Fulham Promoted to Premier League With Championship Play-Off Win vs. Aston Villa

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2018

Fulham's English defender Ryan Sessegnon (R) makes a through pass in the build up to the opening goal by Fulham's English midfielder Tom Cairney during the English Championship play-off final football match between Aston Villa and Fulham at Wembley Stadium in London on May 26, 2018. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / AFP) / NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING USE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE        (Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)
IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Fulham achieved promotion to the Premier League by beating Aston Villa 1-0 in the 2018 Championship Playoff final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday in London.

Captain Tom Cairney scored the winner in the 23rd minute after being played through by rising star Ryan Sessegnon. Fulham held onto their lead despite playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men after Denis Odoi received a second yellow card for a foul on Villa's Jack Grealish.

   

Sessegnon Is as Good as the Hype Suggests

The most highly touted player in the country gave a masterclass at Wembley. Sessegnon delivered a superb performance during the first half, showing pace, technique and vision.

Those qualities were most obvious in his contribution for Cairney's goal, and his classy through pass on Twitter:

Sessegnon has made such contributions the norm. He's been particularly effective during the Cottagers' play-off run, per Squawka Football:

It's little wonder Goal.com's Chris Burton has reported Premier League sides Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are showing interest in the precocious wide man.

Sessegnon rarely lacked confidence at Wembley, showcasing deft touches, intelligent reading of the game and a bullish willingness to take players on. He tormented right-back Alan Hutton during the opening 45 minutes but switched sides on occasion too.

It speaks volumes about Sessegnon's potential he was able to deliver such an assured display in a match of this magnitude.

   

Red Card Inevitable Amid Grealish Punishment

For all their style going forward, Fulham weren't bashful about getting physical defensively, particularly when dealing with Villa schemer Grealish. Odoi paid the price when he was booked for a second time in the 70th minute after becoming the latest Fulham player to chop Grealish to the floor.

Fulham could have been down to 10 in the first half after this stamp by Ryan Fredericks on Villa's 22-year-old No. 10:

It was just one incident in a rough opening 45 minutes for Grealish.

After the break, he began tying Fulham defenders in knots, though.

His twisting, turning runs created many shooting opportunities, and last-ditch tackles denied Grealish more than once.

Ironically, while he'd survived some rough treatment long enough for Fulham to be punished, Grealish himself was lucky to still be on the pitch. Moments before Odoi was sent packing by referee Anthony Taylor, Grealish only received a yellow card for a reckless lunge on Cairney.

It could have been a moment the Cottagers were left to rue, but their reduced numbers eventually withstood Grealish's craft.

   

John Terry's Chelsea "Clause" Thankfully Won't Come into Effect

Prior to the game, there was talk 37-year-old centre-back John Terry may extend his contract with Villa, provided he would be allowed to decide whether he faced former side Chelsea in the event of promotion.

The Daily Telegraph's John Percy reported Terry's new deal would see manager Steve Bruce let the former Blues skipper choose to play against his old club or not next season.

The idea didn't not go down well with many, with Paddy Power among the first to welcome Fulham's lead making this idea a non-starter:

Terry hadn't had the best start to the match, anyway. After the goal was conceded, he committed himself into a challenge with Cairney and left space for a runner in behind, a situation Fulham failed to make the most of.

   

Cairney Proves There's More to Fulham than Sessegnon

Sessegnon is the star, but he's far from alone in Fulham's gallery of attack-minded players. Cairney is another gem, and his well-timed run into the box and composure in front of goal was the deciding factor here.

Scoring goals has become a happy habit for Cairney on the watch of manager Slavisa Jokanovic, per Sky Sports Statto:

Sam Dean of the Daily Telegraph highlighted that Cairney too would likely have drawn Premier League interest had Fulham not won the game:

   

What's Next?

Losing key talents should no longer be a worry for Fulham after a well-deserved return to England's top flight for the first time since 2014. Jokanovic will likely hope a good slice of the £200 million winning this final is worth is available to add further quality.

As for Villa, Bruce faces a tough challenge tweaking a veteran squad to make a stronger push for promotion. Grealish is a player he can build around, but Terry's leadership is likely to be missed. 

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