A first-half goal made by Ryan Sessegnon and finished by Tom Cairney was the difference as Fulham defeated Aston Villa 1-0 in the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final which confirmed their Premier League return after a four-year absence.
It was a fiery encounter at Wembley Stadium as both sides played with grit and steel, but in the end, it was the West London side that edged out the better team as a Tom Cairney goal 23 minutes in was all that separated both sides.
Villa had chances to level the scoring and send the game to extra time, especially when Denis Odoi was sent off 70 minutes in, but still the Midlands side couldn’t find the finish to get them back in the game.
Playing just 30 minutes away from their Thames-based stadium, Fulham dominated in possession early on with Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen acting as screens to allow Cairney to have the freedom he needed to cause Aston Villa problems in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Aboubakar Kamara had the first real attempt on target 21 minutes in when the winger found himself on the edge of the penalty area as the ball fell perfectly towards him, but his volley flew just over the bar.
Kamara’s miss was amended for almost immediately as a minute later, the Fulham skipped had sent half of Wembley into raptures as he gave the west London side the lead.
Teenage wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon won the ball off Villa just outside the penalty area, and a misstep from John Terry allowed the winger to slip in Cairney inside the penalty area, and the Fulham number 10 coolly slid the ball under Sam Johnstone to give the Cottagers the lead.
Sessegnon could had made it 2-0 six minutes after Cairney’s opener when the 18-year-old sensation found himself open in the penalty area after a messy Fulham cross, however the England U21 attacker’s header was way too weak, and Johnstone was able to claim the ball easily.
Fulham continued to press the Villa backline, with Terry in particular leaving so much space for the Whites to exploit, but despite this Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were unable to find a second goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The second half began with Fulham once again dominating in possession, however this time the London side were able to make use with the ball as Villa were slow to react to danger.
This resulted in the Lilywhites nearly doubling their lead early on but their finishing was off the pace.
Soon after the flurry of early chances for Fulham, Steve Bruce’s side finally started to get into the game for the first time.
Led by Jack Grealish, the Villa fan from birth was the one creating all the chances for the Midlands-based side and the sole reason his club were far from out of this game.
Grealish himself had a chance to level the game up just before the hour mark when the creative midfielder waltzed his way through the entire Fulham defence and created a one-on-one opportunity with Marcus Bettinelli, but his shot was inaccurate, and the keeper was able to make the save.
The game been fiery from the moment the referee blew for kick-off, and the match came to head 70 minutes in when Odoi was dismissed for a second bookable offence of Grealish, who should had been sent off prior for a two-footed tackle on Cairney.
Villa used their strength in numbers to bring off two defensive players in Ahmed Elmohamady and Mile Jedinak for Josh Onomah and Jonathan Kodjia, whilst Fulham resorted to bringing on Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas for Kamara, who was booked for time wasting.
Despite these changes, Villa were unable to find a way through the rigorous Fulham defence, and the Lilywhites earned promotion to the Premier League after four years in the Championship.