A resilient Royals side earned a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage to take the Championship Play-Off Semi-Final into a second leg with all to play for as Fulham and Reading remain all square after 90 minutes.
Jordan Obita had given the visitors the lead with a superb left-footed effort that fizzed in off the base of the right post. But Tom Cairney levelled with a close range header before captain Paul McShane was shown a red card for a foul on Kevin McDonald. The Royals held firm though and it's all set up for the second leg!
Royals boss Jaap Stam named Paul McShane in defence to give his captain his second successive start since returning from injury. Liam Kelly missed out on the first leg through illness though, so Danny Williams, John Swift and George Evans made up the three man midfield. Lewis Grabban, meanwhile, started alongside Kermorgant in attack.
The two sets of players emerged to a rapturous welcome and the game got off to an equally lively start. Lewis Grabban got in behind thew home defence and then Chris Martin sprung the offside trap at the other end, but neither were able to fins a cross or a telling pass to unlock the defence.
Nine minutes in and two Fulham men collided with each other in the air to allow Grabban to gather the ball in and approach the edge of the area. But covering Cottagers defneders got back to surround the Reading striker and deny him a clean shot at goal.
The Fulham skipper Cairney got the first real shot of the game away, first seeing a snap shot from distance blocked by Liam Moore, then seeing his follow-up effort whistle just wide of the top right corner.
A Kermorgant flick on almost set Grabban away again after the French striker had glanced Ali Al Habsi's long ball from the back into the path of our loanee. But Grabban couldn't get the ball out from under his feet and Fulham won it back.
The hosts squandered a good chance of their own with 20 minutes gone though. Ayite raced in behind McShane to collect a one two from Malone and he pulled the ball back for Aluko who dragged a left-footed effort inches wide of the bottom right corner.
As the half hour mark approached, McShane threaded a delightful ball into Williams who got to the byline down thew right side of the box. He cut the ball back but as Grabban wound up to strike it with his right boot, a Fulham leg hurriedly hacked it clear.
As you might expect in a match of such magnitude, it was fast-paced and full of wholehearted tackles right across the Cravan Cottage pitch. And as a hotly-contested first half neared its conclusion a floated Gunter cross nearly picked out Swift at the back post.
Swift's inswinging delivery was aimed at the far post where Moore bore down on Malone who managed to shepherd the ball behind for another corner. From this one Fulham broke, but Kermorgant stopped Johansen in his tracks to concede a free kick and pick up a yellow card.
Three minutes of injury time were signalled and Moore did well to see off a late counter attack that ended in Sone Aluko stabbing wide of the left upright. And the teams went into the dressing rooms all square.
Half-time: Fulham 0-0 Reading
Reading began the second half well and Swift was given some space to run into in midfield courtesy of Tyler Blackett's burst forward from the back. The midfielder triewd to thread a reverse pass into Grabban but the ball was shielded behind for a goal kick by Kalas.
And with less than 10 minutes of the second half played, the Royals took the lead. McShane and Williams won the ball in midfield and the captain carried the ball forward. He was barged off the ball but the referee allowed play to continue as the centre-back's pass had found Obita just inside the Fulham box. And the left-back rifled a low drive in off the base of the right post for 1-0.
With 57 minutes on the clock, half chances at both ends. Grabban did well to pull the ball back to Williams from the byline but the midfielder couldn't get a shot in as the pass fell slightly behind him.
Then at the other end a ricocheted clearance from McShane fell kindly for Johansen whose deflected effort was well saved by Ali Al Habsi and gathered in at the second attempt.
Kermorgant, oozing with confidence after his recent form, tried a speculative volley goalwards from 35 yards out, but the ball dropped over the crossbar to the home side's relief.
However, the home side drew level and set the Craven Cottage crowd alive when captain Tom Cairney headed home from six yards out to convert a Malone strike that had been parried by Al Habsi but only to the edge of the Royals six yard box.
Floyd Ayite had the ball in the back of the net but an offside flag was raised in advance of the forward applying the finish, then Joseph Mendes came onto the pitch in place of Lewis Grabban up front.
Fulham had the momentum though and Fredericks beat Blackett down the right to fizz a low cross into the middle, only for Moore to intercept it at the near post and clear it behind for a corner.
Then, Reading got an opportunity down the left when Swift found Obita. The Royals' goalscorer skidded a low ball into the box where Mendes looked to connect at the near post, but he couldn't get a telling touch to turn the cross goalwards.
With ten minutes of the match remaining, the semi-final took a twist in Fulham's favour. McShane's tackle on McDonald was seen as a foul and, after consultation with his assistant, a red card offence. The Royals' skipper received his marching orders and Stam brought Tiago Ilori on at the back.
The Royals looked to hold onto the draw to take back to Madejski Stadium, but Fulham were throwing the kitchen sink at Jaap Stam's side as the final ten minutes slowly ticked away. McDonald arrowed too high and then Ayite swetp a shot over the crossbar in the last of those ten minutes, before five minutes of added time were signalled.
Liam Moore's superb sliding block denied Malone, then Gunter headed behind as Malone looked to latch onto a deep Ayite cross to the back post. Fredericks then ran at Obita and whistled a fearsome cross across the face of goal but behind for a goal kick. And the Royals held firm. To Tuesday night...
Full-time: Fulham 1-1 Reading
Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Kalas, Ream, Malone, Johansen, McDonald, Cairney (c), Aluko (Cyriac 87), Ayite, Martin (Kebano 61).
Subs: Button, Odoi, Sessegnon, Parker, Piazon.
Goals: Cairney (65)
Reading: Al Habsi, Gunter, Obita, Blackett, Moore, McShane, Evans, Williams, Swift (Van den Berg 74), Grabban (Mendes 68 (Ilori 81)), Kermorgant.
Subs: Jaakkola, Beerens, McCleary, Popa.
Yellow: Swift, Kermorgant
Goals: Obita (54)