Championship - Reading outclass Cardiff to reach final
Two first half goals from Long and a delicious late solo effort from Jobi McAnuff were more than enough to ruin Cardiff’s hopes of securing a match with Swansea City at Wembley Stadium on May 30.
Brian McDermott’s team were well worth their win as they boosted their hopes of returning to the Premier League having suffered relegation to the Championship in 2008.
Dave Jones’s side contributed to their own downfall having earned a 0-0 draw at Reading’s Madejski Stadium in the first leg of the semi-final match on Friday.
Despite being without on-loan Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy due to a hamstring strain, Cardiff had produced an energetic opening to the second leg but fell out of matters after conceding the opening goal.
They could not make their early pressure count and were stunned when Long pounced on an error by home goalkeeper Stephen Bywater to lob the ball into an unguarded net from outside of the area on 28 minutes.
The Republic of Ireland striker added his second goal of the game on 44 minutes after some slipshod defending by Dekel Keinan, who was guilty of hauling back Reading captain Matthew Mills with a blatant tug on the jersey as referee Howard Webb looked on before pointing to the spot.
Long stepped up to send Bywater the wrong way. The ball went to the goalkeeper's left as Bywater threw himself to his right, and the visiting team suddenly held a 2-0 lead.
Cardiff huffed and puffed in the second period, but were undone for a third time when McAnuff danced beyond Kevin McNaughton on 84 minutes to wallop a shot beyond Bywater as the Cardiff fans headed for the exit doors.
The outcome did not flatter Reading as their smart counter-attacking approach had paid off handsomely. Cardiff must reflect upon another near-miss having jousted with Norwich City all season only to finish third in the Championship table.
They now have to deal with the disappointment of missing out on the play-off final having lost to Blackpool in the final at Wembley Stadium a year ago. Manager Jones has spent six years as Cardiff manager, but has yet to taste promotion to the elite level of the English game.
They failed to test the visiting keeper Adam Federici, who made saves from Peter Whittingham, Keinan and Seyi Olofinjana that were knocked straight at him when the home players should have done better with their efforts.
Federici did make a solid block from Jay Bothroyd on 65 minutes, while Jay Emmanuel-Thomas thumped a volley down and over the bar 10 minutes earlier when he should have hit the target.
There were a few appeals from the home fans for penalties that Webb called correctly, but the referee did miss an incident early in the match when Andy Griffin was clearly holding Michael Chopra in the visiting area.
Reading could and should have added to their tally as the second half progressed. Noel Hunt hit a post from a delightful cross from Long on 55 minutes, while he screwed an effort wide with Cardiff caught out again on 80 minutes before McAnuff applied the killer goal in the closing moments.