Reading 1-0 Fulham Six Things: Al-Habsi’s heroics

Kermorgant nets the winner – bbc.co.uk

Reading are through to the Championship play-off final after a 2-1 semi-final aggregate win over Fulham, secured thanks to Yann Kermorgant’s second half penalty in the only goal at the Madejski Stadium. But what have we learnt from the match?

Reading’s solid start

Yann Kermorgant and Lewis Grabban pressed closely together early on, forcing Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream back. The resultant nervy clearances meant Fulham initially found it hard to impose their game and Reading had the first good opening on 12 minutes. Joey Van Den Berg’s lofted delivery allowed Grabban and Kermorgant to combine, with the latter’s firm drive from the edge of the box tipped wide by Marcus Bettinelli.

Fulham’s dangerous right flank

Fulham improved around the midway stages of the first half. They attacked down the right through inverted full-back Ryan Fredericks, who cut inside for a left-footed shot which forced a good 17th minute save from Ali Al-Habsi at his near-post. The Omani stopper was called into action again to push away Tom Cairney’s 27th minute free-kick, then Sone Aluko’s follow-up. With both sides naturally inclined to keep the ball, possession rarely changed hands.

Cool Kermorgant

Reading started the second half with more intent than they showed at any point in the game, Grabban heading into Bettinelli’s hands from inside the box within seconds. They had a penalty on 49 minutes after Kalas’ alleged handball and Kermorgant struck his penalty hard and low to put Reading in front. The Royals could have had a second with further good play down the left but Grabban’s snapshot forced good reflexes from the goalkeeper and John Swift was unable to turn home a cross at the back post with the goal gaping.

Fulham’s pressure

That miss from Swift looked potentially costly in the final 25 minutes, during which Fulham probed dangerously. Reading’s left side was not helped by Chris Gunter being forced to move over to an unnatural flank after Tyler Blackett’s injury, which left the auxiliary left wing-back exposed against Fredericks and Aluko.

Defensive heroics

The latter’s cross towards substitute Chris Martin was smothered bravely by Al-Habsi, who took a knock in doing so, not long after tipping over Kevin McDonald’s looping effort. The ex-Wigan goalkeeper was ably assisted by last-ditch defending from his centre-backs, who made some crucial interventions. Tiago Ilori was outstanding in just his third start since January, Joey Van Den Berg was colossal despite favouring a defensive midfield role while Liam Moore continued the form that made him a Player of the Year contender. That award, like the night’s man-of-the-match, went to Al-Habsi, once again the scourge of visitors to Berkshire.

What it means

Despite defeat, Fulham can look back on this season with pride, having made massive strides and played some of the best football in the division. Reading begin to look forward to Wembley, where they will face either Huddersfield or Sheffield Wednesday in a bid to reach the promised land.