Fulham's Tom Cairney celebrates scoring. Nigel French
promised land

Heartbreak for Aston Villa, as Fulham earn Premier League promotion

Irish international Cyrus Christie was involved in the London side’s triumph.

FULHAM BEAT ASTON Villa 1-0 to secure their place in the Premier League during today’s Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Tom Cairney got the only goal of the game with a clinical finish on 23 minutes.

Villa were given a boost in the final stages, as Denis Odoi was sent off for a second yellow with 20 minutes remaining.

However, Slaviša Jokanović’s men held on to secure a crucial victory.

There was Irish interest as far as both sides were concerned.

Cyrus Christie came on as a late substitute for the Londoners, while Conor Hourihane started for Villa.

Scott Hogan and Glenn Whelan were also on the bench for Villa, with the former replacing the injured Hourihane after 82 minutes.

“I am so excited for my club, for these supporters. We showed we could follow the style that we followed for the past two years, in this stadium,” Jokanovic said.

“I’d have preferred to do the job with automatic promotion but, to be promoted at this place in front of these fans, I have to be satisfied.”

Fulham’s financial windfall from increased revenue could rise to £280 million if they go on to survive for one season among the elite.

Yet even their American billionaire owner Shadid Khan knows it is the prestige of playing Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool next season that matters far more than the extra cash in his bulging bank account.

It was an unforgettable evening for Fulham, who were making their first appearance at Wembley since losing the 1975 FA Cup final against West Ham.

And Khan was celebrating from the stands of what could soon be his personal property as he negotiates a deal to buy the iconic stadium from the Football Association.

There was only misery for Villa as they missed out on promotion on the 36th anniversary of the club’s famous European Cup final victory over Bayern Munich.

Villa, owned by Chinese businessman Tony Xia, paid the price for a limp first half and are faced with a third successive season outside the Premier League, a stark reality given a reduction in the parachute payments could lead to the sale of their stars.

“We were disappointed with the first half. We didn’t do enough to ask them real questions,” Villa manager Steve Bruce said.

“Ryan Fredericks should have been sent off. We just needed a break, but we didn’t get one.”

No manager has won more promotions to the Premier League than the four amassed by Bruce, whose team included former Chelsea captain John Terry.

But although Fulham had an average age of three years younger than Villa, there was no sign of stage-fright from Jokanovic’s team.

- Adventurous Fulham -

Jokanovic had vowed to take advantage of Villa’s veterans, labelling them “an old and tired team, they are going to show some weaknesses”.

Villa failed to heed that warning and Fulham fulfilled their manager’s prediction as they took the lead in the 23rd minute.

Fulham winger Ryan Sessegnon has caught the eye of Premier League clubs during a dazzling campaign and the 18-year-old sensation was the catalyst for his team’s opener.

Coming in from the left flank to steal possession in midfield, Sessegnon showed maturity beyond his tender age as he looked up and slipped a pin-point pass to Cairney.

The Scotland midfielder had timed his run perfectly, leaving Villa’s defenders trailing in his wake as he slotted a cool left-footed finish into the far corner of Sam Johnstone’s net.

With emotions still running high after Cairney’s goal, Fulham got lucky when defender Ryan Fredericks avoided a red card after appearing to deliberately stamp on Grealish.

Grealish fluffed his lines early in the second half, heading over from a good position.

Villa were finally clicking into gear and Grealish embarked on a dazzling run through the Cottagers defence, but Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli was equal to his shot.

Fulham defender Odoi was dismissed when his reckless foul on Grealish earned a second yellow card in the 70th minute.

But Villa lacked the cutting edge to take advantage and Jokanovic’s men were soon celebrating their return to the big time.

Additional reporting by AFP

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