By David Williams
The first Cardiff v Swansea play-off final could be a reality next week, even though Cardiff City manager Neil Harris had dismissed it as fantasy before Wednesday night.
Harris always believed his team would not falter at the final hurdle and they duly clinched their own play-off place with a 3-0 victory at home to Hull City, who they relegated in the process.
But Harris had written off the prospects of Swansea City joining them in the top six, before their rivals completed victory with a six-goal swing over the tally managed by Nottingham Forest.
As the Swans were completing a hectic 4-1 win at Reading, Forest were imploding – losing by the same scoreline at home to Stoke City.
It means if Swansea can overcome Brentford over two legs and Cardiff achieve the same against Fulham, there will be an all-Welsh Wembley play-off final on Tuesday, August 4.
It would be the second all-Welsh play-off final after Newport County beat Wrexham at Wembley in 2013 to get into League Two.
“I didn’t see that happening – that we would both get in the play-offs,” said Harris after his team ran out comfortable winners over Hull.
“I just couldn’t see us both getting there. I just couldn’t see it. But both Welsh clubs deserve it.
“We are the form side in the play-offs, I think, but the league table doesn’t lie. Everyone deserves to be where they finish.
“I have been through six play-offs, four as a player and two as manager, and I love it. It’s the best way to get promoted. It’s about four halves of football and you need momentum.
“We do now lose something not having the fans. No disrespect to the other teams, but we have the most passionate fan base of the teams in the play-offs.
“Teams would fear coming here and maybe we wouldn’t feel the same way going away. But we have coped admirably well without them.
“All I can focus on now is Fulham, the most expensive squad in the division, it’s a tough fixture.
“There is a little bit of pressure on us but there is huge pressure on Fulham, a team that should be in the Premier League with the money that they have spent and even now are spending. We will go and enjoy it.”
The Bluebirds enjoyed a comfortable final regular season victory, thanks to goals from Junior Hoillett, Sean Morrison and Danny Ward.
Whilst others have stumbled over the line to varying degrees, Cardiff ensured they ended the regular season with three successive victories to clinch fifth place.
“To finish fifth, it’s a great credit to the group to have made it, though,” added Harris.
“It’s a huge achievement for us. I am fully aware every bit of praise for myself and my staff has been earned. I came in as not a huge name and I had to prove myself, every week.
“The message is clear now. We have got into the play-offs and extended our season when everyone else is on holiday and you do that for one reason only and that’s to win. No other reason.”
Harris – who took over as manager from Neil Warnock midway through the season – has accelerated Cardiff’s improvement at exactly the right time.
Six victories in nine matches since the end of lockdown and a more varied attacking style has augmented the resilient fundamentals that remain from the Warnock era.
The Bluebirds looked like a long odds bet to return to the Premier League in their first attempt after relegation, but that prospect is now very much in their grasp and they will be the form team judged on the most recent 270 minutes.
Sunday 26 July Swansea City v Brentford – 18.30 kick-off
Monday 27 July – Cardiff City v Fulham – 19.45 kick-off
Wednesday 29 July – Brentford v Swansea City – 19.45 kick-off
Thursday 30 July – Fulham v Cardiff City- 19.45 kick-off
Final (Wembley Stadium)
Tuesday 4 August – 19.45 kick-off