Fulham fill their boots as Cairney goal bags €180m Premier League return
Aston Villa miss out on return to top flight after pulsating Wembley encounter
Fulham’s Tom Cairney scores his side’s goal during the Sky Bet Championship playoff final against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire
Fulham 1 Aston Villa 0
Fulham are back in the big time after winning a thrilling Championship playoff final against Aston Villa, with Tom Cairney ending their four-year Premier League absence in a pulsating encounter.
Saturday may be the day of the Champions League final but the financial implications of the second-tier showpiece – worth at least €180 million of additional revenue to the victor – dwarfs the Kiev showpiece.
Fulham were favourites with the bookmakers – and perhaps the neutrals – on their first trip to Wembley since 1975, and emerged 1-0 winners against Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa after clinging onto Cairney’s first-half strike,
Denis Odoi’s sending off 20 minutes from time led to a jittery end for Slavisa Jokanovic’s Whites, but they dug deep to secure the biggest financial prize in world football on a day to cherish.
The decisive blow came midway through the first half as Fulham offered a glimpse of the football that has earned so many plaudits this term, with 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon superbly threading through Cairney to fire home.
Villa looked ripe for the taking as skipper John Terry struggled but Bruce, a man who knows a thing or two about promotion, got them firing in the second half.
Jack Grealish was a constant thorn in the side and saw a mazy run ended by a fine stop, before being taken down by a clumsy Odoi challenge that led to a second yellow card and an anxious conclusion.
Yet Fulham showed grit to match their skill to win and leave Villa, on the 36th anniversary of their European Cup triumph, facing another season in the Championship and the financial ramifications that brings.