Captain Tom Cairney sends Fulham into Premier League
Championship play-off final, Wembley - Aston Villa 0 Fulham 1 (Cairney 23')
Tom Cairney’s first-half goal was enough to secure Fulham’s place back in the Premier League with victory over Aston Villa in an enthralling Championship play-off final at Wembley.
And despite having Denis Odoi sent off with 20 minutes remaining, the Cottagers held on to claim the £170m prize – and return to the big time after a four-year exile.
Steve Bruce – who was hoping to achieve a record fifth promotion – watched his side make a bright start, but they were sluggish after conceding the opener.
Villa were much improved after the break, with the tireless and talented Jack Grealish playing an influential role in midfield. It was the 21-year-old who went closest for Villa – heading over from close range before being denied by Marcus Bettinelli from close range.
In a feisty and fiercely-contested game, a red card was also likely and it was Fulham’s Odoi who was shown his marching orders for a second bookable offence after a foul on Grealish.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Fulham held on to secure their place back in the Premier League for 2018/19.
Tom Cairney - Aston Villa-Fulham, Wembley Stadium - Championship Play off final 2017-2018 - Getty ImagesGetty Images
Just reward for daring Fulham: Victory for the Cottagers was more than deserved after a memorable season in the Championship, in which Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were unfortunate to lose out on an automatic place on the final day. Fulham - who tasted defeat in last season’s play-off semi-finals - produced an incredible run of form after Christmas which almost propelled them back into the big time, only to lose to Birmingham on matchday 46. They weren’t to be denied, however. After a thoroughly impressive semi-final victory over Derby, this young, inexperienced side outplayed a wily Villa team.
Looking forward to next season and if Fulham can keep a hold of Sessegnon and persuade Newcastle to give up Aleksander Mitrovic then they have every chance of staying up. At the very least, they will lighten up the Premier League with their free-flowing, risk-taking football.
Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon celebrates promotion to the Premier League Action Images via Reuters/Tony O'BrienReuters
MAN OF THE MATCH
After scoring and laying on an assist in the semi-final, Ryan Sessegnon produced the defining moment in the Wembley final. He may only be 18 years-of-age, but the young Englishman has all of the makings of a top-class player. Just how far he can go is anyone’s guess – but now he is a Premier League player you can be sure the world will be watching.
Aston Villa: Johnstone 6, Elmohamady 6, Chester 5, Terry 5, Hutton 6, Snodgrass 6, Hourihane 6, Jedinak 6, Adomah 7, Grealish 7, Grabban 5. Subs: Hogan 5, Onamah 5, Kodjia 5.
23’ – GOAL! Aston Villa 0-1 Fulham: It's beautifully worked, as Sessegnon carves open the Villa defence to slide through Cairney who picks his spot and slides the ball into the bottom corner. Sessegnon, so often the goalscorer, is the provider on this occasion. Only 18 years old, but what a talent. Villa switched off, the youngster found space in midfield, got his head up and poked through an inch-perfect pass to Cairney who finished with aplomb.
30’ - CONTROVERSY! Fredericks appears to stand on Grealish - right in front of Bruce - and the Fulham full-back is fortunate to stay on the pitch.
39’ – ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Snodgrass' dinked free-kick catches Fulham by surprise - and Grealish is through on goal! But the youngster, from an acute angle, lifts his shot over the top of the bar from close range.
50’ - ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Adomah's in-swinger finds Grealish who gets himself in front of the Fulham goalkeeper but heads over the top of the crossbar. Grealish showed great desire to get there, but should have scored.
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and John Terry look dejected at the end of the match Action Images via Reuters/Carl RecineReuters
56’ - FULHAM CHANCE! Excellent movement from Mitrovic as he finds space to meet Targett's devilish cross, but glances his header wide from close range. That was a great opportunity to put the game to bed.
60’ - ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Grealish drives Villa forward. He keeps going and going and going, skipping past multiple Fulham defenders. He's closing in on the goalkeeper but his shot is saved by Bettenelli in spectacular fashion. What a goal that would have been.
70’ - RED CARD - FULHAM ARE DOWN TO 10! It's late, it's clumsy - Odoi is shown a second yellow card for a needless foul on Grealish. The Belgian defender was Fulham's hero in the play-off semi-final, but now he has given his manager a headache.
- Slavisa Jokanovic is the first non-British or Irish manager with two promotions to the Premier League.
- Fulham have won promotion via the play-offs for the first time in their history, in what is their fourth attempt.
- Denis Odoi is the first player to be sent off in the Championship play-off final since Gary O'Neill for QPR v Derby in 2014.
- Ryan Sessegnon had a hand in all three of Fulham's play-off goals, scoring one and assisting two.
- The team scoring first in the Championship play-off final has gone on to win promotion on each of the last six occasions in which the final hasn’t been goalless – the last time a team failed to win having scored first was Cardiff in 2010 against Blackpool.
- Fulham played just their second match at Wembley - they lost their previous visit in the 1975 FA Cup final against West Ham.