottage, as the Whites were the better side on Friday night and possess a superb home unbeaten run.

Against Derby, the Whites were at times far too pedestrian, playing football at a walking pace and failing to break down the well-drilled Rams defence.

In addition, a frustrating number of attacks seemed forced down the middle, where Aleksandar Mitrovic was heavily watched all night long and was scarcely given an inch of space.

Nonetheless, Fulham’s second-half performance offers lots of encouragement for the Cottagers faithful. The away side clearly came out of the changing rooms with a point to prove and began the second half brightly.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Kevin McDonald rattled the crossbar with a fierce long-range effort, Floyd Ayite nearly converted a first-time volley, and Fulham essentially camped outside Derby’s penalty area for three-quarters of an hour.

But it is clear that a shift in mentality and incisiveness is required for Monday night’s encounter at Craven Cottage.

Being the better side is useless when one cannot convert a scoring chance; Fulham must look to be more direct at home and take shots on goal whenever possible.

Another area for encouragement is the fortress that Slavisa Jokanovic’s side has built at Craven Cottage.

The Whites are unbeaten at home since a 2-0 Halloween defeat to Bristol City, and have beaten the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, and Leeds United during that spell.

Jokanovic summed it up best in his post-match comments on the club’s official website, urging his team to show belief and fighting spirit.

“We must not let ourselves get too frustrated and remain confident as we showed quality and had a good mentality,” Jokanovic said. “What we want to do is now change this story and win the game on Monday night and fight for the opportunity to play at Wembley.”

Fulham must not despair after their Pride Park loss; there is still everything to play for on Monday night and their Wembley dream is still within reach.

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