Football fixtures are thin on the ground this Thursday as many of the top leagues across Europe wind down their 2019/20 campaigns. There is one game of note from London, however, and it promises to be a thrilling contest. Fulham and Cardiff City meet in the playoff semi-final second leg with all to play for as the teams battle it out for a spot at Wembley early next month.
Fulham enjoy home advantage and carry a 2-0 aggregate lead into the contest following a comfortable win across the border in Wales at the weekend. The Cottagers find themselves in a commanding position and many fans will dream of a return to the Premier League in September, but the home dressing room know there’s still much work to be done before they’ll be allowed to celebrate. Across the hall and Cardiff aren’t dead and buried just yet.
Thursday’s match will be the 67 recorded meeting of Fulham and Cardiff in competitive action but not many games in the past have been quite as important as this one. Fulham lead the head-to-head stats on 28 wins against the 25 for Cardiff and 13 draws. The winner of this semi-final will progress to the final where they’ll be 90 minutes away from the Premier League. The losers on Thursday will be forced to watch the decider as little more than football fans.
Cottagers enjoy a two-goal advantage
Fulham finished the Championship regular season in fourth place, just two points behind West Brom in second and automatic promotion to the Premier League. A tough one to take for everyone connected to the Craven Cottage side, knowing one of the two draws in their last three games cost them the silver medal but they must put that disappointment behind them and rally to reach the final. The finished the campaign on a high, winning three and drawing two of their final five games and enter on an unbeaten run that stretches back to 27 June when going down 3-0 at Elland Road.
Since that defeat against the champions, Fulham have scored 14 goals, including the 5-3 destruction of Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month when last playing at home. That was a real show of strength from the Cottagers who blew away a decent Owls team with Kebano scoring two, Mitrovic getting a double and De Cordova-Reid chipping in with the spare. Anything close to a repeat performance on Thursday will see them book a place in the final but Fulham know they don’t have to go chasing the midweek win.
Scott Parker’s men scored a stunning 2-0 win over Cardiff City on Monday evening to tip the balance in their favour. They are now just 90 minutes away from a place in the playoff final and know even a narrow defeat at home would send them through. Parker and his boys will be eager to build momentum if they do make it to Wembley, however, so they are unlikely to take their foot off the gas and simply defend their lead. The Cottagers won the first leg at a canter and will believe they have what it takes to kill things off on their own patch.
Bluebirds must go on the attack
A strong finish to the season saw Cardiff hijack the promotion playoff places and they are now in the running for a quickfire return to the top tier of English football after suffering relegation last term. The Welsh side have valuable experience of upsetting the odds at this stage of the campaign but even the most dedicated of fans understand their club are up against it here. Craven Cottage is never an easy place to visit when needing a win and going there needing to overturn a two-goal deficit will be the biggest task of Cardiff’s season.
The Bluebirds finished the campaign fifth in the table with 73 points on the board which was three better than Nottingham Forest down in seventh. Three wins in their last three league starts secured the extended season and they would’ve been confident going into Monday night’s home tie against Fulham at the Cardiff City Stadium. Having hammered Hull City at the same venue just five days before many Championship pundits had Bluebirds picked to secure a home win and pile pressure on their opponents but the first leg didn’t go to plan.
Cardiff fell behind to an opening goal from Onomah early in the second half before Kebano fired home a second with 91 minutes on the clock. The second goal was important as it means Cardiff now face an uphill struggle in the English capital. 1-0 wouldn’t have been the end of the world but a 2-0 first-leg defeat at home has Cardiff staring at elimination. They now must go on the attack from the first whistle and ensure they get the opening goal of the night. If they are able to do that then this match will become a lot more interesting.
Fulham v Cardiff City prediction
This is close to an ideal scenario for Fulham and their supporters. They can go in search of a goal to kill Cardiff off early or they can sit back, defend well, and frustrate their opponents before aiming to punish them on the break. The Cottagers hold all the aces here and will take heart from the fact they have kept a clean sheet in five of their seven games this month, including two against Cardiff.
The Bluebirds finished the season strongly, but they could pay a hefty price for losing that late goal on Monday night. They can’t afford to take unnecessary risks, but the Welsh club must go on the attack and push their hosts onto the backfoot early. If they are able to get the first goal of the night, it’ll be interesting to see how Fulham react.
The home win seems to be the peaking result in the pre-match betting market with odds of 97/100 offered on Fulham. The draw is 245/100 or there’s 14/5 about Cardiff claiming an away win.
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