Cardiff host Fulham in Monday night's Championship play-off semi-final first leg. Mark O'Haire reckons the Bluebirds are underrated in the Welsh capital...
"City come into this clash having suffered only six defeats in 30 league outings under Neil Harris’ watch, boasting a W6-D7-L2 return on home soil"
Cardiff v Fulham
Monday July 27, 19:45
Cardiff easily overcome Hull
Cardiff reached the Championship play-offs with a comfortable 3-0 win over rock-bottom Hull on Wednesday night. An early goal from Junior Hoilett put the Bluebirds ahead and Sean Morrison's free header from a corner gave Neil Harris' outfit a commanding 2-0 half time lead that could easily have been more. Danny Ward completed the rout late on.
A top-six finish had looked extremely unlikely when Harris took charge of the capital club in November with Cardiff 14th in the division. However, only Leeds (62), Brentford (57) and Fulham (55) have collected more points than the Bluebirds (52) during Harris' 30 fixtures as boss with the Welsh side suffering only six defeats (W14-D10-L6) in that same sequence.
Speaking post-match, Harris admitted, "It's a great credit to the group to have made it. It's a huge achievement. There is a little bit of pressure on us but there is huge pressure on Fulham, a team that should be in the Premier League with the money that they have spent and even now are spending. We are the form side, but the league table doesn't lie."
Fulham held in midweek
Fulham concluded their regular Championship campaign with a 1-1 draw at Wigan. With second-placed West Brom picking up a point elsewhere, the Cottagers knew even victory at the DW Stadium would mean missing out on automatic promotion with a place in the play-offs the most likely scenario despite a decent final flourish to the season (W5-D2-L0).
Scott Parker's side fell behind in the first-half, although Neeskens Kebano's sublime free-kick drew the West Londoners level soon after the interval. Wigan then spurned plenty of opportunities to secure top honours, with Cottagers' keeper Marek Rodak foiling the Latics' best attempt from five yards out, one of seven on-target attempts from the hosts.
Parker refused to be downbeat post-match, saying, "I think we've been realistic. To bring the season to the last game was a massive positive for us. We lost two games coming out of lockdown and since then we've been in very good form, the team have done remarkably well - that's seven unbeaten now. We go into the play-offs in form and with momentum."
Bluebirds underrated in the capital?
Cardiff have managed to win just one of their last 11 matches with Fulham in all competitions (W1-D5-L5), a 4-2 triumph when both sides were in the Premier League in 2018.19.The Bluebirds earned a solitary point in their two tussles with the Cottagers during the regular season, during a 1-1 draw the duo played out in Wales way back in August.
Cardiff 3.002/1 have toppled the Championship's top two in the Welsh capital this season, as well as posting W3-D5-L1 here against the top-10. City come into this clash having suffered only six defeats in 30 league outings under Neil Harris' watch, boasting a W6-D7-L2 return on home soil. Meanwhile, only Leeds and Brentford (7) won more matches post-lockdown than the Bluebirds (6).
Fulham 2.608/5 concluded their campaign on the back of their longest unbeaten streak of the season (W5-D2-L0). The Whites are entering the play-offs for the third time in the last four years and head here having been beaten only five times on their travels this term (W8-D10-L5). Even so, Scott Parker's side have posted uninspiring W3-D5-L3 figures at the top-half.
Cardiff have found the back of the net in 24 of their 30 tussles during Neil Harris' reign, and the Bluebirds have kept 11 clean sheets in that same sample. Half of those fixtures paid out for Under 2.5 Goals backers, as have 7/11 (64%) matches here when City have welcomed top-half rivals to their Welsh base this term.
Fulham's away days have largely been low-scoring affairs with an average of only 2.00 goals per-game. A chunky 16 (70%) landed for Under 2.5 Goals backers with only two of those 23 matches generating Over 3.5 Goals profit. The Cottagers managed to score twice or more in just five of those games as guests, doing so only once against fellow top-hlaf teams.
With the Whites' sloppy road record in-mind, I'm happy to keep Cardiff onside in a tight encounter on Monday night by taking Cardiff Double Chance and Under 3.5 Goals at 1.90. EFL play-off semi-final first legs are notoriously cagey - 68% producing fewer than three goals this decade - and the Bluebirds appear a touch underrated in the pre-match markets considering their eye-catching form under Harris.
For more insight on the playoffs from Mark and the rest of the Football...Only Bettor panel, check out this week's podcast
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 175.00 pts
Returned: 194.40 pts
P/L: +19.40 pts