Fulham vs Cardiff City preview: War of words between managers as Bluebirds have it all to do
Above: Neeskens Kebano of Fulham celebrates after scoring Fulham's second goal in the first leg
(Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Thursday evening will see the second leg of the second Championship play-off semi-final between Scott Parker's Fulham - who hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg - and Neil Harris' Cardiff City, who have an uphill task ahead of them if they are going to extend their season and put themselves 90 minutes from a return to the Premier League.

Despite being the form team going into the play-offs, Cardiff couldn't make home advantage count in the first leg on Monday night. Goals from Josh Onoma just after the break and Neeskens Kebano in stoppage time saw Fulham's chances of getting to Wembley massively increase.

Despite the odds being stacked against them as they travel to Craven Cottage, the Bluebirds will know that Brentford await them if they are able to overcome the two-goal deficit and advance to the play-off final. Cardiff boss Neil Harris was critical of Fulham's celebrations after the first leg, claiming that "it looked like they had won the tie".

  • Key battle

It would be easy to say that this is about the Cardiff attack versus the Fulham defence. Robert Glatzel couldn't find a way though the Fulham central defenders Tim Ream and Michael Hector in the first leg. An early goal for the Bluebirds could put this tie back in the balance, so expect the away side to be direct and aim to get Glatzel on the ball in the area where he can be dangerous.

However, it will also be the midfield where the game will be won. Lee Tomlin can be influential in the midfield for the Bluebirds, but it will be down to the Cottagers' defensive midfielders Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed to make sure that the creativity is stifled through the middle.

  • Previous meeting

The last two fixtures between these sides - one a couple of weeks before the end of the season, and the other more recently on Monday night - have finished with Fulham being victorious.

After a goalless first half in the Welsh capital on Monday night, two moments of brilliance gave Parker's side the victory in the first leg. Onomah's outstanding solo effort put Fulham on their way before Kebano's stunning free kick in the dying minutes of the first leg sealed the win for the Cottagers.

As highlighted by Dan Morgan in the preview for the first leg, Cardiff's only recent victory over Fulham in October 2018 in the Premier League. The six goal thriller saw Cardiff run out 4-2 winners that day.

No team has ever come back from a two-goal first-leg deficit to win a Championship play-off tie. However, in June, Northampton Town lost 2-0 to Cheltenham Town in the home leg of their League Two play-off semi-final. They recovered to win the away leg 3-0 and went on to gain promotion. Cardiff will take heart from that into the second leg.

  • Team News

Ivan Cavaleiro is Fulham's only long-term injury concern going into the second leg, but Scott Parker will be hesitant when considering making changes to his side following a dominant first leg.

However, should Aleksandar Mitrovic come back to spearhead the Fulham attack, Bobby Reid would likely drop down to the bench in what could be the only potential change for the away side.

For Cardiff, Neil Harris could recall Josh Murphy to the side, potentially swapping him with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing on the right side of midfield.

The Bluebirds will still be without Isaac Vassell, although long-term absentee Greg Cunningham is reportedly back to full training ahead of the second leg.

  • Predicted XI

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Christie, Ream, Hector, Bryan; Reed, Cairney; Knockaert, Onomah, Kebano; Mitrovic.

Cardiff City (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Bacuna, Morrison, Nelson, Bennett; Ralls, Pack; Murphy, Tomlin, Hoilett; Glatzel.

  • Manager's thoughts

Scott Parker spoke ahead of the game about Neil Harris's comments after the first leg which seemed to suggest he was unhappy with the Fulham celebrations. 

"Neil's obviously said a lot over the last week and few weeks," said the Fulham boss.

"I didn't see anything that was over the top. Certainly at the end of the game I just see a professional team that understood there's only half this tie done to be honest with you.

"Regarding the goals and the celebrations, yeah of course I see players who were pleased, and rightly so, to score two goals away from home.

"I think at the end of the game I see a real professionalism about us. We understand this is only halfway through this tie and we know there will be a challenge on Thursday. We will brace ourselves for that."

Harris himself suggested the pressure is on Fulham, not his side. 

"We have to dust ourselves down and go again on Thursday," Harris said.

"I said to the players that the play-off finals I've made, we've been losing and we're at half-time and we're losing the game.

"Fulham are celebrating like they've won the tie. We have to go to Craven Cottage and we have to be positive and that first goal is going to be key in that game.

"It's an uphill battle now, but we have been written off time and time again this season and come back," he added.

"Fulham are now huge favourites, but they have everything to lose and we have everything to gain.

"There was a 2-0 deficit in the League Two play-offs. That does not mean it will happen for us but ultimately we need to be positive."

  • Betting odds

Fulham are evens to win at home, with Cardiff the outsiders at 11/4. The draw is 23/10, according to Paddy Power. Fulham are 1/80 on to advance to the final, whereas Cardiff are 14/1 to upset the Cottagers and qualify for the right to face Brentford, who defeated Swansea City 3-1 in the first semi-final on Wednesday night. To follow the game on VAVEL, check in with Lewis Browning's Live coverage that will bring you all the action - team announcements, score updates and live commentary - from an hour before kick off.

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