38 min: Pack sprays a glorious left-to-right pass towards Bacuna, who fires through an empty Fulham box. Cardiff come again, Ward having a speculative pop from 30 yards. Nope. Cardiff are giving this a good go, though. A much better performance than Monday night’s effort already.
36 min: Morrison is booked for swinging an arm in Decordova-Reid’s face. The resulting free kick, out on the left, is a chance for Fulham to load the box. Bryan swings it in, and Nelson batters clear.
34 min: One corner leads to another, and the second’s a non-event. Cardiff try to counter in the basic fashion, hitting long for Ward, but the ball sails through harmlessly to Rodak. This match has a very pleasing basketball rhythm.
33 min: Cairney drifts in from the left and lays off to Knockaert, who drops a shoulder and curls powerfully towards the bottom left. Smithies does extremely well to turn around the post for a corner. What a save!
31 min: A potentially tie-saving tackle by Morrison, who keeps his team in it by poking the ball away from Decordova-Reid, nearly sent clear down the middle by Knockaert. Both teams are going full out for goals.
30 min: Christie opens his legs and tears down the right, reaching such speed that only Decordova-Reid can keep up in the middle. He can’t find the striker with his cross.
28 min: Vaulks swings another free kick into the Fulham box from the right. It’s claimed by Rodak. Kebano sashays down the left and cuts back for Christie, romping in from the other flank. Christie’s shot is blocked. This is great end-to-end entertainment!
27 min: Knockaert bustles down the right and wins a corner. The set piece leads to some pinball, and the ball drops to Onomah, in space just inside the box. He takes a whack towards the bottom right, and it looks like heading in, but the shot hits his own man Kebano! Heads are held in hands. A lucky break for Cardiff.
26 min: The game restarts, with everyone freshly hydrated. During the pause in play, Sky showed replays of the long throw that led to the corner that led to Cardiff’s goal. Vaulks had a foot in play when flinging it in. No doubt that’ll become a hot topic should Cardiff turn this around, but let’s not go there yet.
24 min: And that’s drinks!
23 min: Ralls knocks it long again. Cardiff are clearly working on Rodak’s nerves. The keeper stays on his line again, a good decision this time as he easily claims Morrison’s tame header.
22 min: Play restarts. Morrison is good to continue and is quickly back into the action. His busy work down the right allows Hoilett to drive up the wing again, and the winger is tripped by Bryan. Another set piece chance for Cardiff.
21 min: A long pause as ice is applied to Morrison’s neck. He’s clearly taken a sore one. A scrap of good news in that at least he doesn’t look dazed.
19 min: Ralls swings it long, hoping for a replay of the opening goal. But Rodak comes off his line this time, punching positively clear. He accidentally clashes with Morrison in mid-air, and play is stopped when the Cardiff defender lands awkwardly.
18 min: Hoilett dribbles with glue-on-boot brilliance down the right. He’s eventually sandwiched to the floor and this is a free kick for Cardiff just to the side of the Fulham box. Danger for Fulham, seeing Cardiff have scored 25 times from set pieces this season, plus another this evening.
16 min: Morrison quarterbacks a long diagonal pass towards Bennett on the left. The full back’s in acres, but Murphy had been holding Christie in the middle and a good situation for Cardiff goes up in needless smoke.
14 min: Fulham draw some pretty triangles down the left, Onomah at the centre of everything. Cardiff are struggling to get out of their final third right now.
13 min: Both players are fine to continue. What a body blow for Cardiff, who had their dream start ruined in a matter of seconds. Fulham rub it in by stroking the ball around in the calm style, forcing the visitors to do plenty of chasing on this extremely warm evening.
11 min: Nelson and Christie clash heads. Time for a breather, if nothing else. What a start to this match!
GOAL! Fulham 1-1 Cardiff City (Kebano 9); agg 3-1
Fulham come straight back at Cardiff. Decordova-Reed is allowed to race freely down the right. He fires low into the centre, where Kebano flips into the bottom left!
GOAL! Fulham 0-1 Cardiff City (Nelson 8); agg 2-1
The corner’s hit long. Rodak fails to come off his line. He claims he’s been impeded, but nope. Nelson rises highest, and slams a header into the top left! Game on! Except hold on, because …
7 min: Vaulks gets another go. His bouncing bomb loops over Nelson and Rodak is forced to tip over the bar. And from the resulting corner …
6 min: Vaulks launches a long throw into the Fulham mixer. It’s claimed by Rodak, but turns out it was a foul throw.
4 min: Cardiff try a couple of long passes, to no great effect. Both approaches have thus been laid out in plain sight already.
2 min: Cardiff won the toss, so they chose to turn Fulham around, meaning the hosts will attack the Hammersmith End in first half. Kebano heads in that very direction down the left, but is stopped in his tracks by Bacuna. The hosts then probe down the other flank through Monday’s hero Onomah. He lays off to Knockaert, who whistles a low shot towards the bottom right. It’s an easy gather for Smithies … but a lively start by the hosts.
Kick off: Fulham v Cardiff City (agg: 2-0)
And we’re off! Fulham get the second leg underway, but not before all players take a knee of solidarity, respect and love. Black lives matter.
The teams are out! It’s a positively delightful summer’s evening by the side of the dirty old rolling river. Craven Cottage is one of the most picturesque grounds in the country at the worst of times, so it’s a sight for sore eyes tonight. Fulham wear their famous white shirts, while Cardiff wear first-choice Bluebird blue. It’s a rare old aesthetic treat. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes!
Scott Parker talks! “We have given ourselves a very good opportunity but it’s half time in the tie, and we understand that. We need to produce a performance and get the job done. We’re playing against a wounded animal in Cardiff, having lost at home, so the game will bring something different and we need to be ready. Cardiff haven’t got a lot to lose, so we need to stamp our authority on the game.” He also reports that the missing Mitrovic “just wasn’t quite ready” after some tests yesterday and this morning. “We need to go into the game with players who are fully fit,” he adds while scratching his face. A little treat there for body language experts and conspiracy theorists. (It’s a minor hamstring issue.)
Some pre-match fighting talk from Neil Harris. “We quickly got over the disappointment of the first leg, and conceding the second goal so late. We put positivity back into the group, showing the boys some clips where we were good, and where we can improve and combat Fulham’s strengths. Also some positivity about our away record. Since January we’ve won six of our away games and scored two goals on four occasions. We’ve been strong away from home, and we have to take solace in that tonight. As professional sportsmen, anything is possible, and the players have faith in each other. That gives us belief. Scoring the first goal will add to that belief.”
Still no Aleksandar Mitrovic for Fulham, not even on the bench. The Championship leading scorer remains too much of an injury risk for Scott Parker, who names an unchanged Fulham side from Monday night.
Cardiff boss Neil Harris makes three changes. Will Vaulks, Josh Murphy and Danny Ward come in for Lee Tomlin, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Robert Glatzel.
Fulham: Rodak, Hector, Kebano, Cairney, Ream, De Cordova-Reid, Reed, Christie, Bryan, Knockaert, Onomah.
Subs: Bettinelli, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand, Sessegnon, McDonald, Johansen, Cavaleiro, Kamara.
Cardiff City: Smithies, Bacuna, Morrison, Nelson, Bennett, Pack, Vaulks, Ralls, Murphy, Hoilett, Ward.
Subs: Etheridge, Sanderson, Bamba, Smith, Tomlin, Whyte, Mendez-Laing, Paterson, Glatzel.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).
So much for a South Walian stramash in the Championship play-off final. Brentford did for Swansea City last night, and now it looks like a London derby will be on the cards instead.
Fulham are two goals to the good after a dominating second-half performance at the Cardiff City Stadium on Monday evening. Josh Onomah scored a remarkable goal of Maradonaesque poise and technique, while Neeskens Kebano curled in a fine free kick, and now Scott Parker’s side are within touching distance of Tuesday’s final.
Neil Harris’s Bluebirds are really up against it, not least because they’ve now been beaten 2-0 by Fulham twice in July already. But the state of play would be markedly different had Michael Hector not sensationally denied Robert Glatzel early on four days ago with an outrageous goal-line clearance. So it’s not as though Cardiff don’t have the tools to get back into this. Still, the fine margins between success and failure in professional sport, eh?
Fulham are hot favourites to seal the deal on a balmy night down by the river. Wembley is calling. Can the folk from faraway town Cardiff shock them? We’ll soon find out. It’s on!
Kick off: 7.45pm.
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