Home is where the Harte is
Going into their home game against Middlesbrough on May 2nd Cardiff were a point clear of Norwich and the favourites to clinch that second precious automatic promotion spot. Two games later and only one point better off, the Bluebirds were not only pipped to second place but leapfrogged by Welsh rivals Swansea into third place.
Cardiff lost that fateful game with Boro' by three goals to nil, to the despair of their home fans, many choosing to leave way before the ref had blew for the final whistle. That defeat led to reports players were drinking on the evening before the match, then they could only draw with Burnley on the final day of the regular season.
Their fourth placed finish meant a play-off encounter with the form team of the division, Reading.
Brian McDermott has led his team into the thick of the promotion shake-up on the back of a fantastic sequence of results that has seen Reading lose only once in sixteen games and win eight successive Championship matches in March and April. In the early stages of the campaign it seemed that the Royals were content with their mid-table positioning after a poor start to the season.
However, their FA Cup run which included victory at Goodison Park and a narrow defeat against Manchester City, seemed to galvanise the entire squad.
The match betting for this play-off first leg goes with the form book, with hosts Reading a cut-price 5/4 compared to the 9/4 on offer for Cardiff.
Both matches between the two teams in the league ended as draws (11/5). A draw would be seen as a successful result for Cardiff to take back to Wales but not so for Reading.
Reading will more than likely employ a 4-4-2 formation for their home leg with Shane Long up front. Long is set to make his 200th Royals appearance and can be backed at 5/1 to open the scoring and 5/4 to notch at anytime. The Irishman has 21 league goals to his name so far but all will be eclipsed if he find the goals to put his team within touching distance of Wembley.
The William Hill Match Winner for this game also centres around a Reading player. Ian Harte has rediscovered the form of old and has put in some classy performances in what has been an excellent season for the former Leeds full back, even by his own high standards. Harte has also been regularly amongst the goals, his haul of eleven is bettered only by Shane Long. As the team penalty taker he may be called upon once again at the Madejski, can he tuck away a penalty at an enhanced Match Winner price of 8/1?
Cardiff will be hoping to make amends for their heartbreak in last year's Wembley play-off final, where they were beaten by Blackpool. City manager Dave Jones, the division's longest serving, may choose a more defensive formation before the second leg at the Cardiff City Stadium but with the attacking flair at his disposal, he could quite easily go all out for a first leg lead. Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra and Craig Bellamy have scored 42 goals between them in 2010/11 and are all priced at 7/1 to be the first scorer and 2/1 to score anytime.
My recommendations for this game are for Reading to win but I also think that their star wide man Jimmy Kebe, who has been missing in recent weeks, can get on the scoresheet. Therefore I would back the anytime wincast of Kebe to score anytime and Reading to win at 9/2.