One sleep from Wembley. Or rather, one night of attempted sleep! I feel like a kid at Christmas, knowing that tomorrow is the day that football fans dream about. Some fans get a chance to see their team at Wembley every few seasons, for others it’s maybe once every ten years or so, but for Fulham it has been 43 years. We have had the longest wait of any other professional club, and was just one of the reasons for our mass celebrations last Monday evening by the Thames.
There have been mind games from both camps and banter between the two fan bases but tomorrow all of that will be left behind and Slavisa Jokanovic and his team must do the talking on the pitch. 90minutes from the Promised Land of the Premier League and a cash wind fall that most clubs can only dream of.
Tomorrow’s game is incredibly difficult to call. Some say that we are favourites while some say that Villa have that burden, but truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. We have played each other twice already this season with both sides winning at home. Villa fans have been quick to remind me that they were without Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah for the game at Craven Cottage, but we didn’t have Tom Cairney to start, played Rui Fonte and Aboubakar Kamara up front for the first time together and had Ryan Sessegnon as a left back at Villa Park. Tomorrow both sides look to have a fully fit squad so this will be noticeably different from the previous two games this season. The midfield battle will be fierce with the undoubtedly talented Grealish alongside Snodgrass and Hourihane up against Cairney, Johansen and McDonald and you’d imagine that whoever wins that battle will win the match.
I decided to call on Aston Villa fan and podcaster at 7500 to Holte, Daniel Raza for a Villa take on the game tomorrow.
- Who do you see has Villa’s main danger man for Fulham on Saturday?
Jack Grealish. Going into a final, we’re going to need a certain amount of energy to stay dangerous for the full 90/120 minutes and I believe he can drive Villa forward especially on the counter. I’m expecting Villa to be solid defensively from watching the semi-finals and being quick on the break is going to be important. Other than that, we were without him during the defeat and Craven Cottage and he could be the changing factor.
- Who is your unsung hero from this season and why?
James Chester deserves a lot of plaudits for solid defensive performances and turning up to every minute of Championship football this season. It’s easy to get ignored when your defensive partner is John Terry, but James is one of the biggest leader figures in the team and will be important for us in the final.
- When was the last time you got to Wembley? What happened?
It was at the end of an awful season in 2015, where Tim Sherwood had been brought in as the replacement to Paul Lambert. He had a positive effect on the team and gave Villa the final push into to FA Cup Final. Unfortunately, the team choked as they had done for most of the season and lost 4-0 to Arsenal. This was the season before we got relegated.
- Is there anyone from Fulham’s team that really worries you?
I do think Sessegnon is going to be a wildcard here. He’ll likely be the youngest player on the pitch on Saturday and whilst nerves are racking up around both dressing rooms – this could be the big opportunity he needs to shine. He has nothing to lose on Saturday and that could really drive him to cause havoc against us. With Elmohamady injured, it’s a big ask for Alan Hutton to keep both Sessegnon and Kamara at bay.
- SCORE PREDICTION- I’m going to say 1-1 at 90 minutes, and 2-1 Villa after extra time!
So there we go. They have very recent Wembley experience plus A LOT of leaders on the pitch. For the neutral, this is the best game you could have hoped for in a Play-off Final, but for fans of both clubs we are in for 90minutes at least of stress.
I can’t ask Daniel to do a score prediction and not do one myself, so here goes. I’m going to be brave and say 2-0 Fulham at the end of the 90 with Mitrovic and Cairney with the goals.