After a four year absence, Fulham will next season return to the big time, following a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in Saturday’s Playoff final.
The last time Fulham were in the Premier League, Man City were champions, and Real Madrid had conquered all of Europe. you’d therefore be forgiven for thinking not much had changed in the 4 seasons since. But for the Cottagers, its been a turbulent spell in the Championship, which initially began with back to back bottom half finishes.
The last two seasons saw the club turn things around, but they were in danger of becoming the nearly men, after a playoff semi final defeat last year, and narrowly missing out on automatic promotion this season.
They therefore went into Saturdays final knowing it was an opportunity not to be missed, and against a Villa side that never really got out of first gear, they suitably seized the opportunity. It was the final we all wanted to see, 3rd place vs 4th, in what was expected to be a close encounter. So when Fulham shot into an early lead after a very bright start, it seemed as if the final was only going one way. A shaky looking Villa defense were opened up thanks to a slick move from the Fulham attack, as Teenage Sensation Ryan Sessegnon played in Tom Cairney, who calmly slotted the ball past the Keeper Sam Johnstone. Fulham continued to press for a second with the pace of Fulham in wide areas causing all kinds of problems, a Mitrovic free header really should have made it 2-0.
It was a difficult afternoon for the former Chelsea legend John Terry, who at times was running very gingerly.
His worries were eased however as Villa fought back in the second half, with time running out the need for an equalizer became more pressing. Aston Villa’s main threat came from the Brummie talisman Jack Grealish, who, operating in the 10 role, was an ever present danger. Mid way through the second half, he embarked on what can only be described as a Ricky Villa-esque jinking run through the Fulham defense. After tiptoeing his way into the box, Grealish fired towards goal, but a fortunate deflection off a Fulham defender prevented what would have been a piece of individual brilliance.
“I’m in charge of a really great club and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” – Bruce
Villa continued to push for an equalizer, even sending on two additional strikers in Kodja and Hogan to find a way through. Fulham though stood strong, and while Denis Odoi’s sending off 20 minutes from time led to a jittery end for Slavisa Jokanovic’s Whites, they ultimately dug deep to secure the biggest financial prize in world football on a day to cherish.
The significance of the day was clear for all to see at full time, as shown by Fulham’s jubilant celebrations. The win confirms that Fulham will be playing Premier League football next season, the significance of which cannot be overstated, when you consider that many of the sides stars, Sessegnon included, may have left if promotion wasn’t achieved. After losing out on automatic promotion on the final day, the relief for Fulham will no doubt be huge.
Congratulations to the Cottagers, we look forward to seeing you in the Premier League next year!
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