Reading FC Match Preview - May 13 - Play-Off Semi-Final, First Leg v Cardiff City
Where did Cardiff finish in the Championship? 4th
Recent form? Not the best for a team coming into the play-offs. Having been in the automatic promotion hunt for most of the season Cardiff imploded in their penultimate game and lost 3-0 at home t Middlesbrough, before a 1-1 draw with Burnley on the final day saw them slip to 4th.
Last time we played them? We drew 2-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium in February, having looked like we'd stolen all 3 points with a Manset goal in injury time, a Craig Bellamy free-kick in the 97th minute levelled things.
Any former Royals? Nope, Cardiff are a Royal free zone, though Jobi McAnuff used to play for the bluebirds.
TV Coverage? Yes the game will be on Sky Sports One at 7.30pm
Any other business? Well it's the play-offs for a start, Reading know they're just 180 minutes from Wembley and perhaps 270 from a place in the Premier League. Also tonight's game kicks off at 7.45 rather then the usual Mad Stad 8pm.
Tilehurst End Thoughts In Brief
And so it all boils down to the next two or three games for the Royals. After huffing and puffing their way through a 46 league game season, 2 Carling Cup ties and 4 FA Cup ties, it's game's 52-54 that will decide if we're celebrating an amazing season or reflecting on what could have been.
The play-offs have not been kind to Reading in the past as we've never been promoted from them, in fact we've not even won a play-off game since beating Wigan 10 years ago in the Division 2 play-off semi-final. This play-off campaign will be the first where we're not away in the first leg and so it's a bit of a new experience for all involved, more crucially I think it's the first campaign where we've not gone in with an expectation of going up. Perhaps we didn't have that great an expectation going into the 2002/03 play-offs but after the way we started at Molineux it hurt to not even make the final.
All of those games are in the past though and all that matters now is whether we can get past Dave Jones' Cardiff City and get to Wembley where we could face either Swansea or Nottingham Forest. Cardiff are coming into these play-offs on a bit of a downer, having been neck and neck with Norwich for second place throughout April they blew their chances in spectacular fashion by losing 3-0 at home to lowly Middlesbrough and then slipped to fourth with a draw against Burnley on the final day.
It's fair to say that the pressure will be on the bluebirds who came within 90 minutes of the Premier League last season only to lose to Blackpool at Wembley. This season they've made several high-profile additions with the most notable being former Wales captain and 'fan favourite' Craig Bellamy who is on loan at the Cardiff City Stadium from Manchester City. While Bellamy hasn't ripped apart the Championship, he's still scored some crucial goals, including a last-minute equaliser against us and a winner against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. It goes without saying that the man who scored the last ever goal at Elm Park will be a big threat tonight and on Tuesday. Facing Bellamy is bad enough but when you consider that Cardiff also have England striker Jay Bothroyd, a £5 million pound Michael Chopra and former Villa winger Peter Whittingham, it's not going to be an easy couple of evenings for our defence.
Despite those fears Reading have shown that they can cope with Cardiff in both of their league games this season. Reading had the better of the 1-1 draw at the Madejski in November and were seconds away from winning the game in Cardiff four months later.
Historically we've also got a good recent record against Cardiff having lost just once in our last nine meetings, that defeat coming at the Madejski last season when Brendan Rodgers side were beaten 1-0. In total Reading have won 18 of the 48 league games between the sides, drawing 15 and losing the other 15.
Team wise it's all about whether Jimmy Kebe will be fit for Reading. The Malian winger has been sidelined since before the Leeds game with a thigh problem and missed the final four games of the season. Manager Brian McDermott has been coy about whether he'll be fit but reading between the lines I'm not overly optimistic that he'll make tonight's game. If he does miss out then his natural replacement Hal Robson-Kanu comes into the game in decent form, having been rated by many as man of the match in our final home game against Derby last weekend. Even if Kebe is fit, Brian McDermott may elect to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation and give Brian Howard a start in behind player of the season Shane Long. Otherwise it'll probably be the same team that played at Leeds and at home to Sheffield United.
To read more of our thoughts ahead of the big game you can check out our 'Round Table' debate that we held on Wednesday or for a Cardiff City perspective check out View From The Town End.
Prediction wise I just don't know. If you put a light saber to my head I'll say 0-0 tonight but beyond that is anyone's guess!
All I can say is lets all get behind the lads and make it a night to remember at the Madejski,