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Reading and Cardiff City played a tough, physical match with some serious entertainment value at the Madejski Stadium today, but unfortunately, the biggest story to come out of this game was an injury. After 16 minutes, Cardiff's Craig Bellamy pulled up lame with a hamstring injury, and as a result, he was substituted off for Michael Chopra. There's no word yet on the severity of the injury, but it seems highly unlikely that Bellamy will be able to play the second leg of the tie on Tuesday.
Though neither team was unambitious or looking for a draw, both Reading and Cardiff were most concerned with keeping a clean sheet tonight. The 0-0 result was much more the product of good defending than inept offense or negative tactics, and as a result it was an entertaining fixture. However, after two straight 0-0 draws in what is usually the most exciting football tournament anywhere, fans will be hungry for goals in the second legs.
It's been a physical first half between Reading and Cardiff City in the 2011 nPower Championship Playoffs, resulting in an injury that required a substitution and a very difficult task for referee Mark Halsey. It's scoreless after 45 minutes, but just like yesterday's game, this doesn't mean that there's been a lack of excitement. Both goalkeepers have had some work to do, as both teams have created plenty of chances.
Cardiff were the much more assertive team in the opening 15 minutes, but when Craig Bellamy was forced off with a hamstring injury in the 16th minute, everything changed. He was replaced by Michael Chopra who, while talented, is a much different kind of player. Reading no longer had to play afraid of Bellamy's speed, and since the sub, they have been the team on the front foot.
Both defenses have played well in their own penalty area to keep their opponents off the scoreboard, but neither has done well at preventing set piece opportunities and dangerous crosses into the box. If the game continues the way it's been going, there will probably be a goal in the second half.
Cardiff City have been dealt an absolutely massive blow, as star striker Craig Bellamy has been forced out of the 2011 nPower Championship Playoff match against Reading after just 16 minutes of play. While chasing down a ball, Bellamy pulled up lame and clutched at his hamstring before calling to the bench for a substitution.
It's hard to tell how serious Bellamy's injury was, but if he knew immediately that he couldn't run it off and that he needed to come out of the game, it would be surprising to see him return for the second leg on Tuesday.
Cardiff have some serious depth at striker, as evidenced by the fact that Michael Chopra is the man who came on to replace Bellamy. Chopra has been a consistent goal scorer in the Championship for years, and has had a couple of short stints in the Premier League. However, Chopra is just coming off of a hamstring injury himself, and it's questionable whether or not he can play at this level of intensity for 75 minutes.
Tonight's matchup in the 2011 nPower Championship playoffs looks like a good one, as both Cardiff City and Reading look set to go with attacking 4-4-2 formations. Cardiff will not be sitting back and hoping to minimize damage on the road, while Reading will look towards striker Shane Long to help them gain an advantage before travelling to Wales for the road leg. Here are the complete lineups.
Reading lineup (4-4-2): Federici; Khizanishvili, Harte, Griffin, Mills; McAnuff, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu, Karacan; Long, Hunt
Substitutes: McCarthy, Pearce, Gunnarson, Tabb, Howard, Church, Manset
Cardiff City lineup (4-4-2): Bywater; McNaughton, Quinn, Keinan, Blake; Burke, Olafinjana, Wittingham, Emmanuel-Thomas; Bellamy, Bothroyd
Substitutes: Heaton, Naylor, Hudson, Koumas, Rae, Parkin, Chopra
The game kicks off at 2:45 pm ET, 7:45 local time from the Madejski Stadium in Reading. Reading and Cardiff were two of the highest scoring teams in the Championship, scoring 77 and 76 goals respectably, so it would be shocking to see a 0-0 result like yesterday's game.
If you think that 0-0 implies a boring game, think again. Nottingham Forest and Swansea City played an absolute thriller in the first leg of their 2011 Championship playoff semifinal at the City Ground, and it was only due to some stellar goalkeeping, a poor decision by the referee, and some plain bad luck that neither team was able to score. Both teams had plenty of chances to score, but neither was able to convert. After sealing a draw in Nottingham, Swansea will feel confident going back to Wales, where they will have the home crowd behind them.
They will also likely have 11 men for more than one minute in the return leg, a luxury they did not experience in this game. That's because young defender Neil Taylor got sent off after making a terrible studs-up tackle into the thigh of Lewis McGugan just 52 seconds into the game, for which Mike Dean rightfully showed him a red card.
Swansea were not deterred by their disadvantage, though, and they were absolutely brilliant throughout the first half. Their central midfielders worked extremely hard, their wingers were dangerous, and Fabio Borini was brilliant up top, forcing Lee Camp into multiple saves.
However, Borini was removed due to injury just 10 minutes into the second half. Forest had already been the better team to start the second half, but they really started to dominate when Borini was removed. Luke Moore had a couple of good efforts out on the counter-attack, even forcing Lee Camp into a good save on one occasion, but he did not have the hold-up play or off the ball movement of Borini.
In the 71st minute, Forest were denied a clear penalty kick. Referee Mike Dean had a generally great game, making the right calls on almost all of his difficult decisions, but due to missing a very clear handball by Ashley Williams in the penalty box, an offense for which a penalty should have been given and Williams should have seen a yellow card, he will be remembered as the goat of the match in the eyes of the Forest supporters. Such is the nature of being a referee. On the ensuing corner kick, Robert Earnshaw had a goal disallowed for offsides, but this time Mike Dean's crew was spot on with their decision.
For the remainder of the game, Forest held 80 percent of the possession. However, Swansea did well keeping their shape with 10 men, and Forest - a team who is best on the counter-attack and set pieces - was absolutely devoid of ideas when it came to breaking down a Swansea side whose first priority was to take the counter out of the equation. They got the 0-0 draw that they began to look for once Borini came off, and they'll feel good about their chances of advancing after the second leg in Wales.
This game has officially gotten bananas. Mike Dean has missed a clear handball for which Nottingham Forest should have been awarded a penalty. They then scored on the ensuing corner kick, and that goal was disallowed for offsides. Swansea City went on the attack quickly and forced Lee Camp into a great save. Yes, this is an average Championship playoff game.
First, the handball. It was absolutely clear as day, and it's pretty surprising that Mike Dean has missed it. In the 71st minute, Robert Earnshaw drilled a hard shot towards the middle of the goal, but it was blocked by Ashley Williams. Problem is, it was blocked by his arm, which was a good deal away from his body. No penalty was granted.
On the ensuing corner kick, it appeared that Earnshaw, who has lived up to his fox in the box reputation tonight, had scored the opener. However, he was well offsides, and this time the officials got the decision right by disallowing the goal.
Right after the disallowed goal, Swansea did brilliantly to get out onto the counter and create a shooting opportunity for Luke Moore, but Lee Camp got down to save it brilliantly.
Around this mark, the managers both took the opportunity to make a number of substitutions. Nottingham Forest brought on Nathan Tyson and Gareth McCleary for Robert Earnshaw and Paul McKenna, while Swansea brought on Mark Gower for Joe Allen.
It's been a bad 10 minutes to start the first half for Swansea City. Nottingham Forest has been the much better team to start the second half, as they should have been more often during the first half, due to the fact that their opponents have 10 men. Additionally, Swansea have been hit with yet another personnel blow, as striker Fabio Borini has gone off injured.
Dorus De Vries has been forced into duty for Swansea, and he made a stunning save on Lewis McGugan in the 53rd minute to keep Forest off the board. Robert Earnshaw has continued to look dangerous for the hosts, but he's still not on the scoreboard. He's missed two solid opportunities with shots over the bar in the second half, one of which was a very poor miss.
As if things weren't bad enough for Swansea with 10 men and their opponents finally getting into the game, they now have injury troubles to deal with. Borini has come out of the game, and he has been replaced by Luke Moore, in what is the closest thing possible to a like for like change for Swansea.
Though it's currently 0-0, it's been an extremely eventful and downright thrilling opening 45 minutes to the 2011 nPower Championship Playoffs semifinal tie between Nottingham Forest and Swansea City. The game already has a red card, and we've seen some fantastic goalkeeping on both ends, along with some solid attacking going both ways.
Neil Taylor was the man sent off, bringing Swansea City down to 10 men in less than two minutes. Taylor made the tackle 52 seconds in, putting his cleats high into the quad of Lewis McGugan, and Mike Dean had no choice but to show the defender the red card less than 90 seconds into the game. Swansea responded by replacing attacking midfielder/second striker Stephen Dobbie with defender Garry Monk, leaving their two central midfielders to perform more responsibilities on both offense and defense.
Despite going down to 10 men, Swansea have been the much more aggressive side. Leon Britton and Joe Allen have done brilliantly in the middle, Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer have looked dangerous out wide, and lone striker Fabio Borini has terrorized the Forest defense with his aerial ability and great movement off the ball. Lee Camp has been forced into four saves, and he's made all of them in brilliant fashion.
However, despite Swansea's superiority, Forest have unsurprisingly created some chances of their own. The best came in the 36th minute, when Dorus De Vries made a great save on a hard Robert Earnshaw shot, assisted by a Kris Boyd cross.
Forest, having 11 men and playing most of the first half on the back foot, will likely make some adjustments and try to dominate the second half.
It took 35 minutes, but the strikers of Nottingham Forest finally look like they feel like getting involved in this Championship Playoff tie. Dorus De Vries has matched Lee Camp's efforts on the other end of the pitch, keeping Swansea locked in a 0-0 draw with Forest, but it has to be slightly worrying to Swansea fans that the team that has 11 men is finally starting to get into the game and create chances.
Kris Boyd started the move, as he took the ball wide down the right flank on a counter-attack. Robert Earnshaw was sprinting to get into the penalty area after being far back on defense, and his effort was what created the chance. Boyd put a cross across the top of the box, right into the stride of Earnshaw, and the Welsh veteran hit a hard shot at goal. However, De Vries was right there to make a fantastic stop, and Swansea are still on level terms.
In the last 10-15 minutes, Swansea City, who were reduced to 10 men in the opening two minutes of the game, have been seriously piling on the pressure against Nottingham Forest. That pressure has now translated to chances, and from the 20th minute through the 22nd, Swansea actually created a number of chances. Thanks to Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp, the score is still 0-0, but there's no reason why Forest should be so far on their back foot.
Fabio Borini has been the man creating chances for the visitors, having a couple of headers saved by Camp. A third save came as a part of a large scramble on a corner kick, seconds after Camp tipped a Borini header over the bar.
This is the type of game many expected to see from a very good Swansea team if they had 11 men, but this is a bit of a shock. Despite not having their central attacking midfield player who is great with his link-up play and late runs into the box - Stephen Dobbie - Swansea are still dominating the game.
Swansea City are down to ten men after Neil Taylor's red card, but their lack of numbers haven't stopped them from attacking Nottingham Forest. Stephen Dobbie, the hybrid attacking midfielder/second striker was withdrawn for Garry Monk, who slotted into Taylor's slot in defense, but Swansea have made no other changes. As a result, the central midfielders have more responsibility going both ways while everyone else's role stays basically the same. So far, it's working.
Right after Taylor's red card, Forest were the aggressors. However, from around the 10th minute on, Swansea have been the much better side, for almost 10 minutes at this point. Leon Britton and Joe Allen are working very hard in the midfield, while wingers Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair are making life hard on the hosts with their speed. Forest are trying to play a style that is too direct for a team with a man advantage, and they would probably be best served by slowing it down and playing a short passing style.
It's a near sellout at the City Ground, as over 29,000 have packed into the stadium for this Championship Playoff semifinal. Both Nottingham Forest and Swansea City have been in good form lately and both have had some terrible playoff luck in recent years, so both teams are off to a fast and intense start. As a result, a red card has already been produce, as cooler heads have not prevailed early on.
Inside the first minute, going in for a tackle, Swansea's Neil Taylor went in high and studs up on Forest's Lewis McGugan, hitting him either high on the thigh or in the midsection with his studs. Referee Mike Dean was left no choice but to show a red card, and there was very little complaining from Taylor or the Swansea team.
As a result, Stephen Dobbie, who is in great form, has had to come out of the game, as Garry Monk has come on to replace the departed Taylor.
Arguably the most exciting football tournament of the year as here, as the 2011 nPower Championship playoffs get underway this Thursday evening. The third through sixth placed teams in the English Football League Championship are duking it out for a spot in the English Premier League, and we get started today with Nottingham Forest hosting Swansea City at the City Ground.
Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp had a slight question over his fitness, but he will start tonight. On the other end, their experienced and solid finishing strike partnership of Kris Boyd and Robert Earnshaw should cause Swansea problems. For the visitors, they're all about speed down the wings, and that will be Forest's biggest concern defending. Here are the lineups.
Nottingham Forest lineup (4-4-2): Camp; Morgan, Chambers, Gunter, Moloney; McKenna, Cohen, Anderson, McGugan; Boyd, Earnshaw
Swansea City lineup (4-2-3-1): De Vries; Tate, Williams, Rangel, Taylor; Britton, Allen; Sinclair, Dobbie, Dyer; Borini
The game kicks off at 2:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm local time in Nottingham.
Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City have already clinched a spot in the English Premier League for next season by finish one-two in the Championship, but there is still one promotion spot left. That spot will be determined by a playoff between the teams that finished third through sixth in the league. A two-legged playoff will be held for the semifinals beginning on Thursday and Friday before two teams take to the pitch at Wembley Stadium with the glory of the Premier League on line. Well, that and millions of pounds, of course.
Nottingham Forest vs. Swansea City
Thursday, 7:45 pm GMT (2:45 pm EST)
Once top division and back-to-back European Cup winners under Brian Clough in the , Nottingham Forest is looking to make their first appearance in the Premier League since 1999. The spell since their relegation from the top division saw them drop to League One and spend three years there before being promoted back to the Championship in 2008. A win over Crystal Palace in their final match of the season saw them clinch sixth place and a spot in the playoff. Lewis McGugan leads the attack with 13 goals from the midfield, but with just 50 goals surrendered in 46 matches this season it is the defense that Forrest lean upon.
One of the odd Welsh clubs in the England pyramid Swansea is looking to make their first ever appearance in the Premier League. They last played in the top division in 1983 and as recently as 2000 were in the fourth tier. That said, the Jacks charged to third place in the Championship this season with a clear gap between them and fourth place, making them favorites in the playoff. Only QPR allowed fewer goals this season so Swansea are stingy at the back and with Scott Sinclair leading the way with 19 goals there is firepower in the attack. The lone concern for Swansea may be the way Forest played them evenly this season. Swansea won 3-2 at home, but when they went to Forest they fell 3-1 so Thursday's playoffs opener will most certainly challenge the Jacks.
Reading vs. Cardiff City
Friday, 7:45 pm GMT (2:45 pm EST)
It's to be expected that the difference between fourth place Cardiff and fifth place Reading isn't that great, but if their two matches this season are any indication then this semifinal tie will be about as close as can be. The two clubs drew 1-1 at Reading before drawing 2-2 in Cardiff. Both clubs rank in the top five in the Championship in goals so fun, attacking football is to be expected in this tie with Shane Long, the league's second scorer and Irish international grabbing the headlines for Reading. The Royals set a Championship record with 106 points to gain top divison promotion for the first time in the club's history in 2006 and finished eighth place in their first season, but were relegated the next season.
Cardiff joins Swansea as one of the unusual Welsh clubs in the England pyramid with an opportunity to reach the top in the playoff. The club got lucky when Craig Bellamy was desperate to get out of Manchester City and the club was willing to pay his wages so he could play this season for his hometown club. The club captain and former captain of Wales has scored 11 times this season and has partnered well with Jay Bothroyd, who has 15 goals of his own. Cardiff's luck with Bellamy is only fair play after they reached the playoff final a year ago and twice went ahead, only to lose 3-2 in devastating fashion to miss out on the top division for the first time since 1962.
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