After the semi-final grind over two legs against Middlesbrough comes a potentially different kind of match against Fulham at Wembley in the play-off final.
Will Villa’s tradition, size and experience count for anything at Wembley against the undoubted Championship form side of 2018? Will Bruce play it tight to snatch the win or open up and have a go? it should hopefully prove an intriguing encounter.
Can Villa even contemplate defeat? For if it was to happen, it would certainly mean they would be stepping down another rung in terms of statue. Joining the likes of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, trapped in the Championship.
The stakes are high.
Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villa fans leading up to the game.
“Whatever you do best, we’re going to take away from you,” former New York Jets coach, Rex Ryan used to opine about his Jets defence. It’s pretty much what Bruce planned to do to Middlesbrough, as I mentioned in the last Five Reasons.
The fact Middlesbrough, who were chasing the game, registered zero shots on target during the match, shows you how well the Villa players executed the plan.
If Villa can take away Adama Traore, will they next attempt to take away Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon.
Playing so defensive may not be to everyone’s liking, but it looks the likely cause of action against Fulham at Wembley. The fact that Villa got the drill down to a tee in the semi-final, will be good preparation for the final.
However, will it be more rewarding for Villa to approach the game with a more attacking mindset? If they approach the game too defensively and then go behind, it may present problems, as they have struggled this season to chase games.
Often, Bruce’s only course of action has been to throw on multiple strikers, often in the place of the midfielders that would normally provide their supply line.
Loud and Proud
The 40,000+ crowd at Villa Park in the second leg were singing loud and proud across all stands. If this was standard practice for every game, we’d be a real force to be reckoned with.
With Villa’s backing at Wembley numbering over 38,100+, Fulham fans and players maybe in for a bit of a surprise. Considering each one of Fulham fans can buy up to five tickets, they’ll be a lot of day-trippers and neutrals out for a day out in the Fulham end.
This will certainly be advantage Villa. The Villa fans who were at the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool will know what I’m talking about. We had over 6000 less fans that time, but could you hear Liverpool fans sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the build up? No sir. Their anthem was drowned out by the Villa faithful that day.
It’s Official – Pulis is Limited
We’ve been in dire must-win circumstances facing Tony Pulis teams before and their seems to be a pattern emerging. He’s always been dealt with.
After the double home win against the Baggies during a week in 2015, when Pulis had a chance to both cripple Villa’s relegation survival quest and knock them out of the 1/4 final of the FA Cup, and keeping his team at arm’s length in this season’s play-off semi-final, what does this say about Pulis as a manager?
When he’d seen his team struggle to create chances during the first leg and then in the first hour at Villa Park, the Boro manager failed to take any decisive positive action. The lone striker wasn’t working and Traore had little to work with, and needed someone to take the heat off him. When Patrick Bamford finally came on it was a like-for-like swap for Assombalonga.
Villa dealt comfortably with Pulis’ Plan A, Adama Traore, and his only Plan B of throwing Rudy Gestede on for the final minutes, didn’t exactly give Villa fans sweaty palms.
A lot has been made of Fulham being the favourites for the play-off final at Wembley. They went on a long unbeaten run, they play good football and have two legitimate match-winners in Ryan Sessegnon and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Plus, they’ve been comfortable winners in both of Villa’s trips to Craven Cottage.
But are they a team to fear?
Well, MOMS has always maintained that if you get your team together and play like one, you can make short-work of most of the teams in the Championship. Fulham have certainly done that, on their long 2018 unbeaten run of over 20 games. It’s something that Villa could and should have done.
On the flip side though, they have a lack of big match experience, especially at Wembley, with only two players of their first XI having played there. Pretty much all of Villa’s team have had multiple games there.
Also, it’s the first time in 43 years that Fulham themselves have played at Wembley.
Can they handle the pressure? When the pressure was on for Fulham at the end of the season, with them needing to win against the Blues on the last day to secure automatic promotion, and then their following play-off match against Derby, they lost both games. If Derby could mark ala how Villa did against Boro, then it might have been a different outcome in the second leg.
Normally, when Villa have got to Wembley in the past decade, it’s been against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. I’ll happily take Fulham over any of those.
By now you will realise the significance of the play-off final date of the 26th May. It’s the same day Villa beat Bayern Munich, 36 years ago in their finest hour to date.
On route to the final in Rotterdam, Villa also won the semi-final against Anderlecht 1-0 on aggregate over two legs; the same score they beat Middlesbrough by.
Villa were also the underdogs against the German team.
Are the stars aligning once again?
Chill out and listen to episodes of the MOMS podcast while you wait for Wembley: