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

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

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Fulham v Reading FC: Play-Off First Leg Preview
All you need to know going into Saturday's first leg.

Here we are, then. 180 minutes to determine whether it will be the Cottagers or Royals heading to Wembley in a couple of weeks to face Yorkshire's finest. Here we detail the form, injuries, key quotes, and history of the first leg.

It means nothing. Sorry, but this is a play-off and there is no historical pattern for predicting a winner in either the semis or the final.

Still, to satisfy the urge, Reading have won seven of their last nine games, defeated only by Norwich City (7-1) and Nottingham Forest (3-2), which creates a thematically pleasing LWLWLW spell for the Royals in their last six matches away from home. Also worth noting from the season as a whole for Jaap Stam's men is that only Rotherham (64) have conceded more away from home than the Royals (48).

Fulham, conversely, are on the best form of all the play-off teams, winning five and drawing one of their last six. Brentford nabbed a point at Craven Cottage in their last home game but only Brighton and Wolves have won there in 2017, giving them an impression as a real tough nut to crack. Optimism for Reading comes in the form of their defence. With 32 conceded at home in the league, only two sides (you guessed it, one's Rotherham) have let in more.

Plenty of question marks hang over the away team for the first leg, with Stam confirming in Wednesday's press conference that Garath McCleary and Paul McShane were to be assessed late in the week before they could enter the teamsheet. It seems likely the Irishman will at least be on the bench having undergone 45 minutes against Burton the week before.

Replacing McShane on that afternoon was Joey van den Berg and Stam seemed a little more optimistic that he'll be ready. The same cannot be said for Stephen Quinn, who is effectively ruled out alongside long-term absentees Callum Harriott and Deniss Rakels.

There are no real fitness worries for Slavisa Jokanovic, who rested a couple of players in their final game of the regular season, such as Ryan Sessegnon and Stefan Johansen.

Key Quotes
Jaap Stam:

    "We've beaten them at home. In the play-offs it's about two games, not one or more so it's a different approach and a different level of stress for the managers and players."

    "If you want to get into the final, if you want to be in the Premier League then you get even better teams than Fulham so you need to match yourself with the best teams in the league."

Liam Moore:

    "It's been a fantastic season no matter what happens."

    "The play-offs do crazy things to people, your livelihood is at stake as you could go to the top and remain where you are so it can go either way."

Slavisa Jokanovic:

    "I don't know what is better traditionally, home or away [first], we are happy and confident and don't believe this is most important thing in this situation."

    "The [5-0] win is history - in this moment it's not so important. The only thing that is important is the first leg and we must be ready for everything."

Head to head record: Fulham W16 - D9 - Reading W15

Last six Craven Cottage Meetings:

Fulham 5-0 Reading (December 2016)

Fulham 4-2 Reading (October 2015)

Fulham 2-1 Reading (January 2015)

Fulham 2-4 Reading (April 2013 - Premier League)

Fulham 3-1 Reading (November 2007 - Premier League)

Fulham 0-1 Reading (November 2006 - Premier League)


A really tough one to call, such is the momentous occasion these two teams meet in. For evry one of Reading's triumphant away days at Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday, there are the disparate showings at Norwich, Preston, and indeed Fulham. Given both sides' dodgy defensive records, goals are expected and if the Royals concede first, it could be an afternoon of damage limitation ahead of Tuesday's return.

2-1 to Fulham


Play Off Semi Final Preview

Remember the curse of fourth? Well that's not really the case anymore – two of the last three PO winners had finished fourth at the end of the regular season, but what's really noticeable is that over the last decade third placed teams have been promoted as many times as fourth, fifth and sixth place sides combined.

If the trend over the last decade continues, Reading will be back in the Premier League next season and Fulham will still be knocking around in the Championship. However, this is the Championship and nothing is straightforward: the mini league based on the games between the four qualifiers indicates that Fulham and Reading were far better than the others and Huddersfield were appreciably worse than the other three.

Basically, each team has an obvious weakness and if that can be exploited by their opponents we could have some interesting games. I have a feeling that whoever wins promotion to the Premier League may last only one season: with Middlesbrough rejoining the Championship after losing at Chelsea earlier this week, that's a distinct possibility.

Fulham v Reading (Sky Sports 2, Saturday, 5:30pm)

Only one defeat in their last ten games at Craven Cottage, but the thing that stands out straight away is that they've conceded in nine of those ten games and they've had to come from behind in two of them. Only Barnsley and Rotherham conceded more goals at home than Fulham this season, but only Brighton, Newcastle and Norwich scored more goals in front of their own fans. Fulham's strong point is their home record against the teams that finished in the top half of the table: they lost 2-1 to Brighton at the start of the year, but that's it.

Reading have won four of their last ten aways but they also lost 7-1 at Norwich over that period, failed to score in three of those games and only kept two clean sheets. However, even though only Brighton, Fulham and Newcastle only won more away games this season, the Royals' hot streak away from home came in the early part of the season and it's noticeable that when they were beaten 5-0 at Fulham at the start of December they weren't nearly as impressive. If they'd not had consecutive last minute away wins at Blackburn and Bristol City it's fair to say that Reading may not have been in this position: they may be about to be spectacularly exposed.

Verdict: there'll be goals in this game. Five of the last six meetings in the league between these sides in the league at Fulham have produced at least three goals. Reading have only won two of those encounters, their last victory coming in a Premier League game in May 2013.

Huddersfield v Sheffield Wednesday (Sky Sports 2, Sunday, noon)

On paper, this looks like a classic Yorkshire derby with little to chose from between the clubs. Dig a bit deeper and you start seeing it from a very different perspective.

Town's highest league position for 17 years indicates that they're here on merit, but their win over Reading in mid-February was their only victory against their competitors in the playoffs and they've only won three of their last ten games – and that includes only half of their last six at home. This season they lost both games to Sheffield Wednesday without scoring and since 2000 they've only beaten Wednesday twice in nine games where they've had home advantage.

Ominously, Wednesday have been here before and although playoff success following playoff failure is rare, it's not unknown. They've only lost twice on the road since January and were one of only four teams last season that had a positive away goal difference, which is one of the vital statistics for a team looking for promotion. That's one way of looking at it: the other is that the away wins at Newcastle and Huddersfield were Wednesday's only victories against teams that finished in the top half of the table and they've not improved in that respect since last season.

Verdict: I can see this going two ways. Either it'll be a cagey, low scoring draw or Wednesday will take a decisive lead into the second leg. I think it's entirely possible that Huddersfield may be 'pleased to be here' rather than having any real expectations for promotion, but I've been very wrong before about the playoffs.


Newcastle target reveals his Premier League ambition

Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney has stated his ambition to play in the Premier League in an interview with the Sun.

The 26 year old is said to be a summer transfer target for Newcastle, but the playmaker says he is hoping to get to the top flight with Fulham through the playoffs, although he doesn't rule out playing for another club to achieve his aim. When asked whether he is capable of playing in the Premier League, Cairney said:

"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."

Cairney has been in excellent form for the Cottagers this season, making 49 appearances so far, scoring 12 goals and providing 12 assists. Fulham face Reading in the Championship Playoff semi-final at Craven Cottage tomorrow evening as they seek to gain promotion back to the Premier League after a four year absence.

If they fail in their promotion bid, Newcastle may be waiting in the wings to help Cairney fulfil his ambition of playing in the top flight.


Fulham vs Reading Preview: Three Questions with The Tilehurst End
Let's hope we get to run this feature two more times this year.

Our friends over at The Tilehurst End stopped by to answer our questions about Reading. We'll be doing it again next week for the return fixture. If you haven't yet read the questions they asked us and our answers, be sure to check that out.

Cottagers Confidential: Reading have been a statistical anomaly all year. We recently looked closer and realized that a lot of their success came from scoring first and holding on to win and punishing the bottom teams in the table. Their GD and xGD were hurt by their struggles in games decided by more than one goal. Does the idea of playing a team like Fulham who had a lot of success against the top six and is very capable of building up a multi goal lead in the first leg worry you?

The Tilehurst End: Well anytime you face a team that's stuffed you 5-0, you're going to be a bit nervous. Throw in that 4-2 from 2015/16 and yeah, we don't love going to Craven Cottage. There is that potential for a spanking, we've seen it away from home all season long, that when we lose, we lose hard. Norwich 7-1, Brentford 4-1, Brighton 3-0, Preston 3-0, Newcastle 4-1, there's certainly a pattern there. The hope here is that Jaap has been able to figure out how to stop such maulings and the fact we've finally been able to link up the three best defenders at the club in Paul McShane, Tiago Ilori and Liam Moore, should certainly help to limit the risk of another painful afternoon at Craven Cottage.

As for whether Fulham worry me? Well yes and no. While you've been able to turn it on in patches, you're also prone to slipping up when you think you're on a roll, which is why you seemed to finish 6th and not inside the top two. I think there might be a touch of overconfidence creeping in, especially when you listen to the likes of Scott Malone openly say 'teams fear us', that combined with the fact you beat us 5-0 might just lead to a bit of complacency I hope we can exploit.

CC: Fulham and Reading are the two most possession oriented teams in the division. Fulham are just ahead of them in most of the possession metrics. Does Reading have a plan B if they are unable to garner the possession they are used to?

TTE: We've seen against Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday that we're capable of being a bit more direct when needs be. The bigger issue seems to be when we fall behind, as teams seem to do pretty well at just picking us off (again, another reason for the spankings...). I think Jaap realised for the 1 1/2 home games we had against you that we'd probably lose the possession battle and did a good job at adapting the game plan accordingly. Jaap is very much a rookie manager who's made and will make mistakes, yet he's learning and the more experience he's picked up, the better he's become.

CC: 62% of your goals were scored by your top 4 goal scorers. 54% of the assists came from the top four creators. Are you at all worried about being top heavy on offense and being able to be shut down?

TE: Not really, although Stam has said openly he tries to win games first and then defend second, not something you'd expect from one of the best centre backs of the past twenty years! As our injury worries have cleared up, our options in the squad have grown. Suddenly we've got top quality players like Lewis Grabban to bring on, or the suddenly prolific Joseph Mendes. We've also got more defensive options from the bench, with Tyler Blackett, George Evans, Jordan Mutch and Reece Oxford all fighting just for bench spots. That depth is going to make us a much different proposition to our last trip to West London, when we went into it without Liam Moore and Yann Kermorgant, two of the three players who finished in the top three of our Player of the Season voting.

CC: Predicted Lineup and Score?

TTE: Predicted Lineup: Al-Habsi, Obita, Ilori, Moore, McShane, Gunter, Evans, Williams, Kelly, Beerens, Kermorgant

Score Prediction: 1-1


Reading FC opinion: Free-scoring Fulham pose massive threat to Royals' Premier League dream

'Mr Glum' columnist Russell Kempson predicts a potentially torrid night at Craven Cottage on Saturday

Okay, please forgive me, here I go again. I've donned my "Mr Glum" hat and I'm fearing the worst at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening.

That's when Reading FC take on Fulham in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final.

And when they will be hoping to mount what could prove to be little more than a brave rearguard action ahead of the return leg at Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night.

Could Royals win in West London? That would be marvellous.

What about a draw? Or even a one-goal defeat? A courageous and resilient damage-limitation exercise?

I'll snatch your hand off right now.

It's the worst-case scenario – the heavy defeat, as in 5-0 when Royals last visited the Cottage in early December - that continues to haunt me.

Chris Martin scores against Reading in the 5-0 drubbing in December (Photo: Eddie Greville)

And the fact that Fulham have been one of the most attractive visitors to the Mad Stad this season.

It was 0-0 at half time when the first attempt to stage the match in Berkshire was fogged off late last year.

In the rematch in January, Fulham were more than a shade unlucky to lose 1-0.

Royals scored through Roy Beerens, on the follow-up after John Swift's penalty had been saved by David Button.

But when the Cottagers were also awarded a spot-kick, in the 90th minute, home keeper Ali Al-Habsi saved well from Chris Martin.

Other facts on the final road to the Premier League give me the jitters, too.

Reading v Fulham at Craven Cottage (Photo: Eddie Greville)

Fulham have scored in 17 successive league matches, amassing 39 goals in the process.

In eight of those games, they struck three goals or more.

The last time they failed to bulge the old onion bag was on February 4, when they lost 1-0 at Birmingham.

However, they had been reduced to 10 men at St Andrew's after defender Ryan Fredericks' 68th-minute red card.

Reason to believe?

Right, that's enough doom, gloom and downright terror regarding what might lie ahead on the banks of the River Thames.

I must believe in the tactical genius that is Reading manager Jaap Stam and his merry band of stunning overachievers this term.

And in searching high and low, I've discovered a few chinks of light, a few chinks in the Fulham armour.

In that 17-match frenzy of free-scoring, consider the frantic goings-on at the other end.

Slavisa Jokanovic's side failed to keep a clean sheet 15 times and conceded 24 goals

Their only shut-outs in that period were in the 2-0 win at Bristol City and 1-0 victory at Rotherham United – hardly the most lethal of opponents.

The ploy of head coach Jokanovic has been quite clear all season - "We'll score more than you" – so that should make for a belter on Saturday.

Having examined all the pre-match evidence before the weekend, I'm still wearing my 'Mr Glum' hat.

But I'm quite willing to eat it if the game goes goal crazy in Royals' favour.

A scoreline of Fulham 3 Reading 4 would do me quite nicely!


Reading FC: Jaap Stam insists Royals 'have nothing to lose' against Fulham in Championship play-offs

'Jaap Stam had a dream,

To build a football team,

He had no money so he signed 'em for free,

McShane at the back,

Rakels in attack,

We're Reading FC, We're on our way back'

HE may have had a dream to build a football team, but not even Jaap Stam could have expected success this quickly.

One season in charge, his first as a manager, and Stam has performed miracles at Madejski Stadium.

A club that laboured to 17th and 19th in the Championship table the previous two years has defied critics and proven the doubters wrong by finishing third this term to reach the play-offs.

And they have done it after a huge overhaul of players last summer and with a new way of playing – Stam's way.

And whatever happens from here in the lottery of the play-offs, the 44-year-old Dutchman says Reading can be proud of what they have achieved.

"Play-offs are different in terms of our approach and what they bring which is stress and tension because the games are so important," stated Stam, whose side go to Fulham tomorrow for a Championship play-off semi-final first leg (5.30pm ko).

"But we've got nothing to lose, we are third in the league and we have done well against the other play-off teams.

"We've won and lost games, we know that, but it's all about preparing yourself for these fixtures coming up by working hard like we have all season and hopefully getting the right result."

Whether hard work will be enough to get past Fulham in the semi finals remains to be seen.

Slaviša Jokanović's Cottagers may have finished three places below Royals in the table, but they are the bookmakers' favourites (17/10) to go up through the play-offs ahead of Sheffield Wednesday (9/4), Huddersfield (3/1) and finally Reading (5/1).

Fulham may also also a psychological edge over the Royals, having thrashed Stam's men 5-0 at home in December before losing 1-0 at Madejski Stadium the following month.

But Royals boss stressed: "Anything can happen, but I don't want to think about that.

"They are all quality teams in the play-offs and play a certain way. We can all make it difficult for each other because we've seen it in the league.

"For us, we just need to maintain our form and keep the aggression and mentality that we have in the squad.

"We know how much work-rate we need to put in to get results so we'll be working hard, looking at the opposition and thinking about what we can do to make it difficult for them.

"We will try to make it easy for ourselves defending-wise so it's going to be an interesting game and I'm looking forward to it."

Yet some Reading supporters could be forgiven if they aren't relishing Saturday's trip to Craven Cottage after the 5-0 mauling earlier in the season when Chris Martin (2), Sone Aluko, Stefan Johansen plus a Chris Gunter own goal completed a miserable day in west London after Danny Williams had seen red for the visitors.

Royals, though, gained some degree of revenge by winning 1-0 at Madesjki Stadium five weeks later. Roy Beerens netted for the hosts before Ali Al-Habsi saved a late Martin penalty to secure all three points that sent Reading back up to third, the position they would end the season in.

And Stam insists its is wrong to read too much into the heavy 5-0 away defeat: "People also need to realise that we beat Fulham at home as well," he argued.

"Everyone knows what happened at their ground, but play-off games will be different to those in the league.

"We know all about Fulham's quality and they know about ours. They will try and find a way to make it difficult for us and we'll be trying to do the same.

"You know when you play against teams like Fulham that you have to dig in, and that's our plan.

"We're very happy with the way the season has gone but it's not over yet."

He continued: "We're not going to change lots of things. I can only say that within two games when there is a lot at stake then you might approach things differently.

"You can work together in a different way to normal, everyone knows what to do to get results.

"It's all about sticking together, working together and believing in each other. Hopefully with the ability we have we can do well."

Despite bookmakers' gloom prediction for the play-offs, Reading head into them full of confidence following four victories in their last five matches. Their lively 4-2 win at Burton Albion last weekend was also the first time they had scored four goals in a league game this season.

Yet it Royals do fall at the play-off hurdle, Stam is confident they could go one better next season.

"If we don't make it then it's not a shame because the boys have worked very hard and made a lot of progress," he said.

"We need to take what we have learned into next season which is not going to be easy. You need to learn from certain experiences and that's what we need to do now."


Matchday Info

Here are all your key matchday details ahead of the first Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final against Reading, kick off 5.30pm Saturday 13th May.

Possible opposition absentees

Callum Harriott – hamstring injury

Deniss Rakels – ankle injury

Sandro Wieser – ankle injury


Supporters are encouraged to arrive early when collecting their tickets prior to the Play-off semi-final against Reading on Saturday, due to a high demand for collections.

We advise supporters that the Ticket Collection point for this match is located in Bishop's Park adjacent to the Putney Gates at the ground and not in the usual position next to the Ticket Office.

The Ticket Collection point in Bishop's Park will be open from 2pm, please allow sufficient time to collect tickets and enter the ground.

Staff in booths located next to the Ticket Office on Stevenage Road will only be dealing with enquiries relating to the fixture which will include any reprinting and ticketing issues. Ticket Collections will be from Bishop's Park, please have your reference number and ID to hand when picking up tickets.


It will be dry all day in Fulham, with sun expected during the game and temperatures of a pleasant 17 degrees.

Coral match odds

Fulham: 8/13

Draw: 3/1

Reading: 9/2


Fulham: WWWDW

Reading: WWLWW


Fulham fan Q&A: This is our time to get promoted

HITC Sport speaks to Fulham fan John Mitchell, who has been a supporter for 30 years.

Q: What have you made of your team's season?

A: It's been better than I could have hoped for. I thought we would be pushing for play-offs. So glad we've made it. Roll on Wembley!

Q: What are your opinions on your manager?

A: Best manager in the Championship, as he has gotten us playing some of the best football in the division. Hope we keep him beyond the summer.

Q: What are your views on the board?

A: Wasn't sure on them initially but if they tie down Jokanovic to a big contract and continue to invest then I'll have no complaints.

Q: Who is your favourite current player?

A: Tom Cairney.

Q: Who is your favourite ever player?

A: Edwin Van der Sar or Clint Dempsey.

Q: What has been your best memory of the club?

A: The 2010 Europa League final. Incredible memories.

Q: What has been your most disappointing moment?

A: Relegation from the Premier League.

Q: Which ground is your favourite away day?

A: Loftus Road is always a good atmosphere. (Queens Park Rangers)

Q: Who do you consider to be the club's biggest rival and why?

A: It's got to be Chelsea or QPR for me.

Q: Who do you feel has been the club's best and worst summer signing?

A: Best has been Aluko for me as he's added a lot going forward. Worst has been Chris Martin.

Q: Who is your one player to watch out for this season?

A: Tom Cairney.

Q: Is there a particular youth player that excites you, and why?

A: Ryan Sessegnon is an outstanding young talent.

Q: Where do you think the club will look to strengthen in the summer?

A: New striker has to be the priority.

Q: Finally, what are your aims for next season, and where do you think your club will finish?

A: All depends on whether we are promoted or not. For me, this is our time to get promoted, so I want us to stay up!


Tom Cairney v George Evans And Other Key Battles That Will Decide The Fulham v Reading Game

Fulham Vs Reading – Three Key Battles

Fulham vs Reading in the play-offs is a match-up, all of football should be taken in by. This is a mouth-watering tie and one which looks sure to produce goals.

The movement and attacking threat should be a joy to watch, though Fulham are the home side and the team in form right now. Other than Newcastle who snatched the title on the last day, no one is finishing the season better than the West London side and so all of the key battles really concern how Reading might be able to defend themselves. Here we focus on three key areas crucial to the result of this match:

Fredericks/Malone v Gunter/Obita
With the rest of the game becoming potentially narrow and congested, the battle between Fulham's marauding full-backs and Reading's wing-backs could be crucial.

Fredericks, and especially Malone are excellent when they get forward and will want to do so as much as possible physically. Even if they don't score or directly assist, the fact that they are in the final third most likely means that Gunter and Obita should be back there with them and that will severely affect Reading's own attacking threat, essentially making it a good defensive move too.

Tom Cairney v George Evans
Cairney is Fulham's main man and if he is kept quiet during this game then the home side lose something both from their midfield and around the opposition box.

Cairney is Premier League quality and there is no doubt. So winning the battle with him would show Evans in great light. Tom Cairney is capable of running this or any other game at this level, so he will need special treatment and Evans will be the man tasked with dishing it out.

Tom Cairney

Al Habsi v Any Finisher
The bottom line is, no matter what Reading do on the night, Fulham will create chances. They always do. Fulham are such a potent attacking threat that you cannot hope to limit their chances too much. However, up against a narrow back three, they will not always be in a position to walk the ball into the net, some decent finishing is needed from them.

That finishing comes from all over the park with the front four, Scott Malone and Stefan Johansen all regular contributors in and around the box, as well as the threat of Ream and Kalas from set pieces. So, Al Habsi being bang on form as Reading's last line of defence could be crucial. He is a great shot-stopper and if he has one of his better games, it could be the difference in the tie. His personal contribution here cannot be underestimated.


Tim Ream ready to repay wife after Premier League calling five years ago
TIM REAM put love on hold when he cancelled his honeymoon in Tahiti to fly to England and play Premier League football five years ago. Now he believes it is payback time.

Tim Ream joined Fulham in 2015

Fulham's USA centre-back faces Reading in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi-finals tonight at Craven Cottage, bidding to return to the top flight after a three-year absence.

For Ream, it is five years since that first season in English football with Bolton ended in relegation from the Premier League.

Ream has long since made amends with wife Kristen – also a handy footballer on the US college scene – but he badly wants to be back with the big boys.

The 29-year-old admitted: "I'm pretty sure I still owe my wife for doing that. We were only talking about it the other day.

"Was it right to join Bolton? Was it the right decision to come here? Given the chance, would we do it all over again?

"Sitting here right now in the play-offs, with the chance of going to Wembley and promotion, we couldn't be more pleased with the choices we made."

Fulham's exciting brand of football under Slavisa Jokanovic propelled them into the play-offs via a late run of five wins in their last six games, while Jaap Stam is the mastermind behind unfancied Reading's shot at the top flight.

And according to Royals striker Yann Kermorgant, the Manchester United legend could walk away if they miss out.

"The manager will be in demand if we don't go up," said Kermorgant. "He has been amazing and done such a great job with the squad he has.

"Everybody can see what he has done with no big investment compared to clubs around us. He has got everything to be a big manager in the Premier League."


The Championship Play-offs – Why I'm predicting Fulham FC to win promotion to the Premier League

Last Sunday's final round of fixtures brought this season's Championship to a conclusion. After 46 games it will be Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Fulham that will contest the play-offs. A four way shoot out but who will prevail to join Newcastle and Brighton in next season's Premier League?

Perhaps the biggest indicator to predicting the play-off winner is the form guide. Momentum is key. Winning becomes a habit and breeds confidence. Enter the play-offs on the back of a good run and your chances of success are increased.

The form guide over the last six games is as follows;

Reading                            WWLWWL (12 points)

Sheffield Wednesday     LWWWWW (15 points)

Huddersfield                    LLWLDW (7 points)

Fulham                              WDWWWW (16 points)

Only Huddersfield have seen a slump in form perhaps resulting from disappointment in missing out on the automatic places in hand with resting key players when their play-off place was assured.

Reading's good form is tempered by the fact that three of those wins came against teams in the bottom five while one of their defeats was that 7-1 thrashing at Norwich.

Sheffield Wednesday were the team that was threatened with dropping out of the top six especially after a wobble of one win in seven. The Owl's regathered their composure to finish strongly with their only defeat coming in the final game where players were rested and the result was largely unimportant.

Wednesday's defeat in that dead rubber was to Fulham. The undoubted form team in the play-offs – Fulham. Fulham were rampant not just winning but winning in style. Their unbeaten run saw then score 16 goals and included wins at Norwich, Aston Villa, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday.

Form team: Fulham

Fulham has the psychological upper hand in their semi-final versus Reading having thrashed the Royals 5-0 at the Cottage in December. Reading's success this season has largely been based on their home form and they did gain some revenge with a narrow 1-0 win in the return fixture (at the 2nd attempt after the first game was abandoned due to thick fog!)

Sheffield Wednesday completed the double over their Yorkshire rivals without conceding a goal, winning 2-0 at home and 0-1 away. Both games though were tight tense affairs and had the unpredictability that a derby can bring.

Should the semi-final head to heads go as above, then Fulham will meet Sheffield Wednesday in the final. Fulham edge that head to head with a win and a draw.

Head to head: Fulham 

Sheffield Wednesday can call upon their experiences gained in last season's play-offs where they defeated this season's Championship runners-up Brighton before narrowing losing to a Hull in the final at Wembley.

Reading too have tasted Wembley recently albeit in the 2015 FA Cup where they took Arsenal to extra time before losing 2-1. However, Reading's history in play-offs is poor having failed to win promotion in five previous attempts.

Huddersfield are in unchartered waters having never contested the 2nd tier play-offs. They have tasted success in League 1, beating Sheffield United on penalties in the 2012 final. With their glory days now almost 100 years ago Huddersfield are lacking big game experience.

Fulham are again looking strong in this category. They have no play-off experience to call on but were Premier League regulars for many seasons until relegation in 2013/14. They have also recently contested a European Final. In 2010 they lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final having beaten Juventus on route.

As none of the current Fulham squad were involved in those glory days then Wednesdays more recent experiences give them the upper hand here.

Both Reading and Huddersfield have exceeded expectations this season getting the maximum out of squads that have no stand out stars. While lacking household names on the pitch Reading do have one in the dugout. Jaap Stam has won everything in the domestic game and his experience of the big occasion may well be an advantage to Reading.

Sheffield Wednesday have Premier League experience within their squad. Ross Wallace, Barry Bannon, Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper have all played in the top flight. While defender Glenn Loovens has played in old firm derby's during his time at Celtic. Wednesday's squad have all tasted the big occasion at Wembley where last season's loss to Hull will set them in good stead this time around.

Fulham to have strength in depth with ex-England international Scott Parker on the bench. Stefan Johansen, Tim Ream, Tom Cairney and Chris Martin are all internationals while youngster Ryan Sessegnon provides the star quality. Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has been there and done it before having guided Watford to promotion back in 2015.

Squads and Managers – Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham on paper although Reading's squad did finish above both of these so cannot be discounted.

My conclusion, therefore, is that Fulham will be the team celebrating come 29th May after defeating Sheffield Wednesday in the Wembley sunshine. Of course, I may well be wrong, the beauty of the play-offs is there unpredictability and who holds their nerve on the day. That is why we love them!


Reading's Five Most Important Players
Who should Fulham watch out for?

It is time. Fulham have completed miracles by going from the brink of relegation to becoming a contender for promotion back to the English Premier League. Slavisa Jokanovic has really turned the side into one of the most entertaining outfits in the country. While us fans of the club have been caught up in the euphoria that is the Cottagers' season, you probably haven't spent time knowing who Reading are from a personnel standpoint, even if Fulham have played them three times in the league this campaign! Here is a guide to help you out on that by informing you who the best players are from Jaap Stam's team.

F Yann Kermorgant

He may be 35 years old, but the Frenchman must have found the same fountain of youth that has fueled Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Francesco Totti because there is no denying he's Reading's most valuable outfield player. His 18 goals lead the team by a considerable margin and he has one of the highest shot rates in the championship with 3.16 per 90 minutes. He's never one to attack defenses with his pace, but he is the go-to receiver of long ball passes in Stam's system. Only Lukas Jutkiewicz of Birmingham has won more aerial wins as a non-defender than Kermorgant's 236 this season, so his matchup with Thomas Kalas and Tim Ream will be a crucial one.

He's no longer the play-maker that he once was from season's past and his 14.2% goal conversion rate is the highest it has been in three years, but that doesn't belittle the fact that he is Reading's fulcrum in everything that they do.

G Ali Al Habsi
As has been stated by Andrew this week, Reading are one of the luckier sides in the Championship. With only a +4 goal differential, Reading's defense when it comes to shots conceded based on quality and quantity is even worse. This season, the Royals have given up a second worst total of 76 expected goals in the Championship while they have also given up a third worst output in conceding total shots (696) and a third worst total in shots on target against (235). If anything, only giving up 64 actual goals is a testament to how well Ali Al-Habsi has played.

The former Bolton and Wigan man has played every minute in the league this season and has been the most important members of the club since joining in the summer of 2015. There is no better evidence of that than being awarded the best player on the team by the supporters for every year he has played for the club.

Statistically, there is also evidence that Al Habsi is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Championship. Only Brentford's Adam Davies has more total saves for the season than his 166 and it has resulted in a 70.6% save percentage. Add the fact that the Omani International has 15 clean sheets under such duress is incredible in and of itself.

That all being said, his save percentage may not be as flattering as once thought. In comparison to Fulham's goalkeepers, David Button's save percentage is 70.3% while Marcus Bettinelli's is a massive 73.9%. That being said, Southwest London's duo have an expected goal total of 56.5 while conceding 57 actual ones. Along with that, their combined 11 clean sheets are no where near as impressive when considering that they were dealing with 38 fewer shots on target than Reading were. That's what separates Al Habsi from the rest.

D Paul McShane

Considering all the bad numbers I threw at you, it is understandable for you not to see any central defenders being classified as the best players on the team, but here we are talking about Paul McShane! The reason being is that I tried to sum up all the passes, dribbles, won aerials, interceptions and shots from each player from both Fulham and Reading and divide this total by their minutes played to determine where the ball is mainly played from each team. Call it touches per game in the most guesstimated way imaginable.

For Fulham, Tom Cairney is your leader within the starting XI with a massive 0.98 touches per minute. Rounding out the top five within that usual XI are Kevin McDonald (0.85), Stefan Johansen (0.78), Tim Ream (0.74) and Kalas (0.68). This looks about right considering how valuable Jokanovic's central midfield axis is to his 4-2-3-1 formation. Meanwhile, Reading's leaders in this department are McShane himself (0.83), Liam Moore (0.78), Tyler Blackett (0.66), George Evans (0.59) and John Swift (0.58).

While defenders do tend to have the ball the most due to that is where the attack starts, it's quite interesting to see how much Reading's back four have the ball in comparison to the rest of the team. It also explains why they seem to not generate any advantages with their shot outputs despite having the best possession of the ball and passing completion percentage other than Fulham.

Where Moore's influence lies is how his touches lead directly to the route one style Stam demands by feeding the ball immediately to Reading's attacking quartet. Only Brighton's Lewis Dunk has completed more long ball passes than McShane's 201 and the 31-year old has seen career highs in major defensive categories like clearances and interceptions.

D Liam Moore

Meanwhile, McShane's partner is coming to his own as a professional footballer. At 24, Moore has seen his playing time increase and has not been a massive liability over there. The former England Under-21 international's 40 appearances and 3,545 minutes played in the Championship are easily the most he has played in a league campaign his entire career. Along with that, Moore has developed himself into a goalkeeper's best friend as a result of his league-leading 62 blocked shots. Over time, Moore will have to develop the rest of his game as evidenced by his lack of interceptions and tackles, but he is positionally sound, can win aerial duels himself (his 161 are only matched by Kermorgant's on the team) and can also contribute to the other grunt work necessary for a central defender. Overall, the future is bright for him.

M Garath McCleary

Now there have been reports that Garath McCleary could be out of action due to a groin injury and that will be a massive blow for the Royals. That is all due to the Jamaican International's work rate when the ball is at his feet. While Reading's attacking players don't have the ball as much as Fulham's do, McCleary's is definitely their most well-rounded based off of his scoring contributions (9 goals and 9 assists), dribbling (a 24th best total in the Championship of 91) and creating scoring opportunities (an 8th best total of 81). That being said, he has never been that known as a great shooter and with him turning 30 in three days time, you wonder if this is the best you'll see out of him. Still, he's a valuable member of a Reading side that is not that full of riches in attacking wealth. John Swift and Roy Beerens will have to really step up if McCleary were to not be available in these two games against Fulham.


The key Fulham players Reading FC need to watch out for in play-off semi-final

These three players are in line to feature against Royals on Saturday at Craven Cottage

As Reading FC prepare to get a good result in the Championship play-off semi-final we've taken a look at the Fulham players who could cause an upset.

The first leg at Craven Cottage on Saturday (5.30pm kick-off) is an opportunity for Royals to make it third time lucky, after suffering heavy away defeats in their last two visits.

Fulham will be without Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl due to injury, but everyone else will be available for the fixture.

Ryan Fredericks, Ryan Sessegnon, Floyd Ayite and Stefan Johansen should come back into the team after being rested for the Whites 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Garath McCleary could return to Jaap Stam's squad after missing the Burton Albion win due to injury and both Joey van den Berg and Paul McShane are also expected to feature.

These are the players who Royals need to watch out for at the Cottage

Tom Cairney

(Photo: Lewis Darling)

The skipper has been a staple of Fulham's midfield this season with 44 appearances - only Forward Sone Aluko has made as many.

The Scotland international is Fulham's top goalscorer this season with 12 goals and also has 10 assists.

With the highest pass accuracy rate in the league at 92.6 per cent, there's no doubt Cairney's form has played a part in Fulham's rise to the top six this season.

Stefan Johansen

(Photo: Grahame Larter)

Midfielder Johansen is Fulham's second top goalscorer this season with 11 league goals.

He was rested last weekend at Sheffield Wednesday but scored four goals in his last five games, to see him nominated for Championship Player of the Month for April - which went to Royals' Yann Kermorgant.

Since his arrival from Celtic in the summer, the Norwegian has also produced eight assists and been a crucial component in midfield alongside team-mates Cairney and Kevin McDonald.

Ryan Sessegnon
The 16-year-old left-back has enjoyed an impressive season at Fulham after coming into the first-team from the academy to make his league debut in August.

With five league goals and three assists in his 25 Championship appearances, Sessegnon has established himself in Jokanovic's line-up this season and demonstrated he can handle the pressure.

He is expected to sign his first professional deal with Fulham when he turns 17 later this month.

But several Premier League sides, including Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, are reportedly interested in the talented defender.


Denis Odoi issues confidence warning to Fulham team-mates ahead of Reading play-off

DENIS ODOI has warned his Fulham team-mates not to get too big for their boots ahead of today's play-off semi-final against Reading.

Fulham defender Denis Odoi has issued a confidence warning to his team-mates

Fulham gatecrashed the Championship's top six in the final weeks of the season thanks to a hot run that saw them win five of their last six games.

But right-back Odoi, who signed from Belgian side Lokeren last summer, is wary of their confidence turning into arrogance.

"I don't know the momentum of the others team but we've been on a good streak," Odoi said.

"It gives you confidence but you need to be careful that it doesn't make you arrogant or cocky.

"You still need to take into account that the other teams now are fighting for the same thing and they will give it their all, just as we will."

Despite the warning, Odoi revealed that Fulham would prepare for Reading's visit to Craven Cottage by sticking to their winning formula.

He said: "I don't think we will change a lot of things, why would we change anything?

"We've been on a good run so we will just do what we normally do and have been doing in the last two months."

Fulham thrashed Reading 5-0 in this fixture during the regular season in December.

But when asked if that game will have any bearing on the first-leg, Odoi said: "No.

"We know we can beat them and they know what we're capable of but we cannot think that it's going to be the same game as back then.

"They'll be careful and they also know our strengths. Their coach Jaap Stam has also seen us play enough and he knows the way we play and also probably knows our strengths and our weaknesses.

"The [previous] game has nothing to do with this game anymore."

Slavisa Jokanovic's squad lack play-off experience but Odoi is not feeling the pressure.

He said: "I will be relaxed anyway. I'm not the youngest anymore, I've played a few finals and I've played for championships.

"It's just trying to be as relaxed as possible - not too relaxed - you need to try and play your football.

"We just need to play our football as we always do. If you start doing other things maybe you'll regret them afterwards."


Off To The Terrier's Kennel

So the battle for the final promotion place to the Premier League starts today with Fulham and Reading playing each other, whilst we wait for the challenge ahead of Wednesday at Huddersfield Town tomorrow.

Last season we played Brighton of course, we played at home first but this time we make the relatively short hop over to the John Smith's Stadium in West Yorkshire before then coming home on Wednesday. The winner of course will then have a couple of weeks to prepare for the showcase final at Wembley on Bank Holiday Monday at the end of the month.

Going into the playoffs, both teams lost their respective final games with the Terriers being thumped by Cardiff City at home 3-0, with Fulham taking the spoils over a changed Wednesday side. Arguably the Huddersfield result was the bigger talking point as they continued a run of poor form going into the playoffs, which had seen them win just one of their final five game and stumble over the line in the end to their season in fifth place finish in the table.

Owls News....
Wednesday's team look to be relatively ok ahead of the games against Hudderfield, although it'll be very surprising to see Gary Hooper over the course of the next few weeks as the striker has a hamstring injury which he picked up in training a week or so ago.

Aside from that things are relatively good in the Wednesday camp, so there's not much to worry about. Sam Hutchinson made his return in the final day defeat to Fulham, Fernando Forestieri is ok to play against the Terriers and they won't be happy about that. Forestieri has scored in the last three games between the sides and in two of the games (which were both in Hudderfield), he was the match winner.

Owls Comment....
There has been more comment from the players than the manager this week, but in an interview with ITV, the Wednesday head coach made no mistake.... They have learned from the experience of last season and it may also help when it comes to handling things this time, but he's not allowing anyone to get ahead of themselves.
'Does our playoff experience last season mean that we're better equipped to play in the other games? It's something that we consider a little advantage but it doesn't make us favourites.

"Last season we were underdogs, this season it was different.
'We are in the same position as the others. We start a new competition, with each team having a 25% chance to go up, and the teams that go through to the final will have a 50% chance to go to the Premier League.'

Terriers News....
The Terriers have a little worry ahead of the game tomorrow as their first choice 'keeper, Danny Ward, can't face the Owls after being sent off in their final game of the season. However, he can return for the second leg, so his replacement will be Joel Coleman who has played just nine games this season.

They do have a boost though as Elias Kachunga has overcome an injury to put himself in contention for a spot against the Wednesday, the German striker missed the final four games of the season with a calf problem.

Terriers Comment....
The Huddersfield gaffer has been speaking this week of the meeting with the Owls and he has taken in extra help from his friend and Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp to prepare his side ahead of the game.

"There will be no surprises on both sides.

We are totally aware about Sheffield Wednesday, about Carlos (Carvalhal)'s side and his ideas. The details will be what makes the difference, concentration being very, very important along with our focus on ourselves.

"No one expected us to be involved at the start of the season. That is why we are really able to enjoy it. We are humble but we are still ambitious.

"I have spoken with him (Klopp) about the experience he has in two legged games from the Champions League and the Europa League. The details will be what makes the difference in this tie."

Some Stats V Huddersfield Town....
Sunday's playoff semi final first leg is the 57th meeting between the Owls and the Terriers with Wednesday looking to edge closer to their hosts in the head to head wins record. As things stand it's Huddersfield who have a four win advantage over Wednesday, but as mentioned above the Owls are on a bit of a roll against the other side who play in blue and white.

Huddersfield haven't beaten the Wednesday since November 2013, and there has been seven games since then which the record reads... Five Wednesday wins, (four in the last four meetings) and two draws... Three of those five victories against the Terriers have come in West Yorkshire.

It's been four games since Huddersfield even scored against the Owls, and in the last five games there have been eight goals scored for Wednesday and just two for Town.

Last Time Out V Huddersfield at HD1 6PG....

As mentioned above, it was a Wednesday win, although it was a tight affair won by the man who the Huddersfield fans love to hate... But there's no doubt they'd have him on their side!!!!

Final Thoughts....
I'm relatively calm for now ahead of the game, last season I was a wreck at this point. Now, before that translates as over confidence it's not. I'm actually looking forward to the game and getting things going. For a bit the talking will stop and we can just look at football for 90 minutes, a HUGE 90 minutes which could shape who goes into the playoff final.

Obviously nothing can truly be decided in Huddersfield as there's another game on Wednesday night to deal with, but if we were to go into the second game with a lead... I'd be confident. Although the home side of course will be thinking along the same lines and there's no doubt they'll be looking for that.

It will be a tight game I reckon. In both games between the sides this season, despite Wednesday winning both, they were relatively tight affairs. Genius can unlock the door and we've got talent in spaces. Jordan Rhodes could be the one to haunt his old side, but Forestieri could also cheese off the home fans again. There are plenty of exciting battles to be had out on the pitch.... Here's to a positive result for the Wednesday.


Huddersfield 1 Wednesday 1


Ahead of Fulham's play-off semi final with Reading, is it time Shahid Khan gets the credit he deserves?

Columnist Jack Collins today looks at the driving force behind Fulham in recent years and whether it's time to give Shahid Khan his due

Well, we made it this far, anyway.

There's a lot of comments floating around about plenty of issues, from who starts at the weekend to the Reading ticket allocations, but before all of the madness kicks off, I think it's important to sit back and reflect on just how good Fulham have had it this season, and dish out some of the credit that hasn't got its due.

Someone asked me at the weekend whether we were perhaps one of the only clubs to laud our ex-owners quite as much as we do, as the Al Fayed song rung around the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough for the third or fourth time.

Perhaps it is time, whilst part of my heart will always go out to our enigmatic ex-Chairman, that we focused on the present ownership rather than the past.

Shahid Khan's introduction heralded a turbulent few years for Fulham FC, but not through any fault of his own. The chairman's pockets have been deep, not only on the pitch, but off it as well – and his contributions to the club, whilst not always working out, appear to have been well-intentioned.

Yes, he brought in Felix Magath, whose methods were questionable and ultimately opened up a rift in the club, but the German was a proven firefighter in the Bundesliga, and had previous for saving clubs from relegation.

New team: Slavisa Jokanovic with Tony Khan (Photo: Fulham FC)

Khan's five-man committee to appoint his successor had no real option but to opt for Kit Symons, with the calls from the fanbase becoming almost too loud to ignore – and Khan funded the purchase of Ross McCormack, who almost single- handedly saved the club from further relegation twice in a row.

Shahid Khan is not a football man, but he has brought in people around him who are football men, to advise him. One of the shrewdest moves he has made, and one which was highly criticised at the time, was to appoint his son Tony Khan as Director of Football Operations.

Khan Jr. is an analytics head, someone who understands the numbers of sport. This isn't to everyone's taste, but ultimately football is becoming more and more data driven.

There was plenty of criticism when Director of Statistical Research Craig Kline, Tony Khan's right-hand man, clashed with Slavisa Jokanovic at the start of the season, but the "KLINE OUT" shouts have died down once the recruitment processes proved their worth.

Stefan Johansen, Floyd Ayite, Neeskens Kebano and Denis Odoi are not household names in the UK.

These are the kind of players you would only notice if you had a particularly keen interest in European football, and even then, you'd be lucky to know much – but all of them have proved their worth to Jokanovic over the course of the season.

Fulham owner Shahid Khan

The new system – with Kline in tandem with old Fulham head and Chief Scout Brian Talbot, mingles the efficiency of number-crunching with the old world view of needing to watch a player to make sure he fits the bill.

Football is not just about how good someone is, but also how they fit into a squad and their ability to thrive in a new location.

We are blessed then, with a system that looks to combine these two strands of knowledge – Kline's numbers base and Talbot's knowledge of the game.

ony Khan, sat above them both, is the public face of the Khan family imprint on the club. His passion and desire to be part of the Fulham family is evident to anyone who follows him on social media, and his fan-facing nature in this regard is a welcome sight to anyone who was concerned about the Khans becoming absentee owners – we've seen what has happened to Blackburn and Coventry City.

It's perhaps about time then, that the Khans got their due – if Fulham succeed this season,the Chairman and his son will not get the credit they deserve, but if they keep driving the club on an upward trajectory, their input will eventually be too important to ignore.

Jack is the latest incarnation of GWL's Fulham fan blogger. He's also the Editor of Fulhamish and a regular on the associated weekly podcast. When not talking about Fulham, Jack provides live match commentary and social media for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League websites. You can find him on Twitter right here: @JackJCollins or his website:


Fulham without duo for Reading clash, Jokanovic says attacker could start

Fulham are set to be without defenders Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl for their Championship playoff semi-final first leg against Reading, according to BBC Sport.

The Cottagers are the form team going into the first game of the elimination campaign, with four clubs fighting it out to win promotion into the Premier League.

Fulham have been in excellent form of late and powered their way into the top six at the expense of Leeds United.

Slavisa Jokanovic has also stated in a pre-match press conference that on-loan striker Chris Martin could well be restored to the team to face Reading.

The Scotland international has scored 10 goals in 27 starts this season while at the London club on a temporary deal from Derby County.

However, Martin's accuracy in front of goal has escaped him of late, with the 28-year-old not scoring in his last eight games for Fulham.

Jokanovic's side will know that victory in the first leg can see them in the drivers seat ahead of a midweek trip to the Madejski Stadium.


Tactical Philosophy: Slavisa Jokanovic

While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. Patrick Mills has a look at Slavisa Jokanovic's emergence.

Slavisa Jokanovic enjoyed something of a journeyman career as a player, spending an average of just over 2 years at each of his 8 clubs. Having started his career at local club Novi Sad, the Serbian went on to play for Vojvodina and Partizan Belgrade before moving to Spain. There he played for Real Oviedo, Tenerife and Deportivo La Coruna. He would return to Spain to play for Ciudad Murcia after a brief spell at Chelsea. Jokanovic also represented Yugoslavia and FR Yugoslavia 64 times, scoring 10 goals in the process. The former defensive-midfielder started his managerial career in 2007, having retired from playing three years prior, taking the reins at Partizan. During his 2 year tenure with crno-beli, they achieved back-to-back domestic doubles. He then took three years out of football before spending a year managing Thai club Muangthong United to an invincible season.

Unsuccessful spells at Levski Sofia and Hercules followed before becoming Watford's fourth coach in five games in October 2014. Remarkably, Jokanovic went on to lead the Hornets to Premier League promotion, at the time making him just the third foreign manager to achieve the feat. Even more remarkable was his subsequent departure. Reportedly unhappy with the contract on offer, Jokanovic stepped down, with Quique Sanchez Flores his replacement. Yet another short stint at Maccabi Tel Aviv was next, where he took them to the group stages of the Champions League in 2015. Finally, Jokanovic returned to England in December of that year to take the post at struggling Fulham. He kept the Cottagers in the Championship last term, finishing 11 points clear of relegation. This season has been much more impressive, however, seeing the west London club reach the play-offs. Interest in Jokanovic has been reported recently, with West Ham and Werder Bremen rumoured to be amongst his admirers. He is, however, expected to still be at the club next season.

Tactical Philosophy
During his time at Watford, Jokanovic generally set his side up in a 4-3-1-2 formation. This was probably based on the fact that Watford boasted three strikers among the best in the league. Troy Deeney played most often with Odion Ighalo as the two furthest forward, with Matej Vydra operating just behind. Jokanovic was, however, flexible throughout their promotion season, using a variety of formations depending on who was fit, or who they were playing against.

At Fulham, he mostly uses a 4-3-3, once again in an attempt to get the best out of his players. Scott Malone and Ryan Fredericks play as attacking fullbacks with Ryan Sessegnon and Sone Aluko cutting inside to support the striker, either Chris Martin or Floyd Ayite. Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen play advanced of Kevin McDonald in the 6 role. Tim Ream and Tomas Kalas usually occupy the centre of defence with David Button in goal.

Button(27)– Fredericks(2), Kalas(26), Ream(13), Malone(3)– McDonald(6), Johansen(14), Cairney(10)– Aluko(24), Martin(25), Sessegnon(30)

Attacking Approach:

Generally speaking, Fulham are a possession based attacking team, scoring the joint most goals in the league this season(85) along with Champions Newcastle. They recorded an average possession of 59.1% and an 83.9% pass accuracy, both league highs. They were widely regarded as the most attractive side to watch, almost always attempting to build established attacks from the back. Jokanovic has said he shares many mutual friends with Pep Guardiola and would talk about football for hours with former Real Madrid and Barcelona coach Radomir Antic while he was living in Spain. He calls himself an artificial Spaniard.

Focus on Wings for Creating Chances –

Fulham place huge emphasis on good wide play as a method for creating goal-scoring chances. Despite this being a recurring theme, their opposition have continued to struggle to deal with it all season. This is down to the variety with which they exploit wide areas. The most basic of which involves Fulham's wingers or fullbacks receiving to feet and taking on their opponent one v one before delivering a low cross or cutback from the byline. This can be seen below, mainly featuring right-back Fredericks and right-winger Aluko. The second video shows Scott Malone receiving to feet and delivering to the box, something Fulham also make regular use of.

The third way Fulham exploit the wings is by building the play on one side, drawing their opponents block to shift across, and then switching to find a free man on the opposite side. They often use decoy runs in these situations to ensure the ball-far fullback on the opposition team is occupied and dragged infield, creating space for the overlapping run of the free man. The free man can then either have an attempt at goal or cross to the numbers arriving in the box.

Fulham also occasionally utilise the blindside in relation to the wings. One of the central midfielders, either Cairney or Johansen, or Aluko cutting in from the right, will attempt to receive the ball in between the opponent's line of defence and midfield before playing a through ball between the central defender and fullback to find a teammate's run, out of the eyeline of the fullback. This can be seen below.

Although most of their chances tend to come from good wide play leading to crosses or cutbacks, the technical ability of their central midfielders means they are capable of creating opportunities directly from central areas as well. Cairney and Johansen both score regularly from long-range but also utilise combinations through the middle to create openings, as shown below.

Defensive Approach:

Fulham conceded 57 goals in the league this season, 17 more than Newcastle. Given that both their fullbacks started their careers as wingers, and two of their midfield three are also mainly focused on attacking, Fulham's extremely attacking approach is bound to come at a cost. There is often too much space in behind the fullbacks, and this combined with the lack of defensive support from the central midfielders, leaves them open on the counter-attack. It is therefore somewhat unfair to criticise the central defenders for their occasionally sloppy performances. They don't get much protection but regardless, their individual errors and poor positioning remain a weak-link in Jokanovic's team.

Pressing Variations with Triggers –

As with most attacking sides, Fulham operate a high defensive line and implement variations of the press, responding to certain triggers before harrying their opponents in an attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch. Usually, the attackers press from the front using passing-lane orientated pressure to force a long ball or mistake. If the opposition play lateral passes or take a bad touch, this acts as a trigger for one of the attackers to press the man on the ball aggressively to complete a turnover. The video below shows an example of this.

Three Career Defining Games
14/15 Championship- Brighton 0-2 Watford – Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra scored as Watford clinched promotion. Both players had been crucial to the side's success all season scoring 21 and 16 times respectively. Watford had been away from the top tier for almost 10 years and as mentioned previously, the win against Brighton made Jokanovic only the third foreign manager to gain promotion to the Premier League. The Hornets went on to finish second to Bournemouth after drawing against Sheffield Wednesday on the final day.

16/17 Championship- Newcastle 1-3 Fulham – A brace from teenager Ryan Sessegnon and a long-range strike from Tom Cairney ensured an impressive victory for Fulham at League leaders Newcastle. Sessegnon's day could have been even better too after he was brought down for a penalty. However, despite his wish to complete a hattrick, the ball was taken off him by defender Tim Ream, who struck wide. The win was not only a show of just how capable Jokanovic and his team are, it also brought them within two points of the play-off places, with a game in hand.

16/17 FA Cup- Fulham 4-1 Hull City – Despite fielding a near full-strength team, Hull couldn't contain Fulham's attacking threat. Goals from Aluko, Martin, Sessegnon and Johansen helped Jokanovic overcome Premier League opposition and new Tiger's boss Marco Silva. The emphatic victory set up a fifth round tie at home to Spurs, a game which would mark the end of Fulham's cup run.

Three Key Players Developed
Scott Malone – Before joining from Cardiff last summer, Malone had drifted from club to club, never really nailing down a definite position. Slavisa Jokanovic decided he would play him as an attacking fullback, and it's paid off. As mentioned previously, the Scot is one of Fulham's most important attacking outlets, earning him a place in the Championship Team of the Year this season. He is perhaps the best crosser in the league and having played much of his career as a winger, Malone is also an excellent dribbler. The role he has been given by Jokanovic has undoubtedly got the best out of him.

Ryan Sessegnon – At just 16, Sessegnon was given his debut by Jokanovic at the start of the season. He became the first player in the football league born in the 2000s to score in a first team game, as well as becoming the youngest ever championship scorer. He is expected to develop into a left back over time and has been likened to Ashley Cole. Despite interest from every top team in the Premier League, his manager appears to have convinced him to remain under his guidance for the time being with Sessegnon expected to sign his first professional contract this month.

Tom Cairney – Having been released from boyhood club Leeds United at the age of 16 for being too small, Cairney joined up with the Academy at Hull City. It was there that he made his breakthrough before moving on to Blackburn in 2013. Having impressed at Ewood Park, the 26 year old made the move south to join Fulham in the summer of 2015 for around £3million. This season saw the Scotland International become one of the most impressive midfielders in the Championship, scoring 9 goals and assisting 3. Much like Malone, the system and style of play implemented by Jokanovic is seeing him fulfil his potential.


Opposition Camp

Read what Reading manager Jaap Stam had to say in his press conference ahead of the Play-Off Semi Finals.

"It's been a great season. Ending up third in the league is a great result and the boys have done very well.

"We've spoken many times about what they've done this season and the mentality that we have in this group. But at the end of the day, everybody wants to win trophies, prizes. Everybody wants to end up somewhere.

"We've been in the top-six all season, we've finished up there and now we go into the Play-Offs against a very good side in Fulham. It's going to be interesting. I'm looking forward to it!

"Within the season you play a lot of games, 46 across the league season. And if you lose a game, you can look to the 30 odd we still have to play and try to improve.

"But in these games, you need to do it! It's two games – and if you want to go up, you have to do well, you have to be the better team over the two legs.

"That brings a different vibe, atmosphere to the game. We will want to play our own game, we want to keep playing how we have been throughout the season, with just maybe a few details a bit different here and there. But we want to keep doing the same things we have been doing all season.

"There is a lot of attention on this game and importance in terms of where we can end up. But these are the moments you play for as a player, the moments you want to have, moments you enjoy.

"We will keep preparing the players as best we can, and come Saturday we will see if what we have done was the right choice.

"However, as a manager and coaches, you can give them loads of advice, but on the day the players have to do the right things and make the right choices. When they step out there, they need to do it."


READING FC: Liam Moore hits back at bookmakers for writing Royals off ahead of play-offs

LIAM MOORE hit back at pundits and bookmakers who have written Reading FC off ahead of today's first-leg play-off clash against Fulham.

Moore, who had a birds-eye view of Leicester City's 5000/1 miracle last season when the Foxes secured the Premier League title, suggested Reading are more than capable of defying the odds.

Today they face the Cottagers (5.30pm ko live on Sky Sports 1), who have already been tipped as favourites to win this season's play-offs, with Reading considered as outsiders, despite Royals finishing third in the league.

"It's an enjoyable place to be," declared Moore.

"Not many people thought we would be where we are this season but the stats don't lie, we finished in third position.

"It's been a fantastic season and if people want to write us off without a ball being kicked in the play-offs then that's fine.

"Pundits and bookmakers aren't always correct. I was around a 5000/1 miracle last season so I don't look into the odds.

"It's two sets of 11 players and the subs and the squad. The best squad will win over the two sets of games.

"We are going to continue to work hard and see where it takes us."

Despite being thumped 5-0 on their last visit to Craven Cottage, Moore insisted the players are ready to put in a better performance this time around.

"We looked at previous games and different patterns of movement," the 24-year-old added.

"That was a bad game for us but we've moved on a lot as a team, we've grown and we've matured.

"It was a very different team on the day with injuries and suspensions so we can't look into that too much."

Fans urged Reading to secure third place so the second-leg of the play-off semi-finals will be played at Madejski Stadium next Tuesday.

And Moore insisted it is vital Reading achieve a positive result at Craven Cottage and use their home-form to their advantage.

"There is no away goals in the play-offs so you can write that side of it off," he asserted.

"But if we can go there and get a positive result, with our fortunes at home this season it will be very good for us.

"Training has been good and the lads are in good spirits.

"We know it's going to be difficult but we're ready to kick on."