'Jaap Stam had a dream,

To build a football team,

He had no money so he signed 'em for free,

McShane at the back,

Rakels in attack,

We're Reading FC, We're on our way back'

HE may have had a dream to build a football team, but not even Jaap Stam could have expected success this quickly.

One season in charge, his first as a manager, and Stam has performed miracles at Madejski Stadium.

A club that laboured to 17th and 19th in the Championship table the previous two years has defied critics and proven the doubters wrong by finishing third this term to reach the play-offs.

And they have done it after a huge overhaul of players last summer and with a new way of playing – Stam's way.

And whatever happens from here in the lottery of the play-offs, the 44-year-old Dutchman says Reading can be proud of what they have achieved.

“Play-offs are different in terms of our approach and what they bring which is stress and tension because the games are so important,” stated Stam, whose side go to Fulham tomorrow for a Championship play-off semi-final first leg (5.30pm ko).

“But we've got nothing to lose, we are third in the league and we have done well against the other play-off teams.

“We've won and lost games, we know that, but it's all about preparing yourself for these fixtures coming up by working hard like we have all season and hopefully getting the right result.”

Whether hard work will be enough to get past Fulham in the semi finals remains to be seen.

Slaviša Jokanović's Cottagers may have finished three places below Royals in the table, but they are the bookmakers' favourites (17/10) to go up through the play-offs ahead of Sheffield Wednesday (9/4), Huddersfield (3/1) and finally Reading (5/1).

Fulham may also also a psychological edge over the Royals, having thrashed Stam's men 5-0 at home in December before losing 1-0 at Madejski Stadium the following month.

But Royals boss stressed: “Anything can happen, but I don't want to think about that.

“They are all quality teams in the play-offs and play a certain way. We can all make it difficult for each other because we've seen it in the league.

“For us, we just need to maintain our form and keep the aggression and mentality that we have in the squad.

“We know how much work-rate we need to put in to get results so we'll be working hard, looking at the opposition and thinking about what we can do to make it difficult for them.

“We will try to make it easy for ourselves defending-wise so it's going to be an interesting game and I'm looking forward to it.”

Yet some Reading supporters could be forgiven if they aren't relishing Saturday's trip to Craven Cottage after the 5-0 mauling earlier in the season when Chris Martin (2), Sone Aluko, Stefan Johansen plus a Chris Gunter own goal completed a miserable day in west London after Danny Williams had seen red for the visitors.

Royals, though, gained some degree of revenge by winning 1-0 at Madesjki Stadium five weeks later. Roy Beerens netted for the hosts before Ali Al-Habsi saved a late Martin penalty to secure all three points that sent Reading back up to third, the position they would end the season in.

And Stam insists its is wrong to read too much into the heavy 5-0 away defeat: “People also need to realise that we beat Fulham at home as well,” he argued.

Fulham boss Slaviša Jokanović.

“Everyone knows what happened at their ground, but play-off games will be different to those in the league.

“We know all about Fulham's quality and they know about ours. They will try and find a way to make it difficult for us and we'll be trying to do the same.

“You know when you play against teams like Fulham that you have to dig in, and that's our plan.

“We're very happy with the way the season has gone but it's not over yet.”

He continued: "We're not going to change lots of things. I can only say that within two games when there is a lot at stake then you might approach things differently.

"You can work together in a different way to normal, everyone knows what to do to get results.

"It's all about sticking together, working together and believing in each other. Hopefully with the ability we have we can do well."

Despite bookmakers' gloom prediction for the play-offs, Reading head into them full of confidence following four victories in their last five matches. Their lively 4-2 win at Burton Albion last weekend was also the first time they had scored four goals in a league game this season.

Yet it Royals do fall at the play-off hurdle, Stam is confident they could go one better next season.

“If we don't make it then it's not a shame because the boys have worked very hard and made a lot of progress,” he said.

"We need to take what we have learned into next season which is not going to be easy. You need to learn from certain experiences and that's what we need to do now."

Reading skipper Paul McShane and winger Garath McCleary both face fitness tests ahead of tomorrow's semi final at Craven Cottage.