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Saturday Fulham Stuff (13/05/17)...

Started by WhiteJC, May 13, 2017, 07:24:44 AM

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EFL play-off: David Prutton predicts Fulham vs Reading

David Prutton says Reading will make it a cagey affair against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Fulham will take on Reading in the first leg of Sky Bet EFL play-off at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Sky Sports pundit David Prutton says the fixture will be a "tough test" for Reading.

Prutton says that Fulham looked an "obvious gatecrasher" to the play-off spot for a long time, and Slavisa Jokanovic's men fully deserve this spot.

Fulham finished sixth, five points behind Reading, in the Championship. However, the Cottagers are on a roll, and momentum is on their side.

They are unbeaten in their last six games, winning five of them, and are heading into this crucial tie brimming with confidence.

"Fulham aren't your typical side that finish sixth as they've looked an obvious gatecrasher to the play-off scene for a long time. Slavisa Jokanovic's men have maintained their momentum and fully deserve their spot," he said to Sky Sports.

Reading are also on a two-match winning run going into this tie. Since March, The Royals have won seven out of their nine Championship games.

Prutton notes that the fixture will represent a clash of styles. Reading are more comfortable keeping possession while Fulham are more used to playing dynamic brand of football.

The Sky Sports pundit tips Fulham to narrowly edge their rivals on Saturday. Fulham have scored in each of their last 17 league games, and Prutton expects them to win by a 2-1 margin.

"This game will be a clash of styles. Reading like to keep the ball while Fulham play a dynamic game where their full-backs provide a key tactic in what they do," he added.

"I've got a feeling Fulham will be strong at Craven Cottage. Reading will want to make it a cagey affair, which could just suit Fulham, who have scored in each of their last 17 league matches."


How Slavisa Jokanovic changed Fulham from relegation fodder to promotion candidates

Slavisa Jokanovic takes Fulham into the Championship play-offs this weekend

Slavisa Jokanovic has reprogrammed Fulham from Championship relegation fodder into Premier League promotion candidates inside 18 months.

The club are preparing for a Championship play-off semi-final against Reading - the first leg live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Saturday - in the Serbian's first full season in charge.

A string of managers tried and failed to reverse the club's slide after Premier League relegation in 2014 but Jokanovic, who promoted Watford to the top flight in 2015, has put Fulham three games away from a surprising return. But how has he done it?

Getting the right players
Jokanovic made no secret last summer that he was at odds with the Fulham hierarchy over transfers but they managed to pull together and make some inspired signings, none more so than Stefan Johansen from Celtic.

The Norweigian has been a crucial cog in midfield and is one of three Fulham players in the Championship's top-six best passers, alongside his midfield partners Kevin McDonald and Tom Cairney, with eight assists and 13 goals. Johansen has provided a link between the defensive shield of McDonald - another new signing from Wolves that has given the team more steel - and the attacking freedom of Cairney, who has thrived at No 10.

Scott Malone has been another excellent buy out of left-field, reliably operating the left-back position to let youngster Ryan Sessegnon - a target for Liverpool - to maraud the left wing.

Stefan Johansen has been an inspired signing from Celtic

Mastering his style
Fulham already had some of the best technical players in the league before Jokanovic arrived, but he and his staff harnessed that ability to develop one of the most formidable attacking teams in the division.

Despite finishing sixth, they are the Championship's leading scorers with 85 goals, have produced the most shots per game (15.4), have the highest average possession (59%), the best passing accuracy (83.6%) and most goals from open play (60).

Jokanovic's playing style is a fusion between his home nation of Serbia and adopted country of Spain - high energy, intricate passing and ball-playing defenders - and a natural fit with Fulham's attacking players. The crux of the work was done in pre-season. Since, it has been about improving the details and ironing out mistakes.

Assistants Javier Pereira and Alberto Escobar, who worked with him at previous clubs, have been crucial to Jokanovic's success. The trio use the most modern analysis methods to root out problems and hone fine details. And Stuart Gray - caretaker before Jokanovic arrived - has given his thorough knowledge of the league.

Getting them fit
The manager's style demands a lot of physical work, so equally as important as Pereira and Escobar has been first-team medical and sports science manager Marco Cesarini, who worked with Jokanovic at Watford.

Cesarini has also implemented up-to-date sports science methods to keep Fulham's players in peak condition. He has changed their diets and even enforced stricter rules on seating arrangements at lunch time. Players are leaner, sharper and can last longer.

Last summer, the club also sanctioned some changes to the training ground that would help Jokanovic develop the team in his image. The club invested around £4m, improving things such as pitch surfaces, and it has proven influential.

Ryan Sessegnon could yet be convinced to stay at Fulham if they go up

Flipping the mentality
The feeling at the club is that Jokanovic's positive, determined demeanour has been infectious. He has raised morale among staff and improved the functionality of interdepartmental relationships.

Helping the environment has helped the squad but Jokanovic has bred a winning mentality into his players. He has convinced them that not only is pulling together in the same direction best for the team but also best for their individual careers. It was this that helped convince Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele to stay until last summer, and Martin to remain for the rest of his loan from Derby.

Jokanovic has always said there is no magic wand, no special methods, but has kept pushing a clear message that is hard to argue with when it yields results. And stark among that has been a balance between being authoritative while close to his squad.

Scott Parker has been acting as a crucial go-between with the players

The Scott Parker effect
Big players, with big histories, can present big problems. The Fulham players look up to Scott Parker massively and follow his lead.

The 36-year-old was convinced of Jokanovic's methods from an early stage and has become, albeit accidentally, a crucial conduit between the manager and the squad.

Parker, who has been doing his coaching badges and acting more in this role than as club captain, has been injured for most of the season but this has allowed him to help get Jokanovic's message across. He has become a vital extra ally in the dressing room.


Transfer gossip: QPR and Fulham linked with winger

QPR and Fulham have again been linked with Hartlepool winger Nathan Thomas.

The Sun claim both west London clubs have been monitoring the 22-year-old along with Wolves.

It comes after reports Middlesbrough and Sheffield United have each had a £300,000 bid for the player accepted.

Rangers and Fulham were linked him last year too but did not show any concrete interest.


Fulham hoping Chris Martin can fire them to Wembley after turbulent season

Chris Martin could complete his journey from villain to hero when Fulham take on Reading in the Championship play-offs.

Martin caused a stir in December when he made himself unavailable for the Cottagers' clash with the Royals after his parent club Derby tried to cut short his loan spell.

But Fulham dug their heels in and Martin has since scored five goals to help fire them into the top six.

It was confirmed last week that Martin's loan deal includes the play-offs and manager Slavisa Jokanovic feels the Scot will be a key figure.

"Everyone knows Martin's situation, he is fully committed with us and is fighting for a space in the team," said Jokanovic.

"We are confident he can help, and so is he.

"He had a confused situation in the winter but now everything is clear and he is only thinking about his team-mates and Fulham.

"They're happy with him and we expect he will be ready for these three games. I always had good opinion about him.

"We are not so experienced in this situation, he is one of the most experienced and he can be useful for us in these play-off games."

Fulham welcome the Royals to Craven Cottage on Saturday evening with the return leg in Reading on Tuesday night.

A Wembley showdown with Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield awaits the winners, in a match which last season was reckoned to be worth B£170million.

"This is a cup game and its not normal game," added Jokanovic.

"We must understand the situation and I don't expect everything will be done after first game, so we must be ready for 180 minutes or more.

"At the end we must play the game and respect this kind of situation."

Fulham will be without defensive duo Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl through injury for both legs of the semi-final, but they could be available at Wembley should Fulham get through.


Match Day Officials v Fulham (13/5/17)

The Football League have now announced the Match Day officials that will take charge of the Championship Play Off Semi Final against Fulham this Saturday.

Reading travel to Fulham in the Semi Final first leg decider over who gets one step closer to Wembley and the Premier League this season.

The game takes place on Saturday May 13 at Craven Cottage and the match carries a 5.30pm kick off.

Referee: Stuart Attwell
Linesmen: Andrew Garrett and Matthew Wilkes
Fourth Official: Tim Robinson

Match Day referee Attwell has officiated 26 games in 2016/17 with a return of 86 yellow cards and seven red cards.

This season his highest card count was five yellows and three reds in the game between Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday. He showed seven yellows and two reds in the Oxford v Swindon Town game. He also showed seven yellows in the game between Southampton and Middlesbrough.

He took in 44 matches in 2015-16 and in those games, across all competitions and football divisions, he handed out a total of 118 yellow cards and four red cards.

He was most card happy in the match between Plymouth and Crawley on October 3 with a total of six yellows being shown.

Let`s hope it`s not another repeat and more of our players edge closer to automatic bans.

Read more:


Fulham hopeful loan star Chris Martin can complete turnaround and be their play-off hero against Reading

    Chris Martin caused a stir in December when he refused to play for Fulham
    Parent club Derby tried to cut his loan short and Martin wanted to return
    The Cottagers refused and Martin stayed to help fire them into the play-offs
    Now the Scotland international could be the man to fire Fulham to the top flight

Chris Martin could complete his journey from villain to hero when Fulham take on Reading in the Championship play-offs.

Martin caused a stir in December when he made himself unavailable for the Cottagers' clash with the Royals after his parent club Derby tried to cut short his loan spell.

But Fulham dug their heels in and Martin has since scored five goals to help fire them into the top six.

Chris Martin could complete his journey from villain to hero when Fulham take on Reading

Martin's loan deal includes the play-offs and Slavisa Jokanovic feels the Scot will be key

It was confirmed last week that Martin's loan deal includes the play-offs and manager Slavisa Jokanovic feels the Scot will be a key figure.

'Everyone knows Martin's situation, he is fully committed with us and is fighting for a space in the team,' said Jokanovic.

'We are confident he can help, and so is he. He had a confused situation in the winter but now everything is clear and he is only thinking about his team-mates and Fulham.

'They're happy with him and we expect he will be ready for these three games. I always had good opinion about him.

Martin caused a stir in December when parent club Derby tried to call his loan short

'We are not so experienced in this situation, he is one of the most experienced and he can be useful for us in these play-off games.'

Fulham welcome the Royals to Craven Cottage on Saturday evening with the return leg in Reading on Tuesday night.

A Wembley showdown with Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield awaits the winners, in a match which last season was reckoned to be worth £170million.

'This is a cup game and its not normal game,' added Jokanovic.

Martin wanted to return but Fulham dug in and he stayed to help fire them into the play-offs

'We must understand the situation and I don't expect everything will be done after first game, so we must be ready for 180 minutes or more.

'At the end we must play the game and respect this kind of situation.'

Fulham will be without defensive duo Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl through injury for both legs of the semi-final, but they could be available at Wembley should Fulham get through.

Read more:
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Fulham's Europa League heroes seven years on - where are they now?

It has been seven years since Fulham's Europa League Final against Atletico Madrid - we take a look at where the players are now to commemorate the occasion

Can you believe it's been seven years since Roy Hodgson's Fulham took to the Nordbank Arena to face Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final?

Those players have gone down in the club's history, despite losing 2-1 thanks to a Diego Forlan brace, and gave Fulham something to be proud of - a team that played their hearts out for the badge on the front of the shirt in a major European final.

We all remember what happened in that game - Forlan gave the Spanish side the lead in the 32nd minute before Simon Davies stuck Zoltan Gera's cross into the net to level it only five minutes later, sending the travelling Fulham support into raptures.

The game went to extra time and it proved just a bridge too far, and as the tie looked like it was going to penalties Forlan flicked on Sergio Aguero's cross to give the Spanish side the winner.

To commemorate the day, we've had a look at where the squad that played that game are today.

Mark Schwarzer
The goalkeeper played an important role in getting Fulham to the final and is revered as a legend at the club for his services.

He went on to play for Chelsea and Leicester City, where he won consecutive championships for different clubs, but didn't receive winner's medals because he didn't play enough games (although he received a replica winner's medal at Chelsea).

Currently, he's involved in an advisory role to an Australian Football Consortium looking to buy an English club.

Chris Baird
The Northern Irishman started at right back in the final ahead of John Paintstil and he stayed at the Cottage until 2013 when he was released by the club.

He went on to play for Reading, Burnley, West Brom and Derby, with a loan spell back at Fulham throw in for good measure.

He's still playing at Derby and has recently had a clause activated in his contract for another season.

Aaron Hughes
After spending six-and-a-half seasons at Fulham, Hughes had brief spells with QPR, Brighton, Melbourne City and Kerela Blasters.

The 37-year-old retured from international football in September 2011 but returned to the Northern Ireland fold in February 2012 and went on to feature in their Euro 2016 campaign where he became the first outfield Northern Irish player to win 100 caps.

He's currently at Hearts in Scotland after signing for them in January 2017 and has also put pen to paper on a new one-year deal.

Brede Hangeland
A true legend at the Cottage - Hangeland signed for Fulham in 2007 to link up with his former Viking manager Hodgson and it was a match made in heaven.

His time at Fulham came to an unfortunate end when he was allegedly dismissed by the club via e-mail, while stating then boss Felix Magath told him to place a block of cheese on his thigh in order to make him fit again.

He joined Crystal Palace in 2014 and retired in 2016 and currently works for Norwegian broadcaster TV2 where he covers the Premier League.

Battle: Brede Hangeland fights a youthful Sergio Aguero for the ball (Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

Paul Konchesky
Having played at the Cottage since 2007, Konchesky left for Liverpool in the summer of 2010 where he signed a four-year deal but unfortunately struggled to make an impact having been superb for Fulham.

After that, he joined Nottingham Forest on loan, before going to Leicester, QPR and Gillingham.

He signed for Billericay Town in February and has been involved in a rather weird video where his new side are signing R Kelly's 'World's Greatest' - something he didn't look too thrilled to be involved with.

Damien Duff
Having signed from Newcastle in 2009, Duff went on to produce some fantastic footballing memories at the Cottage during his five year stay.

He went on to sign for Melbourne before heading back to Ireland to play for Shamrock Rovers, where he finished his playing career in December 2015.

He's currently head coach of Shamrock Rovers academy side.

On the ball: Damien Duff (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Dickson Etuhu
He played for four years at Fulham after signing from Sunderland in 2008 before leaving for Blackburn in 2012 for an undisclosed fee.

He moved on to AIK in Sweden as a free agent in 2014 where he still plays to this day and is a role model to younger players, such as Alexander Isak.

Danny Muprhy
The captain of the side who played the final in Hamburg, he went on to play for Blackburn after leaving the club in 2012.

He claimed reaching that final "would be one of the greatest achievements of our history" having already beaten Juventus and Wolfsburg on route.

He is now a regular pundit on Match of the Day as well as establishing a career as a radio pundit on Talksport while studying for his coaching badges.

Simon Davies
The Welshman joined Fulham from Everton in 2007 it was Davies who scored the equaliser in Hamburg that night to give Fulham hope that they could actually pull off a win.

He suffered with injuries towards the end of his career at Fulham and was released at the end of the 2012-13 season.

Nowadays, he plays for boyhood Club Sova AFC in the Pembrokeshire League Division Two, where he pays £3 a game subs

On the score sheet: Simon Davies (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Zoltan Gera
A real fan favourite, Gera played the entire final against Atletico but didn't manage to get himself on the scoresheet.

He left to return to West Brom in 2011 to rejoin Hodgson in the midlands but left when his contract expired in 2014.

Gera now plays for Hungarian side Ferencvaros in the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I division.

Bobby Zamora
Having joined from West Ham for a £6.3m fee in 2008, Zamora went on to have a fine career at the Cottage.

He signed for west London rivals QPR in 2012 where he helped the club return to the Premier League by scoring the winner at Wembley in the play-off final in 2014.

He went on to play for Brighton but retired in December 2016 and he currently is involved in a social housing scheme with Rio Ferdinand and Mark Noble.

Clint Dempsey
Dempsey became the first American to ever play in a major European final when he replaced Zamora in the 55th minute in Hamburg.

He left Fulham for Tottenham in 2012, before heading to Seattle Sounders with a loan spell back to Fulham lodged in the middle of his time in the States.

He still plays for Seattle and was recalled to the USA squad in March 2017.

Not giving up: Clint Demspey challenges Luis Perea (Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Erik Nevland
The Norwegian made a sub appearance in the final, replacing Duff in the 84th minute of the tie.

He left Fulham for Viking in 2010 where he was made captain of the club he grew up at before leaving in 2012.

Afterwards, he worked as car salesman before starting to work for Randaberg IL in Norway with his friend who was head coach there, which he still does to this day.

Jonathan Greening
Greening was brought on by Hodgson in the 118th minute of the final to replace the tiring Murphy, but went on to make his loan deal at Fulham permanent on July 2010.

After, he went on to play for Forest before being released in May 2014.

Greening holds both the UEFA 'B' and 'A' licences and he now plays for Tadcaster Albion in the Northern Counties East Football League Premier Division.


Cauley Woodrow explains what helped Burton Albion's loan players succeed on the pitch

Cauley Woodrow (right) enjoyed a successful loan spell with Burton Albion this season

Cauley Woodrow says being so warmly welcomed into the Burton Albion dressing room helped the Brewers' loanees to thrive in the bid for Championship survival.

Albion had seven loan players in their squad by the end of the campaign, with Fulham's Woodrow and Lasse Vigen Christensen joined by John Brayford, Luke Murphy, Michael Kightly, Chris O'Grady and Will Miller.

The impact of those individuals on a supreme team effort across the 46 games was telling. Woodrow himself scored five goals - all at the Pirelli Stadium - after signing in January, while Brayford's season away from Sheffield United saw him voted the fans' runner-up in the player of the season contest.

Cauley Woodrow and John Brayford both enjoyed productive loan spells with the Brewers

The way those loanees blended into the Albion squad and shared the desire for survival to such an extent was evident throughout a tense push to the line.

The celebrations from Kightly after firing the Brewers 2-0 up at home to Leeds United last month perhaps tell the story best.

And Woodrow says that togetherness on the field was mirrored in the dressing room across the squad.

"It has been fantastic - on a personal note, I've come here and scored goals, got assists and managed to play games," he said, when reflecting on his loan spell at the Pirelli.

"That was my aim when I came here, and I'm thankful to the manager for giving me that opportunity.

"The boys welcomed all of us loan players with open arms, and we have come and settled in really well. That has shown on the pitch."

Woodrow - whose parent club Fulham begin their play-off semi-final tussle with Reading on Saturday - is hopeful that his summer focus will be on the European Under-21 Championships with England.

With the Brewers, though, there is no doubting the loanee's desire to keep Albion in the Championship.

"When I first came in, that was all of the loan players' aims - to come in and help the team stay in this league," he added.

"We achieved that with one game to go, and I think it's been a whole-squad effort.

"The gaffer always talks about it, but everyone has been brilliant. Everyone has done their jobs and we've managed to achieve staying in this league."



Ahead of the game: The first leg...

A preview of our trip to the Cottage
Fulham vs Reading
Craven Cottage
Sky Bet Championship, play-off semi-final first leg
Saturday 13th May 2017, 5.30pm

In other circumstances, the summer break would already be here.

But our boys have earned their right through their work throughout the year to extent the 2016/17 for a bit longer with a play-off campaign.

The Wembley dream is alive and well – nothing can be decided on the day on Saturday evening in Fulham, but we'll want a healthy scoreline to bring back to Madejski Stadium for Tuesday's return leg.

ickets for Reading supporters for this fixture are completely SOLD OUT.  Please do not travel to Craven Cottage unless you have a ticket.

However there are still tickets available for the decisive second leg at Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening – click here for information for that fixture.

Supporters' Trust at Reading (STAR) operate coach travel to all away fixtures – click here for more information.

Please note that this weekend the railway lines between Clapham Junction and Barnes will be closed all day Saturday and Sunday for maintenance and renewal work.  This means that Reading supporters will not be able to connect at Richmond to reach Putney as usual.  The quickest route from Reading station will be a train to Paddington followed by a District Line tube to Putney Bridge.  Please take these closures into consideration when planning your route and leave ample time for your journey.

If you're driving, take a look at the map below for up-to-date travel information.

he man in the middle at Craven Cottage will be Stuart Attwell, overseeing his first Royals fixture for over two and a half years.  He has been on the whistle at Fulham once this season, as they list 2-1 to Brighton in January.

Mr Attwell will be assisted by Andrew Garrett and Matthew Wilkes as linesmen, and the fourth official's board will be manned by Tim Robinson.

Hosts Fulham are favourites to take a lead into the second leg according to EFL title sponsors Sky Bet, with 8/13 the price on a home win.  The Royals – who have upset the odds more times than any other club in the three divisions this season – are an outside bet at 17/4 and odds are 3/1 for the scores to be level when we head back to Madejski Stadium.

Striker Yann Kermorgant goes into the game with 9 goals in his last 9 games... he's 15/2 to score in a Reading win in a Sky Bet price boost!  And they're also offering a scorecast boost double chance of 55/1 for John Swift to score first in either a 2-0 Reading win or a 1-1 draw.

If you can't make it to the match, you can listen to every pass, tackle and goal with live audio commentary on Reading FC PlayerHD for as little as £4.49 per month. Not only that, but our online subscription also allows you access to extended match highlights and exclusive interviews which you won't see anywhere else.  The play-offs are also being broadcast on Sky Sports in the UK.

As ever, we'll also provide live updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages, and look out for our match photos on Instagram.

Head to Snapchat and find 'officialrfc' to follow our matchday story as it unfolds!

We wish to politely reminder supporters that the football club is responsible for their conduct at all matches (home or away) and any person committing a football-related offence or involved in serious misconduct at any match will result in a club ban. Examples of serious misconduct include discriminatory, offensive or abusive chanting, entering the pitch, persistent standing and throwing a missile. Supporters witnessing any incidents of serious misconduct are encouraged to report this to the football club by texting 80800, beginning your message with the word SAFE.



Second Leg Screening

The Club is delighted to confirm that supporters can attend a live screening of Fulham's second leg Play-Off tie at Craven Cottage next Tuesday 16th May.

With tickets at the Madejski Stadium restricted and a number of fans unable to attend the second leg, Fulham fans now have a chance to come together and show their support for the Whites!

Craven Cottage will be open from 6:30pm and fans will be able to watch the game on a giant screen, where also cheering on the side that evening will be past promotion legends Sean Davis, Barry Hayles and Rufus Brevett.

This event will be ticketed, with places limited and sold on a first-come-first-served basis. Tickets are £5 per person and include a free drink on arrival (beer, wine or soft drink).

Fans can secure their tickets today online, by phone on 0843 208 1234 (opt. 2) or in person from the Fulham Ticket Office.

Join us at Craven Cottage as we look to cheer the Whites on to victory!


Tomas Kalas: I marked Luis Suarez on my Chelsea debut so no Play-Off fears with Fulham for me

After being asked to mark Luis Suarez on his Premier League debut, the Championship play-offs should not hold any fears for Chelsea and Fulham defender Tomas Kalas.

It has been little over three years since Kalas helped nullify one of the best strikers in the world and put a major dent in Liverpool's title hopes.

Chelsea's 2-0 win at Anfield is most remembered for Steven Gerrard's  slip that gifted Demba Ba the opening goal. However, the victory was all the more remarkable because former manager Jose Mourinho made a number of changes, including selecting Kalas to start next to Branislav Ivanovic at centre-half.

Kalas told Standard Sport: "That match is going to stay in my head forever. Every League debut for a player is a special moment, but this was at Anfield, playing against Suarez and Gerrard.

"I remember I was shaking at the start. This was such a huge game. Liverpool were expected to win and go on to win the title. I was just trying to do my best against Suarez, who is such a great forward.

"I didn't ask to swap shirts afterwards. I kept mine as a memento of the occasion. I have watched a few clips of the match since then. Of course, you always see the Gerrard slip, but I was able to see the things I did right and wrong. I learnt a lot, but I still need to prove I can play at that level. I can't be judged on just that one game."

Fulham is the fifth different club  Kalas has been loaned to since joining Chelsea from Czech side Sigma Olomouc for £5.2million in 2010.

He has been a key figure at the back for Slavisa Jokanovic's Fulham side as the club staged a late rally to claim sixth place and the last play-off spot.

Clean sheet: Kalas kept Suarez quiet on his Chelsea debut

One would assume coming up against Suarez would have provided the greatest lesson in his career so far, but that is not the case for the Czech Republic international.

"Playing for Fulham, and Middlesbrough last season, has helped me much more," he explains. "For example, Rotherham may have been relegated this season, but I learnt how to approach a game like that, how professional you have to be on the pitch.

"I do weights after training now because I realised I can't be a defender weighing 70kg. I realised that when playing against Kenneth Zohore (the Cardiff striker who scored twice in the 2-2 draw against Fulham in February). That was a striker I struggled with physically."

Beating Reading over two legs won't be an easy task either, but 23-year-old Kalas believes Fulham have an advantage.

"We have a lot of momentum," he said. "Losing to Derby in April got us going again and we finished with five wins and one draw. It would be worse if we were going into the play-offs off the back of three defeats. We have already had to play with the pressure of having to win games and that will help us."



Fulham have been one of the surprise packages in the Championship this season, bursting from bottom half into the Play-Offs with a late surge.

Under the guidance of Slavisa Jokanovic, Fulham have surprised many this season.

The Cottagers just beat off relegation last season, so not many would've predicted their meteoric rise to promotion candidates.

Along the way, Fulham have caught the eye too, playing some brilliant, attacking, free-flowing football, sweeping some teams away and claiming the joint title of the league's top scorers in the process.

With this great season, has come speculation over the futures of their star players, with Tom Cairney taking most of the plaudits and attracting the most attention.

Premier League, Burnley and top-flight new boys, Newcastle, are both believed to hold an interest in signing the midfield playmaker, and Fulham could be resigned to losing to former Blackburn man in the coming months – especially if they miss out on promotion.

Finding a like-for-like replacement for Cairney will be near impossible, and no doubt out of Fulham's price range, so they will have to go slightly left-field for a replacement.

One man who seems the perfect man to replace him is Charlie Adam.

The former Liverpool man has fallen out of favour at the Bet365 Stadium, and Adam could be one of the casualties of a Mark Hughes summer clear out.

Even at 31, Adam still has an awful lot to offer and would be a perfect fit in a Fulham side that loves to play with the ball on the floor.

Technically, Adam is one of Stoke's best players, his range of passing general midfield play would certainly improve the Fulham side.

In the attacking third, Adam brings cutting edge, with the ability to unlock a defence, and he also has the eye for the spectacular, just like Cairney.

Although age may not be on his side, the Scot seems to be a like-for-like replacement for Cairney.


Why You Should Root For Reading FC In The Play-Off Semi Final Against Fulham FC
Whether you're a neutral, a former Reading player, or even a Fulham fan. We're the ones you should be rooting for.

Reading Football Club deserve your backing during the 2016/17 play-off campaign.

Whether you're a neutral, a person that supports a Premier League club, a former footballer with a gripe, or even a Fulham fan. Reading are the team you want to win and see get to Wembley.

Here, let me talk you through it.

Reading have been in the play-off places of the Championship since October 29, 2016. A 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest saw them move into fifth place in the table, and since then, they haven't ever gone lower than that.

That is consistency. That is a team that deserves to go up. Week after week, they've kept performing to a (fairly) consistent level. One foot in front of the other, this side is the embodiment of stamina and a strong mentality.

Fulham, on the other hand, have been all over the place. They were as high as second at the end of August, and as low as 14th in October. They are inconsistent. They snuck into the play-offs at the last minute. They do not deserve your support. Do not root for Fulham.

Do not look at the statistics. It's fake news. Fulham may have scored 17 more goals than Reading, but Reading have conceded 7 more and are 5 points and 3 places higher in the table. Do you know what that means? It means that Reading are the entertainers.

How? They bend the laws of football. Reading Football Club are a team that, statistically, look like an anomaly. But watch them week after week and they are not. They are confusing. Watch statisticians analyse The Royals and watch them squirm. It's hilarious.

Oh, and as for aesthetically pleasing football, Fulham just copied Reading's passing style. They're copycats and nobody likes a copycat.

I don't care that Jokanovic joined Fulham in 2015. We got there first, our manager is Dutch.

If you don't care about Reading usually, you might have missed that Fulham smashed Reading 5-0 back in December. They humiliated us.

A 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture soon afterwards wasn't enough. We want Daenerys-style revenge. Molten gold poured over the heads of Fulham. Only less violent and wasteful of precious resources.

Look at the odds right now. I don't really understand odds, or betting, or anything about gambling, but I know Reading are predicted by everyone to be swept aside by the Cottagers.

Support the underdog. You know you want to. Little old Reading, all tinpot and inconsequential... It's ripe for your support.

Unlike Fulham.

Reading's 35-year-old striker is retiring at the end of the 2017/18 season. He's scored 18 goals in the Championship and is a genuinely lovely fella. Oh, and he's got a French accent. Don't tell me you don't love the French accent. He's adorable.

Fulham have no such player. Do not root for Fulham.

Probably the nicest footballer to ever exist. The Reading goalkeeper is the Player of the Season and deserves his chance at the big-time again, after being bombarded by literally hundreds of shots while goalkeeping for Wigan all those years ago.

Fulham have a goalkeeper nobody's ever heard of before. Shrug.

Jaap Stam is famous around the world. He is a Manchester United legend. He is big. He is bald. This is his first managerial role and he has taken to it like a bird to a bird feeder. He is understated. He looks angry but is actually lovely.

He's also Batman. Support Batman.

Reading are in discussions with Chinese people to be taken over again.

What does this have to do with the play-offs? Well, there are rumours that if Reading get promoted the Premier League will block them. Now, wouldn't that be something interesting to talk about throughout the summer?

Fulham have no such concerns and are generally bland and boring in that regard. Bring back the Michael Jackson statue and we'll talk again.

The Tilehurst End > Cottagers Confidential. Simple.

So, you know what to do during these play-off semi-finals: root for The Royals.


I'll be watching Fulham's play-off in the comfort of my home - not in a pub in the rugby hotbed of Johannesburg

Columnist Chris Bishop today discusses a previous experience of watching Fulham from a South African bar and explains why he won't be doing it again on Saturday

I couldn't believe it. I don't know what shocked me more, the result or the nonchalant way the commentator on Fulham FC radio announced the winning goal at Hillsborough.

Normally he is frantic when he heralds a winning Fulham goal away from home - this time it was like he was announcing the team changes.

To me, a comfortable 2-1 win away against one of the toughest teams in the division was like finding the Holy Grail in your garden shed.

It was a glittering wonder to behold, especially against the sackcloth backdrop of last season when we were in 20th and every game involved a prayer for us not to end up with Fleetwood Town on the fixture list.

It can happen. I am of the generation that can remember losing 2-0 at home to Hayes and scraping a 2-2 draw away to Ashford United (where ? exactly!) in the cup.

Our prayers were answered, from the penalty spot, by Micky Adams on that latter dark day in Kent. I was in Zambia, on assignment, at the time and it gave me a headache just reading about a week later in the British papers.

So all points to Reading at Craven Cottage this Saturday in the first leg of the play offs. I am afraid I cant give you any predictions for this one as I am a bit superstitious and all my fingers are crossed, which makes it difficult to type.

Anyway I am glad that the match is being shown live here in Johannesburg and I will watch it at home. No, I will not be attempting the folly of watching the game in a bar - I am of the age where I don't like going through a full gamut of emotions before strangers.

That is also not advisable in this town where the oval ball is king in most of the pubs. In any Johannesburg sports bar you will find 20 television screens and at least 19 of them will be tuned into rugby games.

People just want them tuned into Rugby, when they are standing drinking, even if the game is highlights from last year and no one is watching.

I have seen fist fights in the cause of getting football on TV in some bars.

Even when you win the battle they never leave you alone. I remember once fighting tooth and nail to get Wigan v Fulham on one of the 20 TVs in the bar box in a bar. I can't remember what year it was, but I do remember that we had to win to stand a chance of staying up.

Ten minutes to go, no score, the tension was killing and I had my head in my hands. Some bloke came up to me: "Couldn't I flick over to see the Arsenal - Man City game?"

The polite version of my answer was: no.

Clint Dempsey scored two in the last five minutes and slammed my fist down on the bar table and screamed: yes!! each time. The so called Arsenal fan looked at me like I was mad; proof that he didn't care that much about the game anyway - otherwise he would have understood.

So I will be safe, at home, for the semi-final with a bottle of English beer at room temperature. Come on Fulham.


Championship play-offs guide: Jaap Stam leads Reading against Fulham goalscoring juggernaught, while Klopp's pupil David Wagner takes on Sheffield Wednesday's riches

    The Championship play-offs begin this weekend, with a huge prize on offer
    Promotion from Wembley final will mean Premier League mega bucks for winner
    Reading finished highest of the four teams, but Fulham are the top goalscorers
    Huddersfield had a slow finish while Sheffield Wednesday are well prepared

The Championship play-offs kick off this weekend, with the Premier League's astronomical television deals waiting as the winner's prize.

Fulham host Reading in their semi-final first leg at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening, with the Yorkshire derby between Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday taking place on Sunday.

The two second legs are scheduled for midweek and Sportsmail runs the rule over each of the teams ahead of the most lucrative round of matches in world football.


Saturday May 13: Fulham v Reading - 5.30pm

Sunday May 14: Huddersfield v Sheffield Wednesday - 12pm

Tuesday May 16: Reading v Fulham - 7.45pm

Wednesday May 17: Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield - 7.45pm

Final: Monday May 29, 3pm (Wembley)


How was their run before the play-offs?

Seven wins from their last nine catapulted them into third place, and two of those victories came at home against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United. There was, however, a horror show at Norwich in there, ending in a 7-1 hammering.

Who's the danger man?

Yann Kermorgant is the top scorer with 18 goals in 42 games and has pitched in with important ones along the way as well. Ten of those have come since the beginning of March with the 35-year-old their lynchpin going into the tie with Fulham. Former Chelsea trainee John Swift has impressed in midfield.

Reading enjoyed a fine finish to the season and go into the play-offs with confidence

What about the manager?

Jaap Stam's future is by no means certain; bigger clubs are keeping tabs on him, but it is undeniable that he has taken Reading to another level since joining last summer. He has a close relationship with sporting director Brian Tevreden, with the pair previously coaches at Ajax together.

Are they ready for the Premier League?

In an infrastructural sense, yes, but significant finance would need to be ploughed into Stam's squad if they reached the top flight.

Stam is fearful of losing his best players if they don't go up. 'If you want to make steps yourself as a club, you don't want to sell your best players,' he said.

'Sometimes you can have things too quick, but if the opportunity's there to do things well, you need to enjoy it and that's what we're doing.'

What are their chances?

It really depends on the first leg at Craven Cottage. Their away form has let them down recently - not least that beating at Norwich, plus losing heavily at Preston and Brighton. If they're still in the game by Tuesday night, you would not bet against Reading.


How was their run before the play-offs?

Other than the final-day defeat by Fulham, it's been strong. Six wins on the bounce before then, including beating Newcastle 2-0, and the mood around Hillsborough is positive. Hasn't always been harmonious this season but that is largely down to expectancy levels going through the roof under Carlos Carvalhal.

Jordan Rhodes helped Sheffield Wednesday to six wins in succession before a recent blip

Who's the danger man?

The goals have been spread around this year, with Fernando Forestieri leading the way on just 12. Both Ross Wallace and Barry Bannan have carried on from where they left off last season and supply the ammunition from midfield.

What about the manager?

A charming man, Carvalhal is out of contract this summer and has plenty of suitors. Took Wednesday to the Wembley final last May and midfielder Sam Hutchinson urged him to stay just this week. Would be a huge blow to the club if Carvalhal did depart, with the manager having walked out of a press conference recently after constant questions on his future.

Are they ready for the Premier League?

They have been building for this ever since Carvalhal joined the club in 2015 and they are the best prepared of all four to have a real go. Money will be available and the partisan crowd would win them points.

What are their chances?

Wednesday could have done without the added spice of a Yorkshire derby in the semi-final but will feel if Huddersfield are dispensed with that they learned enough last season, with slender defeat by Hull, to go one better.


How was their run before the play-offs?

Not good, but partly their own doing. Manager David Wagner came under fire after a raft of changes in their defeat by Birmingham on the penultimate day once a play-off spot was confirmed - the Football League were not best pleased - and what followed was a 3-0 home thumping by Cardiff.

Huddersfield had been chasing automatic promotion until the final weeks of the campaign and will hope their fate is not similar to Fleetwood's in League One, where the extra two games were just too much. Wagner, though, will argue resting players will prove to be the correct decision in time.

Who's the danger man?

Aaron Mooy. On loan from Manchester City and watched by a number of top-flight clubs after the turn of the year, Mooy makes Huddersfield tick. Comfortable on the ball and capable of driving from midfield, the Australian's quick-thinking has allowed the Terriers to motor in possession - especially at home.

Australian playmaker Aaron Mooy is on loan at Huddersfield from Manchester City

What about the manager?

Has well and truly ditched the 'Klopp-lite' tag while at Huddersfield. An electric brand of football has galvanised the town and Wagner's stock continues to rise - even after his controversial decisions recently and that unseemly spat with Leeds boss Garry Monk.

Are they ready for the Premier League?

Probably not, but Huddersfield are riding a crest of a wave at the moment and there have been plenty of examples of unpolished clubs going up and doing well, even if they failed to survive.

What are their chances?

It all depends whether Wagner's rotating has kept his players fresh or knocked them out of sync. Sheffield Wednesday are a machine and will take some stopping in the semi-final, particularly given the second leg is at Hillsborough.


How was their run before the play-offs?

There's always one team who look like a juggernaut heading into the end of season showpiece and Fulham are exactly that this year. Five wins from their last six and 16 goals scored in that period suggests Reading will have their work cut out. Fulham have sneaked in at the last, which makes them very dangerous indeed.

Sixteen-year-old Fulham sensation Ryan Sessegnon has made headlines this season

Who's the danger man?

Tom Cairney pulls the strings, with 10 assists this season alongside Sone Aluko. He's got 12 goals from midfield too and the 26-year-old is a real threat. Should be playing at a higher level and it'd be interesting to see if Fulham could keep hold of him if they failed to go up.

What about the manager?

Slavisa Jokanovic did a terrific job at Watford and is performing similar wonders in west London. Fulham were going nowhere before he came in last summer, but the number of goals they scored, 85, is only matched by Newcastle. He's brought the excitement back to a club stagnating.

Are they ready for the Premier League?

They are geared up for it after relegation in 2014. Don't possess a great deal of big names but with additions could be a tricky proposition.

What are their chances?

Given their recent run, they go into the two legs against Reading as favourites. And anything can happen in a final.

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Tom Cairney: 'I can perform in Premier League'

Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney has insisted that he has the quality to impress as a Premier League player.

The 26-year-old has been in fine form for the Cottagers this season, scoring 12 goals and setting up 10 more to help his side surge into the Championship playoffs.

The Scotland international also has a pass accuracy of 92.65%, a figure that ranks him sixth among Europe's top five leagues including the Championship, just behind the likes of Thiago Silva and Samuel Umtiti.

Asked if he can transfer that form to the English top flight, Cairney told The Sun: "Definitely. Every player has to back themselves to play at that level and I believe once I get there — and I hope it's with Fulham — I really will show I can do things at that level.

"It's all about getting there in the first place. But I do think it does suit my game.

"You get a bit more time on the ball. The Championship is relentless sometimes with the Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday.

"The way they pass in the Premier League, it would suit me down to the ground."

Fulham take on Reading in the first leg of the playoff semi-finals at Craven Cottage tomorrow night.


Fulham vs Reading: Fulham Supporters' Trust board member Dan Crawford gives his views on the play-off

We got the lowdown from Dan Crawford of the FST ahead of the play-off semi-finals - here's what he had to say

Fulham play Reading tomorrow in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi final and we've been building up to the event since the trip to Hillsborough.

We've spoken to the players on Tuesday and spoken to Slavisa Jokanovic while commemorating Fulham's Europa League final in between, and now we're speaking to the people who this game means the most to.

We caught up with Fulham Supporters' Trust (FST) board member Dan Crawford to get his thoughts ahead of one of Fulham's biggest games for years.

As a fan, what are you hoping from the play-offs?
As a Fulham fan I'm nervous at the moment, largely because of our records in the play-offs.

The closer you get to a big game the more nervous you get, but in terms of what I'm, hoping for I'm hoping Fulham go out and give a good account of themselves in the way that we finished the season.

Slavisa has put together a wonderful second half of the season run that on the stage this is we play a good game of football and showcase ourselves really well and do ourselves justice and we put on a good show.

I think it will be a very tight game so the key is to be in the tie at at the end of the first leg and hopefully ahead, but that may be a bit too much to hope for.

Hands off: Tom Cairney (Photo: Paul Burgman/

Do you think Reading may come with a plan to be defensive?
I don't know really, that''s the curios one because when they played at Craven Cottage previously they came and played ultra offensive and went to try and dominate the game and got dominated themselves.

I don't think they'll be doing that again and I think Jaap Stam has said he wants to play three at the back and go with these wing back and my concern about that is if you have defensively minded wing backs from reading they can nullify the forward raids that Fredericks and Malone, who I would expect to start at fullback, might make into reading terrority.

Knowing Stam and knowing he wants to play a particular way I don't think they will go ultra defensively I think he will see the value in coming here and making a statement and scoring themselves a couple of goals to put Reading in a strong position.

I think they'll be a bit more defensive than they were at the start of the season but they wont be 11 behind the ball.
What kind of team do you want to see, would you bring Chris Martin into the side?

I would play Martin for the simply reason in a big game, against old fashioned English defences Martin has the experience of the play-offs, he has the experience of getting to a final recently.

He will give you something nobody else in the squad can do which is to occupy those two centre halves and gibe them a battle, hold up the ball so that he can get into a shooting position or he can create chances for others.

I'd certainly start with Martin for the simple reason that he's score goals and contributed goals and assists for Fulham and without him the false nine against robust Championship defences can be a bit hit and miss, can work and I think we saw that in some of the games where he was out that it can worjkbut it can work much better later in games when people are tired.

I would think if Martin is there for 60 minutes, those centre halves, people like McShane and Gunther, are going to know they've been in a game and you can exploit tiredness behind them later on but I would be starting Martin because I'm encouraged that despite all the talk earlier in the season he wants to be here, he wants to play Fulham and he's put in some really good performances for us.

I think there might just be another one on Saturday.

Would you play Ryan Sessegnon, seeing as he is only 16, in such a pressure game?
Yeah, I think i would be playing him because he seems to have no fear he seems to be a very level headed young man and certainly more mature than the 16 years of age he is.

Theres no problem with his football intelligence, he makes all sorts of very interesting runs into dangerous positions which is why I'd be very tempted to play him in front of Malone, something that has worked well on various occasions in the second half of season, particularly at Newcastle.

But also you just look at his role in the goal against Brentford a few weeks ago, he got int a very advanced position and he could easily have a shot but he had the awareness and maturity to slot it across to Cairney and did something similar in the Hull City cup game for martin so I'd play him because I think we'd benefit from having him in there but I think every Fulham fan has learnt to trust Slavisa Jokanovic over the course of this season, almost all of his decisions have been spot on but I don't think it's a question of being able to trust Sessegnon in this game, he's proven he can do it.

Celebrations: Ryan Sessegnon celebrates his goal against Aston Villa (Photo: Paul Burgman/

Fulham have never won a play-off game, will these be the first?
ou have to hope so!

I studied History at university and very famously Henry Ford said 'all History is bunk' and I think that this is a whole new side, Fulham have only played four play-off games and it's a lot less than anyone else in this play-off and a lot less than any team.

Equally it's been 20 years since the last one so none of these players are affected by that and it's a very confident bunch of players, we've seen that and they've gone on a remarkable run to get into the play offs so I'm slightly nervous about it because it's a big game, I'm not nervous about the history.

The message from Jokanovic and his coaching staff will be to go out there and improve why you deserve to be in this position and they'll start on the front foot and everything else after that is about dealing with the occasion and keeping calm and I think theres enough experience.

Malone said earlier this week about having the experience in the team about people who have the experience in big games and using that to guide other people thought it but theres enough experience in there of big games, both in England and abroad to settle the nerves.

The big one - do you think Fulham can get to Wembley?
You've got to be positive about these things - they've demonstrated they can beat reading at home by a convincing margin, they've demonstrated they can beat most of the team in this league fairly convincingly

We'll have a capacity home crowd tomorrow ready to roar them on and it will be some atmosphere tomorrow night so you have to be optimistic about these things.

Over a two game period I think we'll have plenty of chances to make an impression on Reading, and that's not to underestimate them, they're a very good side and well drilled and know what it takes to grind out a result so it won't be easy by any stretch, but I think we can get to Wembley and wouldn't that be lovely?

Dan is a board member of the Fulham Supporter's Trust and also edits


Who should Newcastle United fans be supporting in the Championship play-offs? And why?

Newcastle United thankfully avoided the play-offs - but fans should be keeping an eye on Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Reading

Thankfully, Newcastle United achieved automatic promotion - and even ended up lifting the title in dramatic fashion - so they avoided putting their supporters through a nerve-inducing play-off campaign.

Instead the four teams who will enter the play-offs, which begin this weekend, are Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham.

In terms of who will triumph, it is anyone's guess at this stage - though Fulham are in excellent form and are much fancied, while Wednesday have the experience of having lost in the play-off final last year.

But who should Newcastle fans be cheering on over the coming weeks?

Which sides would the Magpies rather remain in the second tier? And which clubs have players who would be potentially worth poaching should they fail to achieve promotion?

Here, NUFC Writer Chris Waugh assesses the potential pros and cons for Newcastle of each of the four teams achieving promotion:


Of all the teams to visit Tyneside this season, it was the Cottagers who left the biggest mark.

Having already beaten the Magpies in a dour opening-day match at Craven Cottage, Slavisa Jokanovic's men made the trip up to St James' Park on March 11 - and played Newcastle off the park.

The Cottagers' swift counter-attacking style exposed the lack of pace in United's defence, with Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon particularly impressing.

In terms of a team who appear to have the Magpies' number, Fulham certainly seem to be that right now - so in that sense Newcastle fans may be rooting for the Cottagers to remain in the second tier.

What's more, an added benefit of that could be the potential availability of some of their prized assets should Fulham fail to go up.

Tom Cairney of Fulham (Photo: Getty Images Europe)

Most notably, Tom Cairney - a creative midfielder who Benitez enquired about in January but was quoted a staggering £20m for - would likely leave because he harbours ambitions of playing in the Premier League, and United remain admirers.

Sessegnon too could depart, although he looks likely to remain this summer, plus there will be clubs with far-greater financial resources than Newcastle tracking him.

The likes of Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayite and Denis Odoi have also caught the eye this term too.

Verdict: Though Fulham would excite in the Premier League, it is probably in Newcastle's best interests that the Cottagers don't join them in achieving promotion.


Hammered 4-1 at St James' Park in August, Reading were then held to a goalless draw by United as the Magpies ended their trio of away trips to three of their promotion rivals by collecting a cumulative seven points.

On that day, the Royals were poor - and, in truth, they are not the most-exciting side to watch, even if they did enjoy the second-highest average possession in the Championship at 57.4 per cent per game.

Jaap Stam has created a side who dominate possession, but at times they appear to do very little with the ball - and often pass it across their back four inside their own half.

However, on saying that, their results speak for themselves and a third-place finish suggests Stam's side have been effective against most sides, just not Newcastle.

In that sense, the Royals achieving promotion would not necessarily concern United.

Although another midweek trip to the Madejski Stadium would be unlikely to appeal to Magpies supporters, given that games kick-off at 8pm and many fans did not get into the stadium by the start of the match due to traffic problems around the ground.

In terms of star players who could be poached should Reading fail during the play-offs, Yann Kermorgant has had an impressive season - netting 18 league goals - but he is 35 and unlikely to be of much interest to Newcastle.

Potential players who would be worth taking a look at include defenders Liam Moore and Jordan Obita, as well as midfielder Liam Kelly, though the Reading squad does not appear as rich for picking as Fulham's.

Verdict: Reading getting promoted would probably be in Newcastle's interests - unfortunately it could create away-day problems with another trip to the Madejski, but Benitez appears to know how to combat the Royals' threat.

Huddersfield Town

When the Terriers performed a smash-and-grab counter-attacking raid on Tyneside back in August, nerves began to grow among Newcastle fans as Huddersfield were expected to struggle before the campaign started.

However, David Wagner's men turned out to be the surprise package of the season and even ended up pushing Newcastle for an automatic-promotion slot until the very final weeks.

In March, Benitez performed a tactical masterclass as Newcastle defeated the Terriers 3-1 at the John Smith's Stadium - a result which turned out to be crucial in both the promotion and title races.

So, in that sense, the Terriers coming up the Premier League alongside United should hold little fear for the Magpies, as Huddersfield would undoubtedly be huge favourites to go back down again.

What's more, many neutrals will be backing Wagner's men during the play-offs as it would be an immense achievement for the little-fancied Terriers to achieve promotion.

However, should Huddersfield fail to go up, there are a few players in their squad who it would definitely be worth taking a look at.

Australian international midfielder Aaron Mooy has had an exceptional season and, though a Manchester City player, could be available on loan or even a permanent deal this summer.

Forward Nahki Wells, winger Elias Kachunga and defender Tommy Smith may also be worth taking a look at - while Georginio Wijnaldum's half-brother Rajiv van La Parra is an exciting, if inconsistent, attacker.

Verdict: In a romantic (and purely practical) sense, seeing Huddersfield reach the Premier League would probably be in Newcastle's interest - but, should the Terriers fail to do so, then there may be some potential bargains to be had.

Sheffield Wednesday

Another one of the three sides to do the double over Newcastle this season, the Owls visited St James' Park on Boxing Day and simply bullied United.

Then, in the return fixture down at Hillsborough in April, Carlos Carvalhal's men thoroughly outplayed Newcastle and claimed a richly-deserved victory.

Like Fulham, Wednesday appear to have United's number at the moment - and, of all the teams in the play-offs, they look the best equipped to make the step up to the Premier League.

In terms of players who would be worth looking at if the Owls fail to gain promotion, then forward Fernando Forestieri would be the obvious name.

He has been linked with Newcastle and has scored 12 and provided a further five goals this season.

Callum McManaman too, who is on loan from West Bromwich Albion, is a winger the Magpies have looked at in the past.

Add to that duo the quartet of defender Tom Lees, defensive-midfielder Sam Hutcinson, central-midfielder Barry Bannan and the versatile Adam Reach - all of who have had impressive seasons - then there are at least half-a-dozen Wednesday players who it would be worth taking a look at.

Verdict: Wednesday appear the most 'Premier League-ready' outfit out of the four promotion contenders, they did the double over Newcastle and have some decent players who could become available if they fail to go up - so it seems to be in United's interests that they don't.

Championship play-off fixtures:

Fulham vs Reading - Saturday, 5.30pm (Semi-final first leg)

Huddersfield Town vs Sheffield Wednesday - Sunday, 12pm (Semi-final first leg)

Reading vs Fulham - Tuesday, 7.45pm (Semi-final second leg)

Sheffield Wednesday vs Huddersfield Town - Wednesday, 7.45pm (Semi-final second leg)

Championship play-off final - Monday, May 29, 3pm (at Wembley)


Slavisa finally brings stability; Fulham succeed

Fulham finished the 2016-17 (regular) season with a mood not felt nor heard since "Call Me Maybe" was a hit and not a punchline: a success.

Statistically, how did Fulham manage to buck this nearly 5-year trend of performances that ranged from historically terrible, to surprisingly good, to maddeningly inconsistent?

The answer lies with stability.

Managers not sticking with the same lineup can be a double edged sword. Sometimes it shows the manager is constantly tinkering to find which position players will succeed the most. Other times it can show a manager simply can't settle on who his best players are, and appears to be second-guessing himself.

Injuries and suspensions play a role too, but the last few seasons have been anything but stable.

Last season, Fulham started 7 different CBs. Six had 8 or more starts. Four different RBs and LBs started; 5 of 7 made double digit or more starts.

In 2014-15, Fulham started 5 different CBs, 6 different RBs, and 5 different LBs.

In 2016-17, Fulham started 8 different defensemen. Period.

Also in 2016-17, Fulham started 13 different midfielders. Last season it was 17; 22 different midfielders started in 2014-15.

Most of this can be attributed to having the same manager for more than 6 months.

Last season Fulham put up the following numbers under just Slavisa:
Corsi/TSR    Shots on target share    Shooting % For    Save %    PDO    DZ Shots For %    DZ Shots Against %
0.484    0.489    28.6%    66.4%    0.949    32%    41%

These aren't great, but also not terrible. As written before, Fulham's crazy shooting percentage under Kit was going to regress and regress it did.

This season the numbers are far better across the board:
Corsi/TSR    Shots on target share    Shooting % For    Save %    PDO    DZ Shots For %    DZ Shots Against %
0.577    0.54    36.7%    71.4%    1.081    41%    41%

After years in the wilderness, it's amazing how simple an equation of "better players + good manager = good, stable team" can be.


Fulham v Reading
SAT, 13 May 2017Championship - 1st Leg
Venue: Craven Cottage

Fulham are on a six-game unbeaten run heading into the Championship play-offs

Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final first leg
Coverage: BBC Radio London and BBC Radio Berkshire; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

Fulham will be without defenders Ragnar Sigurdsson (calf) and Michael Madl (ankle) for the play-off semi-final first leg against Reading.

Boss Slavisa Jokanovic does not expect either player to be fit for the second leg, but they might be available at Wembley should Fulham reach the final.

Reading manager Jaap Stam hopes to have midfielder Garath McCleary (groin) and defender Paul McShane (calf) involved.

His side were beaten 5-0 at Fulham in the regular season back in December.

Third-placed Reading are in the play-offs for the first time since 2011, when they were losing finalists to Swansea.

Fulham, who finished sixth, are in their first play-off campaign since losing in the third tier semi-finals in 1998.

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic told BBC Radio London:
"I don't know what's better, playing the first leg at home or away. We know we're starting at home in this tie and we're happy and confident.

"That's the most important thing in this situation where we are now.

"We're not intimidated in this situation, we've prepared this week in the normal way and I don't need to revolutionise anything for this game.

"The players know what they need to do for this game. We must quietly concentrate on our normal practice before playing Reading."

Reading manager Jaap Stam told BBC Radio Berkshire:
"We're prepping in exactly the same way we have all season. There's no reason for us to do things differently in how we've been working throughout the season.

"These are games that really matter in terms of your nerves and everything that comes into the game, certain tactics maybe.

"It's about coolness of players, do they still have the same ability to deliver certain things under pressure?

"It's going to be interesting how this game's going to go for them and for us. We've got a mixture of young and experienced players, so it's going to be a great learning experience for everybody."

Nick Godwin, BBC Radio London

"We're prepping in exactly the same way we have all season. There's no reason for us to do things differently in how we've been working throughout the season.

"These are games that really matter in terms of your nerves and everything that comes into the game, certain tactics maybe.

"It's about coolness of players, do they still have the same ability to deliver certain things under pressure?

"It's going to be interesting how this game's going to go for them and for us. We've got a mixture of young and experienced players, so it's going to be a great learning experience for everybody."

Nick Godwin, BBC Radio London
Five times Reading have previously competed in the end-of-season play offs and five times Reading have failed to win promotion. Could it be sixth time lucky?

They certainly finished the regular season in good form, winning seven of their last 10 games.

What is giving fans sleepless nights at the moment is the occasional away glitch, when they concede goals like they are going out of fashion.

For Reading, it's about staying in the tie on Saturday. Then on Tuesday, with Reading boasting the second-best home record and Fulham having the second-best away record in the Championship, it will be all about who can hold their nerve.

Match facts
    Fulham beat Reading 5-0 at Craven Cottage in the regular league season, with Chris Martin scoring twice for them.
    Reading's only win in their past five Championship fixtures against Fulham came in their most recent meeting in January, where they recorded a 1-0 home victory (D1 L3).
    The team that finished sixth in the Championship has won promotion via the play-offs just once in the past 11 seasons - Blackpool in 2009-10.
    The team to finish third in the second tier of English football has won the play-offs more times than any other finishing position (10 of 28 - 36%).
    This is Fulham's first play-off campaign since 1997-98, when they lost in the third-tier semi-finals against Grimsby under the stewardship of Kevin Keegan.
    Reading will be embarking upon their sixth venture into the Football League play-offs and fifth in the second tier. The Royals have failed to win promotion on all six occasions, most recently losing 2-4 v Swansea in the 2010-11 final.
    The Royals have lost two play-off finals in the second tier, a tally beaten only by Sheffield United (3).
    Chris Martin scored in both legs of the 2013-14 Championship play-off semi-final against Brighton for Derby, scoring two goals as the Rams reached the final.
    Fulham ended the Championship season on an unbeaten run of six matches, winning five.
    Jaap Stam's side also ended the season in good form, winning seven of their final nine Championship matches (L2).