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Championship Play-Off Key Battles: Fulham v Reading FC

As Reading prepare to face Fulham in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at Craven Cottage, here is where the game could be won or lost.  

Fulham v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Chris Martin vs Paul McShane

Chris Martin arrived on loan from Derby in surprising circumstances last summer and leads the line for the Cottagers. He has had a decent season for Fulham with 10 goals in 36 appearances.

Martin also has a good history against Reading having scored two goals in Derby's 3-0 win at the Madejski Stadium back in 2014 before following this up by scoring a brace once again in Fulham's 5-0 win over the Royals back in December. He did however miss a penalty in the reverse fixture in January.

The 28-year-old can be unplayable at times with his technique, strength, hold up play and being clinical in front of goal when it matters most.

If Reading are to get a positive result going into the second leg then they will have to man mark Martin and make sure he doesn't get a sniff at the Reading goal.

Therefore the best player to deal with one of the most dangerous men on the pitch could be Paul McShane.

The Reading captain has returned from injury at just the right time, with the stats showing that when McShane and Liam Moore are the two centre-backs the Royals' defence has performed significantly better. As Olly wrote a while ago, the defensive partnership has proven to be more solid, compared to when neither Moore and/or McShane have played.

As we all know the Irishman is no nonsense defender, who on his day can be one of the best in the division with his tackling, heading and leadership qualities.

Tom Cairney vs Danny Williams

When I was having a look at Fulham's most creative players, the player that stands out the most is Tom Cairney.

Cairney has been one of the best players in the Championship this season with 12 goals and 11 assists - an exceptional record from midfield.

The Cottagers' playmaker can change a game in a blink of an eye with his vision, passing and ability when it matters.

The former Blackburn man has a passing accuracy of 93% and has created a total of a 111 chances for his teammates this season. With these stats, the Reading midfield have to mark Cairney tightly and make sure he doesn't pull the strings in his sides favour.

Danny Williams could therefore have the all important responsibility of keeping the Scottish international quiet. The American is known for having a physical presence, something that will need to be used in order for Reading to slow things down and stop Fulham from dominating the game.

Williams also has the ability to make driving runs from midfield which could be vital if Reading do get the chance to break on the counter.

You can see just what Cairney is capable of in the video below.

Tomas Kalas vs Yann Kermorgant

The final key battle of this huge game is between Tomas Kalas and Yann Kermorgant.

Playing at centre-half, the former has made 36 appearances in the league this season scoring one goal. But the 23-year-old man has been part of a Fulham defence that has conceded 57 goals.

Kalas is a super header of the ball with the defender winning 62% of his duels this season, whereas Yann Kermorgant has won 52% of his duels this season.

However the Reading striker could also have his say in the tie. The Frenchman is in brilliant form having scored nine goals in his last nine appearances and has 18 for the season.

Having scored eight goals in April, Kermorgant was rightfully rewarded with the Sky Bet Championship player of the month.

The 35-year-old also has a 43% shooting accuracy which means if he does get a chance then he'll fire the ball into the back of net.

However, the striker thrives on the service from midfield which means they will have to do their bit to bring Kermorgant into the game and not leave him too isolated up top.

If Kermorgant can replicate his form from the league campaign, then fingers crossed it should give Reading the platform to succeed under huge pressure.