Fulham hold a two-goal lead coming into Thursday night's Championship play-off semi-final second leg at Craven Cottage and Mark O'Haire expects goals with Cardiff needing to attack...
"Cardiff have found the back of the net in 24 of their 31 tussles during Neil Harris’ reign"
Fulham v Cardiff
Thursday July 30, 19:45
First leg review
Fulham thoroughly outplayed Cardiff in the Welsh capital and scored two brilliant first-leg goals to take total command of their Championship play-off semi-final.
An evenly contested first half saw the hosts twice go close to taking the lead before Cottagers captain Tom Cairney clipped the post with a curling long-range effort. Josh Onomah then produced a moment of magic early in the second half, dancing his way past three statuesque Cardiff defenders before firing into the bottom corner.
Fulham were utterly dominant from that point, controlling possession to such an extent that Cardiff barely got a whiff of the ball, before Neeskens Kebano added a second potentially decisive strike in injury time with a beautiful free-kick.
Fulham finishing with a flourish
Wembley is within touching distance for Fulham following Monday night's eye-catching efforts after the interval at the Cardiff City Stadium. Scott Parker's troops had appeared ponderous in the opening exchanges, lacking intensity or patterns in possession, missing their cutting edge with top goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic absent through injury.
However, the Whites - who missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the campaign - had gathered momentum towards the end of the regular season with a seven-match unbeaten run came to the fore following Josh Onomah's standout solo effort.
With Mitrovic now due back for Thursday night's clash, Parker was understandably pleased with his side's performance, saying: "We weathered the storm early on and got a foothold in the game. I think we're well worthy of the two-goal lead at this stage. We worked our socks off and our foundation was built on concrete. This is only halfway through."
A kick in the nuts for Cardiff
Cardiff will need to summon every bit of the spirit which has seen them fight back from several trying situations under Neil Harris this season if they are to have any hope of booking their place in the play-off final after a chastening Monday night defeat.
The Bluebirds came into the fixture with the third best record in the Championship since the season's resumption (W6-D1-L2) to finish fifth. Nevertheless, one of those defeats came at the hands of Fulham, who Harris was eager to describe as the favourites for this tie pre-match because of their more expensively assembled squad.
Playing the underdog role, the capital club's subtle evolution of playing style under Harris was evident as the Bluebirds started positively, moving the ball swiftly and creating two early chances. However, promising signs soon dissipated as Fulham seized control of the clash in the second-half with Cardiff forced to chase shadows in a disappointing finale.
Speaking post-match, Harris said: "It's a real kick in the nuts. In the first 25 minutes we were very good but we have to take our chances when we're on top. In the second half we never really got going. We didn't build any sustained pressure and we made three changes to get some impetus, but by then we were 1-0 down."
Wembley in sight for Cottagers
Fulham have suffered a solitary defeat in their last 12 matches against Cardiff across all competitions (W6-D5-L1), with the sole reverse arriving when both sides were in the Premier League in 2018/19. The Cottagers have been 2-0 victors in both of their meetings with the Bluebirds since lockdown, running out cushy winners here as recently as July.
Fulham 2.021/1 are in the midst of their longest unbeaten streak of the season (W6-D2-L0) and the hosts will also be protecting the division's second-best home record (W15-D2-L6) on Thursday night. Scott Parker's side returned W7-D1-L3 when entertaining top-half rivals and only failed to score on three of 23 occasions at Craven Cottage since returning to this level.
Cardiff 4.10 gate-crashed the play-off positions following a fabulous run of results under Neil Harris. The Bluebirds were beaten only six times in 30 regular league fixtures under the former Millwall manager (W14-D10-L6), taking W8-D3-L4 on their travels - no second-tier side have earned more points on the road than Cardiff (27) in that same sample.
Both sides can oblige
Fulham have undoubtedly produced more expressive performances at Craven Cottage since returning to the Championship. The Whites have seen the Over 2.5 Goals 2.1211/10 barrier broken in 13/23 (57%) matches with Scott Parker's side getting on the scoresheet in all bar three outings at their West London base with home games averaging 2.87 goals overall.
Cardiff have found the back of the net in 24 of their 31 tussles during Neil Harris' reign, and although the Bluebirds have kept 11 clean sheets in that sample, the visitors have leaked at least twice in 12 of their overall 23 road trips, including four of five visits to top-six teams. Thirteen (57%) of their overall away days paid out in the Both Teams To Score column.
Considering the dynamics of the tie, plus play-off semi-final second leg trends where 56% of matches have delivered Both Teams To Score profit this decade, plus games averaging 2.52 goals, I'm happy to support goals at both ends with Both Teams To Score paying 1.9420/21. I'm expecting an onslaught from Cardiff as they search for a route back into this contest.
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 178.00 pts
Returned: 196.20 pts
P/L: +18.20 pts
Back Both Teams To Score at 1.94 in Fulham v Cardiff