The chances of it being an all Welsh Championship play-off final between Cardiff and Swansea look increasingly likely after Cardiff’s stalemate at Reading’s Majedski Stadium tonight. Not many people would have bet on a 0-0 draw in both semi-finals – the first time this has happened – especially as all four sides have been scoring a lot of goals lately.
But if tension amongst fans is high, quite likely the players are feeling it too. This was a bruising encounter, with many Cardiff players taking knocks, including their influential captain, Craig Bellamy, who had to leave the field after just 17 minutes. This was definitely a blow for Cardiff, who were looking strongest until this point. Reading seemed to take control, at least for most of the rest of the first half, with Cardiff lacking a leader figure.
But although there were several good opportunities for each side, neither quite had the discipline to thoroughly test the opposition’s keeper. Whittingham for Cardiff shot just wide from a free kick, and had another narrow miss. Reading may have sensed that Cardiff’s keeper Bywater was a weakness, as they tried one or two long range efforts in vain. Bothroyd was ever-present for Cardiff, but sometimes was too keen to test the referee’s ability to suspend disbelief, rather than test Reading’s keeper, Federici.
Towards the end, inevitably you sensed that Cardiff might be content with a draw, as they looked increasingly defensive. Starting with McNaughton in the middle of the back line, rather than in his usual position of attacking wing back was in itself a defensive move, although it turned out that this worked very well. McNaughton put himself, on occasion his whole body, in the way of many a Reading forward, saving Cardiff frequently, and for me was a clear man of the match.
Cardiff have to feel positive about this result, and especially about the fact that Reading did not seem to have a sufficiently strong strike force to make things difficult in the home leg. Let’s hope Bellamy can recover in time, but Chopra, although relatively quiet in this game after coming on for the injured captain, is a more than adequate replacement. Come Tuesday, Cardiff will know who their potential opponents at Wembley will be, and if it is Swansea, let’s hope the players are fired up for what could be a monumentally massive day out in London!