They will play the winner of Sheffield Wednesday vs Huddersfield, but Fulham’s Tomas Kalas will be distraught
YANN KERMORGANT might want to keep his head down at home for the next few days.
The French veteran wrote himself into Reading folklore by firing in the penalty that sent the Berkshire side to the Championship play-off final.
But given he lives five minutes’ walk from Craven Cottage, his efforts will have been far from appreciated by locals in Fulham.
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The 35-year-old’s ice-cool spot-kick means the Cottagers have now failed to win any of the six play-off games they have had in their history.
But King’s Road regular Kermorgant will not care with he and his Royals team-mates just one game away from returning Reading to the Premier League after a four-year absence.
All that stands in their way is a one-off winner-takes-all tie at Wembley with either Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield, who face off at Hillsborough tonight.
And given NO ONE expected Jaap Stam and his players to get this far – the Dutchman himself said a tenth-placed finish would have been success in pre-season – who would bet against them hitting the jackpot in the £200million showdown a week on Monday?
This clash was vastly different to the first leg – which finished 1-1 after a tense encounter of few chances – as it kicked into life almost from the first whistle.
Reading started the brighter, fired up perhaps by the pyrotechnics on show as the two sides walked out.
April’s Championship Player of the Month Kermorgant almost put the hosts in front early on with a blast from 12 yards but was denied by a super stop by Marcus Bettinelli.
Ryan Fredericks then single-handedly swung the momentum back Fulham’s way, gliding in-field and letting rip with an effort which Ali Al Habsi spilled onto the post and away.
Key man Tom Cairney almost broke the deadlock just before the half hour.
The Newcastle target hit a glorious free-kick from 25 yards but it was met by an even better stop by Al Habsi, who then got up to deny Sone Aluko on the rebound and was rewarded by the Madejski singing his name.
It was to be the last good chance before the interval as players and fans headed inside, no doubt already considering the potential of penalties.
That prospect would have filled everyone with dread given both side’s comically bad record from 12 yards this season.
Between the pair of them, FIFTEEN of 25 spot-kicks had been missed – with Fulham boasting nine from 13 and Reading fluffing half of their 12.
What fans and players would not have expected was a penalty to come so soon after the break.
Tomas Kalas handled the ball under pressure from Kermorgant and Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot.
Kermorgant stepped up, confident as ever despite his side’s repeated issues in this position, and stroked the ball under a diving Bettinelli.
It exorcised the demons of his penalty gaffe in the play-off semi-final for Leicester seven years ago, where his panenka chip down the middle was comically caught by Cardiff keeper David Marshall.
The goal had the Mad Stad rocking – but one really should have been two moments later.
John Swift was the guilty party as he somehow weakly steered Chris Gunter’s cross straight at Bettinelli from four yards when it looked easier to score.
Slavisa Jokanovic responded by hauling off Neeskens Kebano and Floyd Ayite for Lucas Piazon and wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon, who turns 17 tomorrow (THURS).
But it was Chelsea loanee Piazon who had almost made the difference as his shot from Fredericks’ cross was blocked inches wide.
Kevin McDonald thought he had levelled when firing in from close range but was denied by a brilliant tip over by Al Habsi, who simply would not be beaten.
And when sub Chris Martin headed wide in six minutes of injury time, Slavisa Jokanovic knew the game was up as Stam’s men, Kermorgant and a pitch-invading crowd prepared for a right Royals knees-up at Wembley.