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The Tilehurst End Round Table - Play-Off Preview

May 11th, 2011

In a new feature here on the website we gathered a host of our contributors in cyber space for a round table style discussion about the play-offs.

Join us below to sample some of the madness and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Evening all and welcome to our first ever Tilehurst End Round Table!  With us we our contributors, Wimbles, Mark Sugar, TommyRFC, Westie from West & Williams, JW351, urzz1871, Michael Wade, Hoops and SamRFC. For more info on our contributors check out our info page here.

We'll have a full season lookback at the end of the season, but were you happy with a fifth placed finish?

Tommyrfc:  Have to be given the age and inexperience of the squad. 


Mark Sugar:  Delighted. After seeing us beat at Norwich in February I didn't think we had half a chance of the Playoffs.


Westie: Think everyone must be really. It looked like mid-table until recently!


urzz1871:  You have to be really - 5th exceeds expectations - and especially the wildest of expectations in early Feb when the season was over to most.


SamRFC: At the start of the season there was so much talk of how well the squad was feeling and was still high after the end of the last. Based on that I felt we were in with a shout of automatic but after the sale of Sigurdsson early on I have to say I'm delighted to still be in with a shout of promotion. However if we'd failed to get into the playoffs I'm sure we'd have all been disappointed.


Michael Wade:  I think, very astutely, Brian McDermott has used the FA Cup as a tool to inspire the team and push them on and to an extent getting the very maximum out of his team as a result.


jw351:  the run of games we put together towards the end of the season (8 wins in a row, 13 unbeaten I think?) has certainly made a huge difference to our look at this season. Without that we'd have been 8th/9th, possibly in with a shout on the last day, which I think was perhaps a more realistic pre-season estimate. The problem is, if we don't go up now, we definitely won't have as strong a squad next season - all thanks to this run.


Wimbles: It was clear from the back end of last year that the potential was there, but I was really worried about the defence in August. Thankfully the Gylfi sale let us bring back Zurab and sign Harte, two vital moves. From then on it was just a case of finding enough goals in the team and thankfully Shane stepped up in spectacular style!


Q2:  The recent run of form has been mentioned, but the team didn't look as fluid in the Leeds/Sheff Utd/Coventry games, does that worry you at all or did Derby convince you we were still in form?

Mark Sugar: Kebe was/still is injured which is a big worry but I'm a big fan of Hal Robson-Kanu. The Leeds game for Leeds was must win and to get a point was decent. Sheff Utd was pure arrogance against a team we should have taken 6 points off this season. Coventry sounded pretty poor but Derby was a good display to sign off into the Playoffs for.

Michael Wade: Various players in the Derby game displayed elements of naivety, lack of match practice, lack of first-team class (at present). We could have been several goals to the good with the game won by the time Derby equalised. Overall though promising, and good to see some squad players in first team situation. Better than a reserve game versus Northampton at any rate. 


SamRFC: The team looked like they had dropped down a level as the hope of automatic faded away. We can't really judge the Derby game as it was a changed side, but I think we can raise our game when it matters. I also think Kebe will be key.  


Wimbles: Agreed about the Kebe factor and I really think the demolition job that Norwich did on Ipswich before our game with Leeds took a bit of the umph from our players. Suddenly second really looked out of the question while the play-offs looked certain.  


Tommyrfc: I can see why BMcD rested so many players against Derby but I wonder whether it might have been better for the 'first' team to regain some confidence and form. If Kebe isn't fit though, HRK looked good.  


Westie: Think we said on our podcast this week, that even playing badly teams still can't turn us over and sheffield game has probably done us a massive favour because it gave us the kick up the arse we needed. When it come's to the play-offs it's about who has the bollocks! The league doesn't matter now. It's a cup comp! 


 Q3: Well now that we've brought up Sir Jimmy, how would you handle team selection if he isn't fit for these games? would you go 4-4-2 with HRK in for Kebe or would you be tempted to go 4-2-3-1 with maybe Brian Howard in the team? 

Tommyrfc: Got to stick with what's been successful and play a combination of both of those formations with Hunt in behind Long. HRK is a like for like alternative to Kebe in the sense that he's a forward thinking winger so there's no real reason to tinker too much.  

urzz1871: McDermott has for a long time used 4-2-3-1 to gradually take control of a game, then switch to 4-4-2 after 65-70 mins to press home the advantage. I can see him doing exactly that on Friday.

SamRFC: 4-4-2 with Robson-Kanu in for Kebe. I think Hal could really be motivated with this big game and step it up. While others have doubted him I've seen he's got ability, and the Derby game did show that. Jacob Walcott may be an option off the bench along with Antonio. He's an impact player is Jacob, so could change things if Hal (or Jobi) is struggling.


Think it has to be 4-2-3-1, or 4-4-1 (Hunt?)-1, we need the extra man in the midfield IMO. Annoying that we're up first because we have to seize the initiative, but at the same time we don't want to be beaten before the second leg. Will be an intricate balance and I think with Kebe we'd go 4-5-1 but HRK a tighter 4-4-2.

Michael Wade: 

Agree with that Urzz1871


Mark Sugar: McDermott will always "play to win" but given it's a two legged affair, I think he'll start rather cautious and take it from there. Bellamy and Burke will target Harte and Griffin so they'll need as much protection from HRK and McAnuff. How Cardiff line-up is critical as Dave Jones is under severe pressure and is a dead man walking.

Westie:  Got to win home game! i think play 4-4-2. Then away pack midfield put in howard and play counter attacking football.

Wimbles: I've always been a Howard fan, I felt he really linked up well in the midfield 3 at the end of last year, the problem is that we don't have a Gylfi to play behind Long.

Tommyrfc:  The option not mentioned thus far is a more attacking and conventional 4-4-2 with Manset starting up with Long. Would enable us to go for the more physical approach.

Michael Wade:  I think Manset works better as a sub at this moment - didn't look great on Saturday for me.

SamRFC: I wouldn't trust Manset in a big game. The lack of other striking options to Long worries me slightly. Hunt has looked poor recently, as has Church.

Tommyrfc: MW - I agree but if McNaughton is at CB again then the sheer mass of Manset will cause he problems.

Q4. Ok well a few of you have mentioned the makeup of the Cardiff team, are you happy we've got them in the semi's or would you have preffered Forest or Swansea?

Tommyrfc: Anyone that saw their capitulation against Boro will be pleased we've got them. Swansea and Forest are picking up form whereas Cardiff are looking nervy and will no doubt have images of Norwich's celebrations and what might have been in their heads.

urzz1871:  I think Cardiff is the best possible opposition at this stage - they'll be down after finishing 4th and Jones is under real pressure. Won't take much for supporters to really turn against him and the team.

SamRFC: Yes definitely. Cardiff are the out of form team and are under serious pressure. Swansea look awesome at home and Forest have suddenly hit form. (4 wins on the bounce with over 10 goals in those games I believe?)

Michael Wade:  Carrying on from Tommy - Cardiff have looked on the ropes a little recently, but that isn't to say they won't pick themselves up for this cup competition in the play-offs.

Westie: As said, we dodge a bullet missing Swansea! They would beat us over two legs. Cardiff will be a great game and the pressure will be really on them after their last couple of results. Plus their fan's will turn on them if things are not going their way!

jw351:  I am so glad we didn't get Swansea, they're the team I'd be least confident about over 2 legs. The problem is whichever of Swansea and Forest go through their semi will have sky-high confidence.

Wimbles:  I have to say the thought of Sinclair and Dyer against Griffin and Harte was giving me nightmares, I think we've shown we can cope with Bellamy and Bothroyd. Matt Mills still scares me though, I've got a horrible feeling Bellamy is going to get him sent off...

Michael Wade:  I think the games against Cardiff will be open with Jones looking to utilise the best of his team which is attacking, Bothroyd, Bellamy, Chopra etc so there could be goals - this would be to our advantage if they play open football, but Kebe would have been the matchwinner, for me, if fit.

Q5. Do you think our previous play-off failures will have any impact on the team this year? Karacan, Pearce, Church, Kebe, Long, Federici, Gunnar, Hunt were all with the squad that surrendered so meekly to Burnley in 09.

urzz1871:  No - supporters remember these thing but players never do.

And the Burnley surrender was because we'd finished 4th in a 3 horse race - there was a malaise over everyone at the club and the supporters.


Tommyrfc:  Completely agree with Urzz. These players all want to play at the top level and I doubt it'll cross their minds. Plus BMcD has turned us into a bit of a cup specialist side, SSC never had that and the mentality will be totally different.

SamRFC:  Most of this team do not have the play-off hurt. They are mostly young, hungry players or experienced professionals. The likes of Harte, Griffin and Gunnar might see this as one last chance to play in the Premier League.

Westie:  Also that year we were disappointed with our own failure to go straight up. This time we are happy to have made it into play-offs.

jw351:  The players seem far more united in this squad, Tabb's comments in the programme about team spirit a few weeks back were really positive. We know we can beat any team on our day as the unbeaten run showed. McD and the squad know now that this is a separate competition and I don't think previous results etc. will have any impact; if anything, the revenge over Cardiff should be motivation.

Q6  do you think playing the first leg at home helps or hinders us?

Michael Wade:  I don't think we struggle away from home so I'm reasonably confident we can go to Cardiff and do something. It's not the problem it would be for other sides.

Tommyrfc:  Since away goals don't matter I don't think it makes as big a difference as in European games. You can look at it both ways, either it gives us the chance to use home advantage to build up a nice comfortable lead or it give's Cardiff the knowledge of knowing what they have to do at home and going for it.

SamRFC:  As the season drew to a close I was going on about how important it was to finish 3rd or 4th for the home leg second. But now we're here I think it could be good to be at home first. We're opening up the playoff ca paint in front of our fans and we have a good chance to put the pressure on Cardiff straight away heading into the 2nd leg.

urzz1871:  In some ways I wish we were away first - I'd love to see the Cardiff crowd's reaction if we got a couple of quick goals there.

Westie:  Will be same if we go there with a lead! Their fans will turn on them at the first sign of trouble!

Tommyrfc:  Whether we were at home or away on Friday we'd still be saying the same thing and that's, "win the game and we have the advantage"

Q6: So then what are your predictions?

Tommyrfc:  1-1 Fri then 2-0 Tues, Reading to go through, Dave Jones to be sacked and Craig Bellamy to be sent off. Then

Reading 1-2 Swansea aet (I'm sorry but it's a given if we get there isn't it?)


SamRFC:  A 2-1 win at home, followed by a 0-0 at Cardiff. Can't wait

jw351: We'll just beat Cardiff over 2 legs, Swansea will destroy Forest and we'll take them to extra-time at Wembley. After that... as long as a certain Mr. Rougier isn't in the vicinity I don't mind!

Mark Sugar:  We'll beat Cardiff, Dave Jones will be sacked and we'll lose to Swansea in extra time.

And that's about all we've got time for!

Thank you to all of our contributors for taking part and we'll have a full end of season round table when the season ends (hopefully in promotion!) but stay tuned to The Tilehurst End for a full play-off match preview and a View From The Town End.