We’re very much in the heart of the playoff storm and at the half-way point in the tie, it’s Reading who will probably count themselves as being in the slightly more enviable position, as we prepare to do battle with the Royals for the fourth and a half time this season.
Saturday’s encounter was a contrast of two footballing styles, as Reading came to the Cottage to get a result, not to make friends. It’s a tactic that has not gone down well with the Fulham fanbase, as the Royals’ incessant time-wasting from the sixth minute onwards whipped the Hammersmith End into a frenzy.
Another man who didn’t make any friends at the Cottage was referee Stuart Atwell, who not only failed to spot a foul and a handball in the build-up to the visitors’ goal, but also refused to punish a number of cynical challenges on Fulham players in the first half.
Atwell wasn’t completely to blame though – Fulham, in truth, struggled to break down a resilient and well-drilled Reading side who knew exactly what their jobs were, and how to go about doing them. Jordan Obita, who had been terrorised by Ryan Fredericks twice already this season, looked like a new man, and in fact it was Fredericks who really failed to put his mark on the game, with his opposite number scoring Reading’s goal.
In positive news, Fulham did threaten at points, and with the pace of Kebano and Ayité on at the end, looked more threatening which is surely a good sign going into Tuesday’s reverse fixture. There’s also the red card that was awarded to Reading captain Paul McShane, which rules him out of the second leg. Without their leader, there’s hope that Fulham will be able to punch more holes in the Reading back line than they did on Saturday.
Reading have only lost at home twice this season; to Aston Villa in October and Queens Park Rangers in January, both by one-goal margins. That said, Fulham have only lost four times on the road this season, although one of these was at the Madejski. There is now no room for manoeuvre, no time for slip ups or off days. 90 minutes away at Reading stand between Fulham and a first day out at Wembley since 1975.
It’s do or die. Buckle up.
Their last 5 league results:
- D: Fulham 1-1 Reading
- W: Burton Albion 2-4 Reading
- W: Reading 1-0 Wigan Athletic
- L: Nottingham Forest 3-2 Reading
- W: Reading 2-1 Rotherham
Fulhamish’s Starting Line-Up:
There’s a lot of debate now about whether Chris Martin will start, but I’m going to gamble with pace up front and try and scare the Reading back line which will now be missing its leader and centrepiece, Paul McShane. The only other question was whether Denis Odoi took back the right back spot from Ryan Fredericks after Fulham’s No2 had a somewhat slow game on Saturday, but his raw pace was the defining factor which meant that I couldn’t leave Freds out.
Liam Moore v Neeskens Kebano/Sone Aluko/Floyd Ayité
Without McShane, the Royals will need Moore to step up and lead from the back tomorrow night, and his credentials will be fully tested by whichever pace merchant Jokanovic picks up front, or indeed off Chris Martin if the gaffer chooses to stick rather than twist. All three are exceptional players with their own unique quirks – Aluko’s mesmerising feet, Ayite’s directness and Kebano’s skilful trickery will all be testing for the Reading centre half.
Moore is no slouch though – his credentials have been questioned over the course of the season, but he’s also been a rock at the heart of the Reading defence when he has played, leading in the injury absences of McShane and helping to secure one of the most watertight home defences in the league. If Fulham can get through the rearguard, then the tie is very much up for grabs, but if Moore can lock down his defensive unit, it could be a very, very tough evening for Fulham’s attacking dynamos.
It’s hard to pick any sort of winner without knowing what the game will be like, but hearts in mouths, we’re going to be going (and hoping, and praying) for a 2-1 Fulham win.
Don’t forget to listen to Monday’s episode of Fulhamish for all the reaction to this game and a build-up to the second leg the day after.