They have done it!
After four years of trials and tribulations, plugging square pegs into round holes, followed by quite a Renaissance by one man, Fulham are back in the Premier League! Before they achieved such a feat all supporters have been wanting for so long, they have had to get passed an Aston Villa side that weren’t too shabby themselves.
But before we talk about the match, let’s talk about how immense the Fulham supporters were. Whenever you get the entire 38,000-seat white wall, you know how much the crowd were bringing it at Wembley Stadium. As if the worldwide reputation of Fulham could not have been greater, it went up immensely in case there were those who forgot who the club were in Premier League seasons past. It was if the negativity surrounding Fulham days after the Birmingham defeat were a thing of the past.
The match started off about as cagey as you could get for any other final of any football tournament around the world. Both teams were really trying to feel each other out for the entire first 20 minutes. That said, the fouls started to come so thick and fast that the first yellow card had to be given out in the 8th minute of play. But once the game did come to life, it was the one play that decided it all.
When Ryan Sessegnon received a hard pass from Stefan Johansen, we was forced to move away from his defender and the penalty area. But when he was able to get on the run, it was enough movement to find the space for a throughball to Tom Cairney. Once the talisman broke through Villa’s offside trap, it didn’t take much for him to beat Sam Johnstone to the far post.
Fulham 1, Aston Villa 0
From there, it was all out resilience from the men in white. Not only was their relentless defending in the second half, with both Denis Odoi and Tim Ream being the leading men in that cause, but Fulham were able to maintain their style throughout the rest of the 90 minutes. They were able to generate a 7-2 shot advantage in the first it, and maintained it all the way with a final tally to a 15-12. Johansen almost made it 2-0 with a rising shot that just went over the bar in the 60th minute and Aboubakar Kamara had moments of his own too before the first half concluded. However, the damage was done early on in the game.
But before Fulham put the finishing touches to a magical day at “the home of football”, they had to shut down one man that was doing his best to carry Villa back to the Premier League on his own. Jack Graelish was basically the sole focal point all match for the Villains and he literally became his team’s namesake after a late challenge on Tom Cairney. Now Fulham fans will rightfully argue that he should have been sent off, but the argument on Villa’s side of things were the fact that Fulham committed so many fouls on Graelish to begin with, including a stamp to the knee by Ryan Fredericks, that it should have been inevitable for Graelish to act the way he did. Still, the consensus should be that he deserved to get sent off because you can’t spell professional football without the word “professional” and the 22-year old rising star wasn’t even close to that on the Cairney foul.
In the end, Denis Odoi performed a massive poor man’s Nigel De Jong via kick on the belly toward’s Graelish in the 68th minute and because it was a second yellow, Fulham were reduced to 10 men. Fortunately for the men in white, Aston Villa really couldn’t create anything afterwards. Albert Adomah seemed to be the only man that could do something creatively outside of Graelish on a consistent basis. By game’s end, Graelish’s totals are as followed: 8 successful dribbles, 6 shots and 3 key passes. The midfielder literally did everything! Beyond a few flutters by Connor Hourihane and Robert Snodgrass, that was basically it with their attack. Once manager Steve Bruce threw the kitchen sink via his substitutes in Josh Onomah, Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia, Villa bluntly weren’t that much better and the rest was history.
And boy did Fulham make some history. Despite it being a more futuristic stadium, Wembley still holds near and dear to many football fans’ hearts. You simply can’t take away how magical it is for Fulham to win this way. Now the supporters will be able to celebrate more magical nights in England’s top flight. Some have argued they appreciated being in the Championship because they didn’t enjoy losing to the Manchester United’s, Liverpool’s and Chelsea’s of the world, but why not go after the big fish when you have the opportunity to do so every Saturday? After all, it felt like so long ago that even gaining promotion felt like an impossible dream. Now that dream has come true.