Every Fulham supporter remembers the Whites’ last visit to the Madejski Stadium. The soul-crushing Play-Off semifinal defeat. The controversial penalty. The one-goal loss. The tightest of margins. The ubiquitous image of a teary-eyed Tom Cairney applauding the Fulham fans amid a Reading pitch invasion.
In the words of the man himself: “pure disappointment.” In an interview last week with the Evening Standard, Tom Cairney described the match as “the lowest I’ve ever felt on a football pitch.”
Cairney and his teammates had given their all throughout the entire 46-match season, only to see their hopes dashed in terrible fashion at the Madejski. The Whites had travelled to Reading with the honors even at 1-1 after the first leg, yet failed to conjure up a decisive performance when it mattered most.
Just three months later, Fulham now arrive at the home of the Royals in a decidedly different position. Fulham are favored to finish in the top two and have strengthened their squad; on the other hand, the bookies predict Reading won’t make the play-offs and they have began the season with a full-blown injury crisis.
Reading is also coming off an abject opening day loss to Queens Park Rangers, where they fell 2-0 in a performance devoid of any shape or purpose. To add injury to insult, the Royals were so hit by poor fitness that they only fielded six substitutes; three of which were untested youth players.
Fulham frustratingly tallied a 1-1 home draw against Norwich, failing to kill off the match and conceding in the dying minutes.
The Cottagers require a victory away at Reading, something they haven’t done in nine years, in order to keep up with the Championship pace-setters. Going away to the soulless ground that is the Madejski and coming away with all three points is a must for Fulham; these are the types of matches the Whites need to win if they want to improve on last season’s disappointment.
Fulham will need to attack Reading from the off and take the match to the home side, just as they did against the Canaries. Neeskens Kebano, who was impressive last weekend, deserves to maintain his starting role and Aboubakar Kamara should be handed his first start.
The pace of a frontline of Kebano, Kamara, and Floyd Ayite would be simply terrifying; coupled with Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon, Fulham have the potential to run injury-ravaged teams like Reading ragged. Add in the suspension of Reading centre-half Tiago Ilori, and Fulham possess the firepower to run the Royals rampant.
In addition, the return of Kevin McDonald to the centre of the park will be welcomed. Stefan Johansen endured a difficult match against Norwich last week, and after Oliver Norwood was substituted Fulham struggled to control the game. McDonald’s presence will offer the Whites far more stability and give them the ability to effectively close out leads.
The performance of the Whites on Saturday will tell volumes on what Fulham is capable of this year. A win at the site of last season’s heartbreak would not only provide a vital three points; it would also offer a massive psychological boost.
Last season Fulham produced some famous away performances at Newcastle, Norwich, and Huddersfield. This year it is time for a repeat of those swashbuckling away wins at the Madejski. With the right matchplan and a motivated 90 minutes, Fulham can produce a season-defining win in the first two weeks of the campaign.
Traveling away to Reading is rarely a dull affair, here’s to a first away win since 2008. COYW!