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Yann Kermorgant sends Reading to Wembley in play-off win over Fulham | Football


Reading are one game away from a return to the Premier League after beating Fulham on home turf to reach the Championship play-off final at Wembley. The Royals’ remarkable season under Jaap Stam continues, with the Reading manager mobbed and his players serenaded by supporters who flooded the pitch at the final whistle.

On a night when an unlikely promotion push gathered further momentum, Reading made another statement, announcing that the Chinese brother and sister, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, have become the club’s majority shareholders with immediate effect following months of uncertainty.

On the field, Yann Kermorgant’s second-half penalty ultimately gained Reading passage to a fourth play-off final, and the chance to return to the top flight after relegation in 2013. The Frenchman, who infamously missed the decisive spot-kick for Leicester City against Cardiff City in the 2010 play-offs, stepped up to dispatch his 19th goal of the season. It was not the best penalty but it was hard and low, and most importantly beyond the Fulham goalkeeper, Marcus Bettinelli.

According to Stam there was never any doubt that Kermorgant, who left the field to a spine-tingling standing ovation, would convert from 12 yards. “Yann was the only player to score a penalty in training yesterday [on Monday] so we were confident he would score,” he said with a wry smile. “That is why I hoped it would be finished in 90 minutes. You can never get close to the ambience or the crowd in the stadium or get that exact same feeling.”

The sense of occasion was clear from the off however: a rousing rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, pitchside pyrotechnics as the players walked out and – although in vain – supporters being warned of the ramifications of entering the pitch at full-time.

These teams have got to know each other at close quarters, with this the fifth meeting between the two this season, including a game that was fogged off here in December. This one, though, had significantly more riding on it.

Stam said he will give his players a couple of days off before returning to training for the final on 29 May and is keen to avoid any “holiday vibes”. Fulham, though, may just seek some sun after a disappointing end to an impressive campaign. The Cottagers have never won a play-off match. “We are the best team but we are not going to play the final,” the Fulham manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, said. “I am proud of my team, how they played all the season. We lost but I can be proud of how my team played against Reading. We take the risks, we created many things but we were not clinical enough.”

Jokanovic also insisted he expects to keep his best players at the club next season including Tom Cairney, who went close to finding an opener after the marauding Ryan Fredericks was tripped by Tyler Blackett. The Fulham captain sent a curling, devious free-kick towards goal, forcing Ali al-Habsi to save superbly with both hands. The goalkeeper was not finished there either, denying Sone Aluko from close range off the rebound.

Reading started the second half as they did the first, explosively and determined to make a lasting mark on this tie. Lewis Grabban sent a tame header goalwards at the end of a sweeping move but the real drama was still to come when Martin Atkinson, the referee, pointed to the penalty spot after seeing Tomas Kalas’s handball. The Chelsea loanee shook his head but appeared to handle when accompanying Kermorgant into the box.

The penalty deflated Fulham, who could have fallen further behind but for a slice of good fortune. Chris Gunter’s low cross was met by the onrushing John Swift but he failed to strike with any conviction and the ball struck Bettinelli, who in truth knew very little about it. With the hour mark fast approaching Jokanovic made changes, introducing the 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon and Lucas Piazon, before throwing on Chris Martin.

Reading retreated deeper and deeper as Fulham refused to relent in attack. Aluko twisted and turned away from Joey van den Berg down the right before finding Kevin McDonald but his strike was magnificently tipped over by al-Habsi. His team-mates showed their appreciation before the goalkeeper was again called into action, this time rescuing the ball from Martin’s feet inside the six-yard box. Bettinelli joined the late flurry of attacks throughout five added minutes but it was Reading who prevailed and whose fans inevitably filled the pitch.



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