Two-goal Long ends Reading FC's Wembley waitBy Jonny Fordham
May 18, 2011
A mouth-watering Championship play-off final against Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City awaits Reading after Shane Long’s first-half brace sunk favourites Cardiff City.
Royals last graced the hallowed turf of Wembley when they lost 4-3 to Bolton Wanderers in the 1995 Division One play-off final.
The spectre of that day still haunts loyal Royals, but they have now been rewarded with a dream final against their former boss Rodgers.
Brian McDermott masterminded Reading’s rise from 12th place in February to finish fifth and is now just 90 minutes away from managing a Premier League side.
However, McDermott’s task was handed a huge blow in the lead up to kick-off as star winger Jimmy Kebe failed a fitness test with a thigh strain.
Royals’ shortage of wingers saw right-back Shaun Cummings handed the unenviable task of filling Kebe’s boots.
With Kebe absent, rumours gathered before kick-off that Royals had agreed a shock sale for the 27-year-old to a Premier League club.
McDermott’s left-field selection of Cummings raised many an eyebrow, but the former Chelsea youth’s pace and defensive skills were there for all to see.
Cummings was involved in two chances early on, first for Long and then for Jobi McAnuff as he justified his starting berth.
Royals’ early advances on goal were soon restricted, however, as Cardiff found their way into the game.
A timely block by Georgia international Zurab Khizanishvili from Seyi Olofinjana’s fortuitous effort in the 13th minute was a warning shot from Dave Jones’ side.
On-loan Blackburn Rovers centre-back Khizanishvili was again on hand to snuff out a Jay Bothroyd shot 10 minutes later as Royals attempted to weather the storm.
And as has become the norm between these two sides so far this season, it took a goal of remarkable fashion for Reading to take the lead against the run of play in the 28th minute.
Calamitous keeper Stephen Bywater rushed out of his box to clear his lines, but instead booted the ball into Long’s arm and the Republic of Ireland striker coolly looped the ball into the back of the net from 20 yards.
The Bluebirds felt they should have had two penalties for fouls on Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
But it was Royals who were given a spot-kick by World Cup final referee Howard Webb.
Dekel Keinan tugged back Matt Mills in the 44th minute as the pair tussled to get on the end of Jobi McAnuff’s corner and Webb was well-placed to witness the infringement and didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot.
Long stepped up to send Bywater the wrong and take his Royals tally to 25 this season.
Hunt missed a late chance 10 minutes from time to put the tie to bed when he volleyed wide when clean through, but Jobi McAnuff made amends soon after.
The former Cardiff winger stormed through the opposition rearguard before sliding the ball past Bywater six minutes from time.
Cardiff fans, who held up banners saying “I’ll be there” before the game, were naturally dismayed with what they were watching after spending so many weeks in second place this season.
Ironically, it will be Royals who will be there for the Anglo-Welsh decider in London on Monday May 30.
Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be, Royals are going to Wembley. Que sera, sera.
Cardiff City (4-3-3): Bywater, McNaughton (c), Samuel (Matthews, 70), Blake, Keinan, Olofinjana, Whittingham, Burke, Chopra (Parkin, 64), Bothroyd, Emanuel-Thomas (Koumas, 60). Subs not used: Heaton, Hudson, Rae, Naylor.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici, Griffin, Harte, Khizanishvili, Mills (c), Karacan, Leigertwood, Cummings, McAnuff, Hunt, Long. Subs not used: McCarthy, Pearce, Gunnarsson, Tabb, Howard, Church, Manset.
Referee: Howard Webb (Yorkshire).