Fulham 1-1 Reading: Paul McShane sent off as Royals hold Whites in play-off semi-final first leg
By Simeon Gholam at Craven Cottage
Last Updated: 14/05/17 4:24pm
Fulham and Reading's play-off tie is balanced on a knife edge after a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final at Craven Cottage.
Jordan Obita fired Reading in front just after half-time on Saturday evening, but Fulham battled back and levelled through Tom Cairney before a Paul McShane red card put the Royals down to 10 men.
Despite seeing their lead disappear, Jaap Stam will probably be happier of the two managers with the result, after seeing his side dominated for most of the game.
The tie now heads to the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night as they continue their battle to make it to Wembley.
Despite finishing sixth in the table it was Fulham who started as pre-match favourites, and Reading clearly felt the same way as they set up to stifle their opposition.
And they limited the home side to just two openings in the first half, with Cairney missing by inches with a long-range effort, while Sone Aluko perhaps should have done better than shoot wide from Floyd Ayite's cutback just before the 20-minute mark.
Reading's gameplan was summed up by John Swift in the 41st minute as he delayed taking a corner and picked up a booking for time wasting.
Despite that, however, the Royals did manage to nick the opener after 53 minutes through a lovely finish by Obita, who picked up the ball from McShane before getting into the box and firing a low effort off of the inside of the post and in.
Fulham were not about to let this one slip, though, and they managed to haul themselves level 12 minutes later thanks to captain Cairney, as he reacted quickest to head home after Reading goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi had pushed Scott Malone's shot back into the danger area.
Slavisa Jokanovic's side continued to push for the final 25 minutes as they desperately searched for a goal that would give them the lead heading into the second leg, but Reading were resilient and managed to hold on, even after going down to 10 men following McShane's wild lunge on Kevin McDonald in the 80th minute. He'll now miss the second leg, and possibly even the final if Reading make it there.
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic:
"I expected a hard game and that is what we found on the pitch. I believed we'd score more goals and win the game but everything is open now for Tuesday night. We must prepare and be stronger for then.
"We showed a good reaction and we weren't scared after they scored. They didn't give us the space to play and they made us play a lot of long balls. In the second half we found more space and moved the ball better, we had chances but we weren't clinical enough. I didn't think we'd win 5-0 like in December, but we still deserved to win the game I think.
"They came with a plan and put in a very strong and physical performance, which worked for an hour until we finally scored that goal. We are always confident and this confidence gave us a chance to get to this kind of game. I believe we have enough quality and confidence to win the [tie]."
Reading boss Jaap Stam:
"Macca (Paul McShane) has been very important for us throughout season with the mentality he brings to the team, and now other players need to step up [in his place]. Others can do that job as well and we're still confident without him.
"We know what we can do, you saw that today and throughout the season and we're very confident in our squad. Fulham are a very good side and even though we're at home it won't be much of an advantage. We still need to work hard to get the result.
"It's not all about ability and quality, it's about your mind and dealing with the stress, playing with your heart and how badly you want the result. Anything can still happen on Tuesday."