CHAMPIONSHIP specialist Ross Casey (@RossCasey24) shares his verdict on the Championship play-off final from Wembley on Saturday, where Aston Villa face Fulham for a place in the Premier League.
Aston Villa v Fulham | Saturday 26th May 2018, 17:00 | Sky Sports
Thanks to the ever-increasing TV rights deals that the Premier League attracts, the harsh reality for one of these sides is that one will suffer next season financially, missing out on the incredible £200m+ on offer from promotion.
After finishing third and fourth respectively, Fulham and Aston Villa now face one another, with the Cottagers favourites to take the final step at Wembley with a best price of 7/5.
There is no guarantee that will be the case over 90 minutes and possibly extra-time and penalties however, only 34% of third placed teams have won the Championship play-offs, with both Brighton and Reading failing to get the job done in the last two seasons from that spot.
Aston Villa didn't concede a single goal in their two play-off games against a Middlesbrough side that had scored 38 goals in their final 23 Championship fixtures thanks to a tactic of playing their most experienced players a defensive style that meant they were never open to counter-attacks from the pacy Boro attack.
With Sam Johnstone in goal – who based on performance stats – was the best keeper in the Championship – and a defensive fulcrum of John Terry, James Chester and the man mountain Mile Jedinak as a holding central midfielder, they have a very strong back-line that can be hard to penetrate.
Steve Bruce has plenty of attacking ability in his side too, with Jack Grealish capable of pulling the strings with his mixture of poise and skill and Albert Adomah often is tasked with relieving the pressure on their defence with his fitness as he runs the ball into opposition areas and wins free-kicks and throw-ins to break up the play of their opposition.
Although they scored just one goal, a Mile Jedinak header from a corner in the first leg, that was enough to take them through 1-0 over two legs thanks to their defensive stability and Steve Bruce's tactics of refusing to open the game up and play a high line, even at home.
Away from home, only champions Wolves conceded less goals than Villa and on the neutral ground of Wembley a single goal could well be enough – in the last five Championship play-off finals there have been just four goals scored over 90 minutes.
Fulham have been made favourites to win here after an incredible 2018 where they scored in each of their regular season Championship fixtures – and won 17 of their last 22 fixtures.
Their possession stats are always majorly impressive – they have averaged 70% possession over their last three fixtures – but have only won one of those matches. That is proof that whilst certainly of these two sides, Fulham are the more attractive team to watch, they are certainly not impossible to defeat.
Fulham won the last encounter between these sides 2-0 which I am sure plays a part in making them favourites, but there is a caveat to this in that Aston Villa were unable to start Albert Adomah, Jack Grealish, Jonathon Kodjia and Lewis Grabban – arguably their four best attacking players at their disposal.
The betting angle
Aston Villa played a very good tactical game last weekend with a deep defensive line to stop the dangerous Adama Traore and I would be amazed if that changes against Fulham, who will dictate the game through their possession based tactics. Alan Hutton was given the task of man marking him and I think he will be given the same responsibility with Ryan Sessegnon.
I actually believe that Aston Villa are set up better to win a tight Championship play-off final than Fulham and will take them to Lift The Trophy at 4/3 with 188BET. For me, I see another war of attrition here and that will suit Villa, so I will also be backing Under 2.5 Goals which has landed in each of the last five Championship play-off finals.
For a long shot I will also back any player to score a header at 7/4 with Betfred – only four goals have been scored in the Championship play-offs so far and three have been headers.