Fulham have been warned to expect more of the rough stuff in tonight’s second leg play-off at the Madejski Stadium.
Boss Slavisa Jokanovic believes Reading played to the very limit of the law in adopting the aggressive approach which characterised Saturday’s first leg.
The Whites were thrown out of their normally silky stride during a full-blooded first leg at Craven Cottage, with the visitors maintaining a physical and high-tempo game-plan throughout.
The Royals had skipper Paul McShane sent off for the sort of robust challenge on Kevin McDonald which typified their no-nonsense approach, but left with a 1-1 draw which makes them slight favourites for the return clash this evening. Fulham will be hoping Reading prove less obsessed with simply shutting Fulham down this time around, but Reading boss Jaap Stam says his players must show the same kind of muscle as at the weekend.
“In this league, there are teams who play more physically than we do, but in these [play-off] games, you need to be aggressive, go forward, and win your battles on the pitch,” Stam said.
“It’s not just because you are playing at home that you are automatically going to be winning the game.” Jokanovic said: “They put out a very physical team – playing to the limit of the legal situation. “But they came into the game with a plan and this worked for them for one hour. Then we found a way to score a goal and I believe we played better football.”
Both managers agree the tie is still finely balanced and that home advantage will not determine the outcome, as both sides strive for a Wembley showdown with either Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield in the Championship’s final decider. “I didn’t expect we were going to win 5-0, like this like when we played them in December,” said Jokanovic, referring to the league clash between the sides in west London earlier in the season.
“We must be strong and push hard. But we are always confident. We have shown clear progress this season. I believe my players are strong enough, with enough quality and enough confidence to win the game.”
Fulham were hoping to eke out a precious first-leg lead, but never really got going in the face of Reading’s refusal to get involved in a beauty contest. In the end, they were just glad to cancel out Jordan Obita’s 53rd minute strike with Tom Cairney’s close-range header after 65 minutes. It is still all to play for.