17.00 BST, Saturday 25th May, Wembley Stadium, Sky Sports Football
Both Aston Villa and Fulham were touted as pre-season candidates for promotion and they find themselves just one game away from returning to the Premier League.
Fulham struggled in the first half of the season but found their stride in 2018 as they went 23 games unbeaten before losing to Birmingham on the final day and missing out on automatic promotion.
Aston Villa spent much of the season around the promotion places but fell away, finishing in fourth place and five points behind third-placed Fulham.
Earlier this season Villa defeated Fulham at Villa Park 2-0, however, in February of this year, Fulham were the victors with that same 2-0 scoreline.
Last time out
Aston Villa 0-0 Middlesbrough
Villa did what was needed to see themselves through to the final as they restricted Middlesbrough to no shots on target during the second leg to ensure their 1-0 advantage from the first leg was enough.
Other than that, the game was reasonably uneventful though Villa always looked more likely to score as Darren Randolph played out a man of the match performance.
Fulham 2-0 Derby
The Cottagers were able to overturn a one-goal deficit to book their place in the playoff final as they dismantled Derby.
Second-half goals by Ryan Sessegnon and Denis Odoi netted the important goals to give the home side a deserved victory.
20 shots, ten on target and 64% possession tells the story of the game as Fulham battered Derby.
The away side could count themselves fortunate to not have lost by more and relied upon Scott Carson to keep them in the fixture.
Aston Villa lineup
Neil Taylor should make his return to the Villa lineup after recovering from injury. Ahmed Elmohamady is also likely to return for the Villans.
Fulham have no injury concerns heading into this weekend’s game. Sheyi Ojo should be back fit but may not feature.
Key battle – John Terry vs Aleksandar Mitrovic
Can the 37-year-old former England captain deal with the hottest striker in the Championship?
For Aston Villa, Terry needs to be at his absolute best to make sure he can keep the Newcastle loanee quiet.
Mitrovic on the other hand will know a good performance here will probably lead to Fulham’s promotion and a move away from Newcastle where he has failed to fit in since signing.
His 12 goals in 17 games were vital to Fulham’s upturn, but the question is whether the experienced Terry can keep him quiet – something defenders have struggled with all season.
Will Steve Bruce still be at Villa if they lose?
While it seems a little harsh to sack a manager who came one win away from promotion, Bruce’s remit would have been to earn promotion this season.
The money the club has spent over the last two years should have been more than enough to secure their place in the Premier League and the ramifications of not going up this season could hurt the club for years to come.
Bruce seems like the perfect candidate though to get the club promoted next season if they fail to win on Saturday.
Everyone has been waxing lyrical about the young Fulham player ever since he burst onto the scene last season.
This is the biggest game of his career, and it could be the final game if his side fails to win.
He has spoken about his desire to stay at the Cottage, but the lure of a big Premier League side may be too much to ignore if Fulham are playing Championship football next season.
If Sessegnon is playing at his best, then Fulham stand a great chance of securing their position back in the top flight.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-3 Fulham
On paper, perhaps, Villa are the stronger side. They have the experience with Terry, Robert Snodgrass, James Chester, Ahmed Elmohamady, Mile Jedinak and Lewis Grabban all having bundles of experience and some of them even having the experience of winning the playoffs before.
However, this feels like Fulham’s season. After years of hurt, the Cottagers have an exciting young team matched by a manager who knows his way around a tactics board. This could be enough to get them through the final and into the Premier League.
Which side do you feel deserves promotion this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.
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