Scoring chances were at a premium as the Championship play-off semi-final first leg between Reading and Cardiff ended goalless at the Madejski Stadium.
Cardiff started brightly but their attacking options were hit when Craig Bellamy limped off with a suspected hamstring strain after 17 minutes.
Matt Mills came closest to scoring for Reading, poking wide from six yards.
City's best effort came from Peter Whittingham, who rifled a 25-yard effort inches past the post.
McDermott 'delighted' with Reading show
The two sides finished the Championship season separated by three points, and there was little to choose between them in a match high on tension but low on incident.
The Royals side showed six changes from the team which finished the regular season with a 2-1 home win over Derby County the previous Saturday with Andy Griffin, Jem Karacan, Shane Long, Noel Hunt, Jobi McAnuff and Zurab Khizanishvili starting.
Cardiff boss Dave Jones made two changes to the team which had been held to a 1-1 draw at Burnley with Darcy Blake in for Mark Hudson and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas replacing Jason Koumas.
The home side had the first meaningful attack of the match inside two minutes, but Wales winger Hal Robson-Kanu's cross from the right was cleared by Paul Quinn.
Cardiff responded but defender Dekel Keinan heading a corner over the crossbar.
A hard-fought battle - Jones
The visitors came again and Bellamy broke into the box and saw his shot from 10 yards pushed behind by Adam Federici.
But Cardiff's hopes were dealt a blow on 17 minutes when captain Bellamy was forced off with a hamstring injury and replaced by Michael Chopra.
Jones' side reacted well and Whittingham's excellent free-kick put the Reading defence under pressure, although it was cleared, and another shot was blocked before falling to Blake, whose shot from 22 yards was gathered by Federici.
Reading came back and Karacan got to the right byeline before pulling the ball back to McAnuff, whose effort from 12 yards took a deflection and went just wide of Stephen Bywater's goal.
As half-time approached Cardiff's Kevin McNaughton made a last-ditch tackle to thwart Noel Hunt.
The visitors had the first chance of the second half as Jay Bothroyd headed wide from 15 yards following Paul Quinn's cross.
The home side were forced to make a change on 52 minutes with Mathieu Manset replacing the dangerous Robson-Kanu, who had suffered an injury.
Ian Harte, whose set-pieces had been a feature of Reading's play, put in another dangerous cross which forced Blake to head clear.
Although Cardiff defended well, they created little in the way of chances at the other end but on 66 minutes Reading skipper Mills had to block a Bothroyd flick-on from Quinn's cross before Whittingham's 25-yard effort flew past Federici's left post.
It gave the Bluebirds the impetus and within two minutes Emmanuel-Thomas won a corner, from which Keinan headed straight at Federici from 12 yards.
As full-time approached Bothroyd failed to finish and in a scrappy finale neither side could find the breakthrough, leaving the tie finely balanced ahead of the second leg at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday 17 May.
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