Sky Bet Championship: Four things from the first legs of the play-off semi-finals

Fulham celebrate Neeskens Kebano's goal

Fulham and Swansea currently lead in their Sky Bet Championship play-off ties. Tom Carnduff looks at four big talking points.

Swansea hold an advantage heading into their second leg with Brentford; Andre Ayew's goal separating the two sides as the Swans won 1-0 on Sunday night.

On Monday, Fulham took a huge step towards another appearance in the play-off final as two excellent goals gave them a 2-0 victory over Cardiff.

Here, Tom Carnduff looks at four major talking points from the two first leg games.

Stroud struggles in Swansea

Rico Henry was shown a red card by Keith Stroud

Swansea's game against Brentford was a highly-entertaining affair but the refereeing decisions on display didn't go unnoticed.

Keith Stroud was the appointed official and failed to really keep a lid on a feisty affair; a total of six yellows were shown across the 90 minutes.

The big moment came in the 66th minute when Brentford defender Rico Henry was shown a straight red for a tackle on halfway. Replays showed how a yellow would have been a much fairer punishment.

It's a difficult situation for a referee and a first glance at the offence could perhaps make it appear to be a red card challenge. However, further inspection showed that it wasn't the case.

While his front leg was slightly high, both sets of studs weren't showing and it wasn't a challenge that would have deliberately put his opponent in a dangerous position. There was also a touch on the ball but the intent, which is more crucial in these sorts of challenges, was not malicious.

Perhaps the Swansea players surrounding him influenced the decision somewhat but that is a common feature in any league. Stroud had a huge decision to make in the space of a few seconds and he was ultimately wrong.

Former Wolves and Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy was on commentary duty for Sky Sports and his remarks regarding referees highlight how they often do get things right.

He revealed that the Monday morning would always be spent watching back the game from the weekend with his assistant Terry Connor. When they saw key decisions again, McCarthy said that roughly 95% of the time the official was correct.

However, this incident fell into that 5% bracket and Swansea capitalised with Ayew's goal handing them the advantage going into the second leg.

Brentford boss Thomas Frank confirmed that the Bees will be appealing the decision and also questioned why there wasn't VAR in use given the significance of the next five games.

"I don’t think it was a red card," he said. "We are 100 per cent going to appeal and I expect it (red card) to be cancelled, so Rico can play on Wednesday night.

"I think there should be VAR in these games. I understand why we do not have it in the Championship but these games are so decisive.

"We are playing for promotion to Premier League, we are playing for £170million, so I don’t understand why we don’t have it in these games.

"VAR definitely wouldn’t have given it. But that is for the future and hopefully the EFL will do something about that."

Brewster looking the real deal

Rhian Brewster's stats against Brentford

Rhian Brewster has caught the eye during his half-season stint at Swansea - the Liverpool loanee scored ten goals in his 20 regular season appearances.

While he didn't find the net in Swansea's win over Brentford, his all-round performance highlighted why he can be viewed as a player ready for regular football.

Despite his young age and inexperience at senior level, Brewster proved to be problematic for a Brentford side who had the second-best defensive record during the regular season.

Another yellow card made it seven for the campaign, which is one area of concern, but that was the only real negative in another solid showing.

Only Ayew had more successful dribbles from a Swansea perspective while his 0.8 Expected Goals returned shows how he perhaps should have been on the scoresheet once again.

It does reflect accurately the positions he is getting in though and that is why he has proved to be such a hit during his short time in South Wales. Another repeat performance in the second leg will likely bring a goal.

Rhian Brewster's heatmap against Brentford

His movement with the ball also won Swansea a second-half penalty. Ayew may have seen his effort saved by a strong hand from David Raya, but Brewster did his part by forcing the defender to bring him down.

That defender was Pontus Jansson; the Brentford captain is one of the stand-out defensive players in the Championship. In that moment, Brewster drove Jansson into making an uncharacteristic mistake.

Brewster's defensive contribution is accurately reflected in his heatmap. While the majority of his time comes in the Brentford area, his tendency to drift out to the left and right helped to nullify the opposition's threats from out wide.

Swansea did similar against Leeds in their recent meeting and they largely frustrated the eventual champions before Pablo Hernandez struck a late winner. They were more effective in doing that this time around though - aided by some poor finishing from the Bees.

While Brewster has been earning the plaudits for his goals and impact in attack, the defensive contribution he is making off the ball has helped Swansea into their current position; it will be a crucial attribute if they are to be successful in the second leg.

Onomah excellent in Fulham win

Josh Onomah scores against Cardiff

It was a tale of two halves in the Championship's other play-off encounter as Fulham took a massive step towards Wembley with a 2-0 victory over Fulham.

Fulham were without top goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic who missed out with a 'small problem' but they showed little issue in adapting to playing without their influential forward.

Bobby Decordova-Reid led the line but it was the performance of Josh Onomah that really caught the eye. The midfielder was outstanding in all areas and his goal was something special.

Receiving the ball at the edge of the area, Onomah beat three Cardiff defenders before a cool finish from close range sent Alex Smithies the wrong way.

Fulham started the half on the front foot but that goal really got them going in the contest. They could have easily had another couple before Neeskens Kebano's late free-kick gave them a 2-0 win.

Onomah's dominance across the board was evident in the post-match statistics. No other player could beat his four successful dribbles, while his two shots were only bettered by Kebano.

His 60 touches of the ball were the most of any attacking player. The 16 forward passes were also better than any of the Cardiff front line.

It was a performance to remember for Onomah who will be relishing another game coming so soon given his fantastic form. He will be a key player for Fulham in their quest to secure promotion.

Fulham odds-on for promotion

Josh Onomah celebrates his goal against Cardiff

Fulham's victory over Cardiff put them in a commanding position for the second leg - but it also influenced how the bookmakers see their chances.

Starting as Sporting Life's 5/2 tip at the beginning of the play-offs, Fulham now find themselves as the 10/11 favourites for promotion with Sky Bet.

Cardiff are now huge 16/1 outsiders while Swansea are still 4/1, that's despite the 1-0 lead they currently hold over Brentford - who are 9/4.

The Cottagers' performance clearly caught the eye as they are fancied for a return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Their odds-on price suggests that if they get to Wembley, they will go off as the favourites.

Aleksandar Mitrovic finished as the top goalscorer in the Sky Bet Championship

Not only are Fulham now the favourites for success but their chances will be boosted by Mitrovic's return to the squad when he is fit.

Mitrovic's absence was the big talking point pre-match and Scott Parker remains hopeful he will be available for the second leg; the Fulham boss made a 'calculated decision' in leaving him out.

Fulham have coped well without his presence in the side. The 2-0 victory on Monday night goes with the three wins they posted when Mitrovic was suspended.

He will return to the starting line-up if he is fit to play, but the current scoreline at 'half-time in the tie' (as the cliche goes) may tempt Parker into leaving him on the bench for the second leg.

So not only will a dominant Fulham performance have given them a 2-0 lead but they go into the next game on the back of that form with the top scorer now at their disposal.

Odds correct at 2200 BST (27/07/20)

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