The Villa Appetiser: Aston Villa v Fulham (Championship Play-Off Final) 2018
Well, it’s finally upon us. The £170 million match. Everything the season has built up to could be decided in 90 (or 120+) minutes.
Fulham narrowly missed out on the automatic places but achieved the rare feat of progressing to the play-off final after losing the first SF leg. Villa on the other hand booked their place at Wembley after a gritty, professional display against Middlesbrough.
It’s genuinely a pivotal game for Villa on a meaningful date in their history…
It will be Fulham’s first play-off final having previously lost in the semi-finals in 1989, 1998 (both third division) and then in the Championship last year. It’s obviously also Villa’s first ever play-off final.
Premier League.. here we come?
4th in the league table
Last five matches: W 2, D 2, L 1
3rd in league table
Last five matches: W 3, L 2
Steve Bruce on the Play-Off Final
“You know, it’s in the air now.
“Everybody you bump into around the training ground, wishing you good luck and asking about tickets.
“You can feel there’s a big game, there’s no bigger. All our tickets have gone, Fulham have sold theirs, full house at Wembley, beautiful afternoon.
“Let’s hope it goes our way. I sincerely hope so for everybody concerned with the club because in my eyes, anyway, we belong in the big league.
“But that’s not all its about. We’ve got to beat Fulham and hopefully, with the bounce of the ball and a bit of luck, enjoy it.
“I have to say in the 19 or 20 months I’ve been here I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. It’s been terrific and can we top it off by getting where we want to be?”
and a message to the fans
“Oh they can make a difference, without question. The whole ground has sold out, it should be a wonderful occasion.
“It’s nothing short of fantastic, the whole thing, the whole arena.
“To see 40,000 of your supporters, the flags will be waving the noise will be quite incredible.
“It’s a wonderful wonderful atmosphere at big sporting occasions and the play-off final in the Championship is a great sporting occasion.
“Let’s hope it’s our day, the supporters make sure you have a few beers, and shout loud until you can’t speak any more and see if you can get us over the line.”
Slaviša Jokanovic on team styles
“Probably, it’s two great teams with a little bit different style, I don’t know, but probably they will try move a bit more and try not surprise us and score some goals from set pieces and individual action after some offensive transitions.
“For our side, we must focus on our style, it’s not a question about take the risk or don’t take the risk, it’s try dominate the situation and try put these people under stress and force them.
“Against us, we will find many experienced players and they won’t be so surprised playing in this stadium, if you don’t force against Chester and Terry and put them in situation for working, for running or for forcing this kind of situation they will be comfortable.
“We must take our responsibility and try be aggressive and try win the game.”
Jokanovic on ‘favourites’
“To be honest at the start of the season if someone bet Villa against Fulham people would bet on Villa.
“After the last few months where we showed we can play better and the best football in the Championship, we can be favourites but everything is history and the past.
“Now is not important who is favourite and who is not, we will see on the end.”
and Jokanovic’s controversial comments…
“They are an old and tired team and they are going to show some weaknesses.
“Steve Bruce knows how to protect his defensive line, but we know we can put them under pressure and cause damage.”
8th November 1965 – Aston Villa 2 Fulham 0
A brace from Phil Woosnam saw us through to the next round the last time we beat Fulham outside of league competition.
One to Watch
Ryan Sessegnon – Voted Championship Player of the Season, the 18-year-old has had a terrific campaign for Fulham with 16 goals and 7 assists.
The higher-placed side have won only four of the past nine championship play-off finals
Facts to Sweep Under the Carpet
Play-off finals are difficult games to predict. Anything can happen. It sounds clichéd, but the statistics back it up!
We’re relatively fortunate in terms of injuries but we could be without the dependable Ahmed Elmohamady for Saturday’s big game. Replacement James Bree performed well in the second leg against Boro, but the Egyptian will be a big loss if he can’t make it.
Villa performed very well over the two legs but we must be wary of Fulham’s momentum. They became only the second side in 17 play-off occasions to overturn a first leg loss, so could carry this “against the odds” mentality to Wembley.
A one-off game to secure promotion will be a new experience for Villa, and while it’s the same for Fulham, it will be a tense affair.
Four of the last five Championship play-off finals have seen the competing teams drawing at the half time break, but worryingly, 64% of Fulham’s goals have been scored after the interval.
A patient approach may be utilised by Fulham – across the two play-off legs, they had 69% of possession. Full concentration will be required by Villa, and we have to be prepared for the prospect of 120 minutes instead of just 90.
Unfortunately this season we have shown that we can make mistakes on key occasions (such as defeats to QPR and Bolton), but obviously it’s a little different at Wembley.
Hopefully, we will see the Villa team that we saw dismantle Wolves 4-1…
“Let’s hope it’s our day, the supporters make sure you have a few beers, and shout loud until you can’t speak any more” – BRUCE ON VILLA FANS
Why Villa Have Got This Game in the Bag
While some of his comments were controversial, Jokanovic did at least acknowledge the wealth of Wembley experience in the Villa ranks. As a club too, Villa have been fairly frequent visitors to the national stadium over the last few years.
Fulham on the other hand travel to Wembley for the first time in 43 years – in football, things like that can sometimes make the difference.
We spoke over how well Fulham did to overcome their first leg loss but let’s not forget our own play-off efforts. We limited Middlesbrough to just two on-target efforts across the three hours so should be confident about restricting Fulham.
The emphasis on defence employed in the Middlesbrough matches may also be utilised on Saturday, which could suit the game if recent history is anything to go by.
12 Championship play-off finals have reached 90 minutes with less than three goals – and just under half of the 19 encounters produced no more than just one goal, including four of the last five.
That Fulham finished above Villa in the table has given Saturday’s opponents the ‘favourite’ tag in some quarters. But one stat is particularly interesting, and encouraging. The higher-placed side have won only four of the past nine play-off finals…
While Fulham’s manager discussed the player’s experience, consider the history of Steve Bruce, who will be eyeing a fifth promotion to the Premier League, and a third play-off promotion.
He’s been promoted in both of his previous two play-off finals, winning on penalties in 2002 with Blues and with Hull in 2016.
It’s an impressive record and a key reason in Villa’s decision to hire Bruce. He’ll be the third manager to manage in three second division play-off finals after Brian Little and Ian Holloway, and he’s won four promotions to the top flight.
That gives him a joint record with Neil Warnock who achieved a fourth this season, so there’s new managerial records to be made.
Villa fans have endured some horrible times over the past few seasons but on Saturday we have the chance to get back where we belong.
Of course it won’t be easy, but with the support of almost 40,000 Villa fans, it could be a day to remember. We can do it.
The 26th of May 2018 could join the 26th of May in 1982 in Villa’s list of significant dates.
As good omens come, sharing the date with the Rotterdam win is surely as good as they get.
Let’s get the job done.