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Paul McShane sent off for reckless challenge in delicately-poised play-off semi-final

Fulham and Reading played out a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage.

McShane walks off the pitch after his red card.
McShane walks off the pitch after his red card.

TOM CAIRNEY HEADED in a crucial equaliser as Fulham drew 1-1 with 10-man Reading in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at Craven Cottage.

Jordan Obita netted for the second straight match to put Reading in front early in the second half.

But an error from goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi allowed Cairney to celebrate his 13th league goal of the season, ensuring the tie goes into Tuesday’s second leg level, the visitors holding on after skipper Paul McShane was sent off late on.

Despite finishing sixth in the Championship, Fulham came into the play-offs as favourites after winning five and drawing one of their last six matches, but Reading themselves had won seven in nine and finished the campaign third – with the tie proving as close as the formbook suggested.

Fulham shaded a quiet first half, with their top league goalscorer Cairney unleashing an excellent effort from 25 yards that just missed the target, Reading goalkeeper Al Habsi rooted to the spot.

The hosts then created the best chance of the opening period when Scott Malone and Floyd Ayite combined impressively down the left to set up Sone Aluko, who could only drag wide a great opportunity from 10 yards.

It was Reading who took the lead after 53 minutes when McShane emerged from a midfield scrap and fed Obita on the left-hand side of the penalty area, the winger unleashing an excellent low shot that beat Marcus Bettinelli and went in off the post.

Fulham v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Play off - First Leg - Craven Cottage McShane challenges Fulham's Kevin McDonald right before receiving his marching orders. Source: Scott Heavey

The visitors then had a penalty claim waved away when Danny Williams went down under home captain Cairney’s challenge in the box.

That decision became even more crucial when Fulham drew level with 25 minutes remaining. It was a slick passing move from the hosts that forced an error from Al Habsi – who poorly parried Malone’s left-wing cross – allowing Cairney to head in from six yards.

And Reading had to survive the last 10 minutes with 10 men after Ireland international McShane was dismissed for a high challenge on Kevin McDonald.

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