Fulham and Aston Villa fans will be at Wembley this weekend, watching their teams battle to win a place in next season’s Premier League. The 2018 EFL Championship Play-Off Final kicks off at 17:00 on Saturday and will be shown live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event. The winning team will receive an impressive football trophy and an estimated minimum revenue boost of £160 million over the course of the next three years.
The EFL Championship Play-Off Final – Can Fulham Finish the Season on a High?
Fulham’s automatic promotion dreams were shattered on the final day of the 2017/18 season, when Birmingham City brought their 23-match winning run to an end. Had they won the match, the Cottagers would have secured a spot in next year’s Premiership competition. Instead, they finished the season in third place, two points behind Cardiff City, who were promoted along with the division’s winners, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Being in the play-offs is nothing new for Fulham but making it through to the final is. In 1988/89, they were defeated by Bristol Rovers in the Third Division semi-finals, while Grimsby Town put pay to their promotion plans in the Second Division semi-finals in 1997/98. They made it to the Championship semi-finals last season too but were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Reading. This year, however, they made it safely through the semi-final stages, beating Derby County by 2-1 on aggregate to book their Wembley spot.
Can Fulham seize the football trophy and make it back into the Premier League for the first time since 2013/14? Their manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, certainly sounds determined to succeed. Earlier this week, he told the Standard: “People only remember winners, no one remembers the team that lost the final. It is one of the most important games in our careers.”
Aston Villa vs. Fulham – Can Villa Get Back into the Premier League?
Aston Villa earned their place in Saturday’s final by finishing the season in fourth place, five points behind Fulham, and defeating Middlesbrough by 1-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals. Villa were among the clubs that featured in the Premier League when it was founded in the 1992/93 season and remained there until the end of the 2015/16 season, when they were relegated to the second tier. Therefore, they’ll have their sights firmly set on restoring order by gaining a Premiership place this weekend.
According to Steve Bruce, his men are definitely ready for the challenge. Speaking to Sky Sports this week, he said: “On Tuesday I had to stop training early because they were champing at the bit – too early. It got a bit feisty to say the least.”
While this is the first time that Villa have reached a play-off final, the squad will certainly gain confidence from considering their manager’s previous successes. He has managed teams who’ve made it to the finals on two previous occasions (Birmingham City in 2001/02 and Hull City in 2015/16). Each of these outings ended in promotion to the Premier League for Bruce’s team. Both Villa and Fulham won their home matches when they met in the Championship this season, so although the Londoners are the favourites in the run-up to Saturday’s clash, it could turn out to be a thriller.
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