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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Fulham should trample Reading on way to final

Royals have selection dilemmas

Fulham could be celebrating
1 of 1

Sky Bet Championship playoff semi-final first leg
Sky Sports 2, 5.30pm Saturday

Fulham have played some scintillating football during the Sky Bet Championship run-in and their march towards the Premier League can continue with a victory over Reading in the first leg of their playoff semi-final at Craven Cottage.

The Cottagers sent out a message to two of their playoff rivals with victories away to Huddersfield (4-1) and Sheffield Wednesday (2-1) in the final three weeks of the season.

And they may also hold a psychological advantage over the Royals, after defeating them 5-0 in London in December.

Reading responded by defeating the Londoners 1-0 at the Madejski Stadium in January and have performed above expectations to finish third in the table.

Jaap Stam's side have thrown in a few poor performances along the way and six of their 13 league defeats have been by margins of three goals or more.

However, they been excellent at putting bad days behind them (no losing run in the league has extended beyond two matches) and they arrive at the post-season in good spirits after winning seven of their last nine games.

Experienced striker Yann Kermorgant has been a major influence, scoring 18 league goals and providing a focal point to Reading's patient style of play.

Kermorgant's weakness is a lack of pace but there is plenty of energy and athleticism elsewhere in the side.

Midfield trio George Evans, John Swift and Liam Kelly – aged 22, 21 and 21 – have grown in stature during the season and their steady improvement is putting pressure on tough-tackling American international Danny Williams, who is no longer assured of a place in the side.

Williams' experience may be handy in the playoffs, although his disciplinary record – ten yellow cards and one red (brandished in the 5-0 loss at Fulham) may be a cause for concern.

Stam also has a tough call to make over winger Garath McCleary, who is struggling with a groin strain, and will be weighing up different formations after switching to a back three for last Sunday's 4-2 success at Burton.

Flexibility can be a strength but at this stage of the season it is probably preferable to have nailed down your best team and formation.

Jokanovic's selection looks more straightforward. Perhaps his only consideration is whether to utilise the strength and aerial power of centre-forward Chris Martin or opt for a forward line full of pace and slick movement.

Either way, Fulham look a potent side. They have scored 85 goals this season – the most in the division along with Newcastle and Norwich and 17 more than Reading.

At their best they look the pick of the teams in the playoffs and they should be backed to take a lead into Tuesday's second leg in Berkshire.

2pts 4-6 Betfred, Ladbrokes

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Team news
Ragnar Sigurdsson and Michael Madl are unavailable through injuries but might be available for the final if Fulham make it to Wembley.

Garath McCleary (groin) is a doubt but Paul McShane could start after returning from injury last weekend.

Key stat
Reading have lost seven of their last 12 away games.

Stam also has a tough call to make over winger Garath McCleary, who is struggling with a groin strain, and will be weighing up different formations
E.W. Terms
Sky bet