IT’S ALL TO PLAY FOR

Hon­ours even af­ter Roy­als frus­trate Ful­ham

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Dunlavy

FUL­HAM were favourites to beat Read­ing in the play-offs – but no­body told Roy­als boss Jaap Stam.

The for­mer Manch­ester United de­fender’s game plan frus­trated Ful­ham in yes­ter­day’s Cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nal first leg.

Jor­dan Obita gave Read­ing the lead be­fore Tom Cair­ney lev­elled for Ful­ham. The Roy­als sur­vived the last ten min­utes with ten men af­ter skip­per Paul McShane was sent off.

Ful­ham boss Slav­isa Jokanovic said: “Ev­ery­thing is open. The chance is still 50-50.”

READ­ING boss Jaap Stam in­sists his men can win through to Wem­b­ley with­out Paul McShane af­ter the Roy­als’ skip­per saw red.

Pegged back by Tom Cair­ney’s header af­ter Jor­dan Obita had given the visi­tors a con­tro­ver­sial lead, Read­ing’s rear­guard ac­tion was un­der­mined when McShane was dis­missed for a knee-high hack on Kevin McDon­ald.

Obita also left the pitch on a stretcher with a twisted an­kle but Stam is con­fi­dent that nei­ther man will be missed for Tues­day’s sec­ond-leg at the Made­jski.

“Macca is very im­por­tant for us,” ad­mit­ted the Dutch­man. “Not only as a player, but also the men­tal­ity he brings to the game.

“But dur­ing the sea­son he had some in­juries and other play­ers stepped up. We can still win a game with­out him.

“Was it a red card? I’d have pre­ferred a yel­low. But yes, he hits the player. He doesn’t do it on pur­pose. He’s com­mit­ted to the chal­lenge, goes for the ball and their player nicked it in front of him. Un­for­tu­nately he hit him on the knee.

“But we trust our squad. It’s the same with Jor­dan. We’d like him to be fit but if he isn’t some­one else can come and do a job.”

Read­ing cer­tainly did a job on Ful­ham. The Cot­tagers are the divi­sion’s joint-high­est scor­ers and Stam – rarely gung-ho at the best of times – wasn’t about to start play­ing with fire.

A five-man back­line. Nig­gly fouls. Time-wast­ing tac­tics. Read­ing set out to spoil and frus­trate – and largely suc­ceeded.

Though typ­i­cally slick and dan­ger­ous go­ing for­ward, the home side strug­gled to create chances at their usual rate.

Cair­ney curled wide from range. Scott Malone and Floyd Ayite thumped over. The one time Read­ing were carved open, Sone Aluko shanked waste­fully wide.

Dur­ing a cagey first half, it seemed a gritty 0-0 was the limit of the Roy­als’ am­bi­tions. In re­al­ity, it prob­a­bly was. Then came the game’s first flash­point. McShane cer­tainly took Jo­hansen out; the

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

LEVELLER: Tom Cair­ney nods home Ful­ham’s equaliser

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

ALL-SQUARE: Tom Cair­ney scores Ful­ham’s equaliser and cel­e­brates with team-mates, inset

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