Reading were worthy winners in this week’s second Championship semi-final second leg against Cardiff City, beating the Welsh side 3-0.
Having ended goalless at the Madejski Stadium only four days before, the match in the Welsh capital promised to be an equally tight affair, especially as the two league games had ended in stalemates as well.
However, the second leg could hardly have been more of a contrast, as Reading totally dominated the Bluebirds to seal a date at Wembley on 30th May against Swansea City.
Despite the absence of star striker Craig Bellamy, Dave Jones’ side were expected just to edge the match, especially with a sell-out home support behind them.
For Reading, Jimmy Kebe’s thigh injury ruled him out meaning there was a start for Shaun Cummings, a player who had started the season completely out of the first team frame and was left in England when the Royals went on a pre-season training camp in Slovenia.
Cardiff edged the opening stages of the game, and had a couple of debatable calls for penalties, all of which were turned down by Howard Webb. The Royals stood firm though and were handed a slice of luck for their first goal.
Stephen Bywater came charging out of his area to clear a long ball forward but only succeeded in striking Shane Long who curled the loose ball into the empty net.
It was a catastrophic way for Cardiff to concede, but there was still plenty of time remaining.
However, the turning-point arguably came on the stroke of half-time, when Royals captain Matt Mills was tugged down in the penalty area at a corner, leaving Webb with no choice but to award the spot-kick.
Given the pressure he was under, Long showed real composure in doubling his tally in the game with a superbly taken penalty.
Had the score remained at 0-1, Cardiff would have felt they still had a realistic chance of getting back into the game, but at 0-2, Reading were almost in the final.
Surprisingly, Cardiff failed to exert constant pressure on the Royals backline, and failed to truly test Adam Federici.
Meanwhile, Brian McDermott’s side looked dangerous on the break, with Noel Hunt hitting the post and also firing just wide.
The match was sealed for Reading by Jobi McAnuff, who fired past Bywater to end the contest.
The final minutes were seen out and Cardiff were left to reflect on what might have been after looking destined to finish second only a month or so ago.
Reading’s remarkable rise continues and it would take a brave person to bet against them with the form that they are in right now.
Swansea will provide a stern test at Wembley in just over a week’s time, and former boss Brendan Rodgers will be eager to get the better of a side he knows very well.
The Royals will be happy to go into the game as underdogs, as was the case here, and will look to defy the critics once again.
And with Shane Long in the form of his life, it will need an excellent side to overcome the Royals, in what promises to be a cracking spectacle in the home of football.
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