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‘Royals prove the doubters wrong’ – Three things learnt from Reading 1-0 Fulham


‘Royals prove the doubters wrong’ – Three things learnt from Reading 1-0 Fulham

Reading beat Fulham on Tuesday night to confirm their place in the play-off final in little under two weeks.

They are only one match away from the Premier League and the belief is growing among the fan-base that they can get there.

Fulham were seen as the favourites to win promotion, but they will remain in the Championship for another season and that underlines how unpredictable the play-offs can be.

The game was decided by a penalty that was awarded for a handball by Tomas Kalas, which was duly converted by Yann Kermorgant.

Here are three things that we learnt from goings on at the Madjeski Stadium…

Reading stepped up and proved the doubters wrong

There have been doubters all season long and they were written off when the semi-final ties were decided, with few giving them a chance against Fulham. However, they fought hard and showed that they are a force to be reckoned with.

They had fewer shots and less possession than the Cottagers again, but that isn’t a bad thing. Jaap Stam knew that his side couldn’t outplay their opposition and designed a game-plan that would see them come out on top. In the play-offs, it is all about getting the job done in any way possible and the Royals certainly managed that.

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They are the team that has come into the play-offs with little fanfare and have barely been talked about as potential winners. That will change now as they delivered impressive performances across the two legs.

The 3-5-2 formation worked a treat as they packed the midfield and restricted the space that the Fulham midfielders could operate in. Tom Cairney was shut down and across the two legs, Reading conceded only one goal to the joint-best attack in the Championship.

Stam’s men conceded the most goals in the top six during the regulation season, but they were well organised on Tuesday and that will have surprised Fulham. The Royals have every chance of making it to the Premier League.


Fulham didn’t learn from the first leg

Given that they were frustrated in the first-leg by the organisation and doggedness of Reading, it was a surprise that they didn’t offer more on Tuesday.

Throughout the regular season, Fulham were great to watch and full of ideas when on the pitch. They were excellent at adapting to the situation and finding a way to score goals, especially away from home.

Reading were always going to play a similar way and it was surprising that the Cottagers were lacklustre in attack once again. Slavisa Jokanovic replaced Chris Martin with Neeskens Kebano to add more pace to the attack, but it didn’t have the desired effect.

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Fulham will be replaying this match for the next few months as they try to learn from the mistakes that they made. They didn’t play the free-flowing football that they were known for throughout the Championship season and it could be that they couldn’t cope with being favourites.

It is a huge change going from chasing the top six to being the bookies favourites for promotion and that could have been a factor in their elimination. That said, Reading were excellent and deserved to progress. The Cottagers need to take the positives from this season and come back stronger for the experience in August.

Ali Al Habsi proved his worth to the Reading cause

The Reading goalkeeper has plenty of experience and he was at his best on Tuesday as he made six saves to help his side to an important clean sheet. He was crucial at the Madejski Stadium, as he offered a calming presence in goal and organised the defence in front of him efficiently.

Jaap Stam was forced into two defensive changes and there could have been the potential for disruption, but their 35-year-old keeper ensured that wasn’t the case.

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He made one great save to prevent Lucas Piazon, while an earlier stop from a Tom Cairney free-kick was also impressive. The Oman international has been an ever-present for Reading this season and it seemed fitting that he would deliver an incredible performance to take them to Wembley.

At 35-years-old, he has seen nearly everything there is to see in football and he will be crucial in the final once again.

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