Fulham booked their place in an all-London Championship play-off final on Thursday, despite losing 2-1 to Cardiff City at Craven Cottage.
In a pulsating start to the game, Curtis Nelson's eighth minute header was cancelled out just 24 seconds later when Neeskens Kebano converted Bobby Decordova-Reid's cross. This level of excitement was not sustained throughout the first half, although Anthony Knockaert did force two good saves out of Alex Smithies.
Neil Harris made a double change at the break, bringing on Lee Tomlin and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, and the pair made an immediate impact. Cardiff started quickly and a goalmouth scramble caused by Sean Morrison's long throw eventually led to Tomlin forcing the ball home.
As the game reached its conclusion both sides had good chances to score, only to be denied by some goalkeeping heroic from Smithies and Marek Rodak respectively. In the end, Tomlin's goal would be the last of the game as Fulham held on to secure a 3-2 win on aggregate.
Here's 90min's verdict on another exciting evening of play-off action.
Key Talking Point
They may have eventually got the job done but Fulham's evening could have been a lot more comfortable had they been able to deal with Sean Morrison's long throw.
Each missile-like delivery was greeted with sweaty palms and fearful eyes by the Cottagers' defence and each of the Bluebirds' goals were either directly or indirectly a result of the defender's secret weapon.
If Brentford want to give themselves the best chance of winning the all London play-off final next Tuesday, their full backs should get on the weights to increase their arm power. Long throw-ins are clearly Scott Parker's side's Achilles heel.
That was not good for the blood pressure, but.— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) July 30, 2020
WE'RE GOING TO WEMBLEY!!! pic.twitter.com/YXyN6lf0g8
Fulham Player Ratings
Starting XI: Rodak (8); Christie (6), Hector (6), Ream (7), Bryan (7); Reed (6), Cairney (7), Onomah (7); Knockaert (7), Reid (8*), Kebano (8).
Substitutes: Kamara (7), Le Marchand (6), Odoi (6).
Stepping into the considerable void left by Aleksandar Mitrovic's absence through injury,
Decordova-Reid was tasked with leading the line on Thursday night.
The 27-year-old did a sterling job against his former employers, setting up Fulham's decisive goal and playing his false nine role to perfection.
Have a drink every time the commentator says Decordova-Reid ?— liam davies (@liamjohndavies) July 30, 2020
Key Talking Point
They may have fallen at the second to last hurdle, but Harris can still be immensely proud of the job he has done at Cardiff thus far.
When he took over the Bluebirds were 14th, lacking inspiration and well adrift of the play-off places. The fact that they were even playing this game is a triumph but that will do little to soften the blow of their elimination.
It is now imperative that Cardiff keep hold of their key players and invest well in the transfer market as they look to go one better next season and secure a return to the Premier League.
Cardiff Player Ratings
Starting XI: Smithies (8); Bacuna (5), Morrison (7), Nelson (7), Bennett (6); Vaulks (6), Pack (6), Ralls (7); Hoilett (5), Ward (6), Murphy (6).
Substitutes: Mendez-Laing (7), Tomlin (7).
After replacing Neil Etheridge as Cardiff's number one partway through the season, Smithies has been one of the Bluebirds' best performers.
Against Fulham he made a string of fine saves to keep his team's season alive, with his fingertip stop to deny Aboubakar Kamara the pick of the bunch.
Alex Smithies has had an excellent season for Cardiff. Probably a contender for the club’s player of the season?— Dafydd Pritchard (@DafPritchard) July 30, 2020
For Fulham, attention now turns to their Wembley date with Brentford for the playoff final on 4 August. Cardiff, meanwhile, will now regroup ahead of the 2020/2021 Championship campaign.