Irish international Shane Long helped Reading put one foot in the Premier League last night, as his sensational first-half double sent the Royals through to the play-off final.
Long capitalised on a mistake by Cardiff 'keeper Stephen Bywater in the 28th minute and coolly dispatched a penalty just before half-time. Jobi McAnuff added the clincher seven minutes from time to give Reading a place in football's most lucrative game and the chance of a return to the top-flight after a three-season absence.
Long had served notice of his intent by lashing a shot into the side-netting after just three minutes. But with the near-capacity crowd behind them, the hosts soon got into the game and had an early penalty appeal denied by referee Howard Webb when Michael Chopra went down under Matt Mills' challenge.
As the half-hour approached, Reading broke the deadlock. Bywater rushed from his area to clear but only succeeded in slamming the ball into Long's chest -- the Tipperary man kept his composure to lob in from 25 yards.
Cardiff had further penalty shouts turned down when Zurab Khizanishvili handled in the box and Seyi Olofinjana appeared to be sandwiched by two Reading defenders. But when Webb eventually did award a penalty it was at the other end -- as Decal Keinan blatantly pulled down Mills. Once again Long showed nerves of steel to convert.
Cardiff raised their game after the restart but Reading always looked dangerous and Jamaican international McAnuff made sure of the win in the 83rd minute to set up a final showdown with Swansea at Wembley on May 30.