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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Steve Bruce can lead Aston Villa into Premier League

Fulham face Wembley playoff heartache

Aston Villa attacking midfielder Jack Grealish
1 of 1

Sky Bet Championship playoff final
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 5pm Saturday

Steve Bruce is an expert at getting teams promoted to the Premier League and he can do it for a fifth time by leading Aston Villa to victory over Fulham in the Sky Bet Championship playoff final.

As always, when it comes to the richest game in football, the stakes are high with the winning club expected to be £160m better off over the next three seasons.

That windfall rises to an estimated £280m should the victors stave off relegation next season and gain access to the new Premier League television deal which kicks in from the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

In matches like this it can come down to who handles the occasion better and Villa's extra experience could give them an advantage.

Mile Jedinak, Ahmed Elmohamady and Robert Snodgrass have all been on the winning side in Championship playoff finals.

And John Terry - a winner of five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, one Champions League, one Europa League and three League Cups - knows all about how to winning massive games.

The 37-year-old's influence extends way beyond his contribution on the pitch and has had a positive impact on Villa attacking midfielder Jack Grealish, who is starting to realise some of his massive potential.

Grealish was hardly mentioned as a candidate for the England squad but his eye for a killer pass is something England will lack this summer.

He needs to be playing Premier League football next season and will probably get his wish whatever the outcome at Wembley.

The most likely recipient of Grealish's creativity is on-loan Bournemouth striker Lewis Grabban, who has netted eight goals in 15 Villa appearances.

But Villa have goal-threats from other areas too. Winger Albert Adomah tops their scoring charts with 14 goals and Snodgrass is a threat with his ability from free kicks.

However, the key to a Villa victory could be their defence. They were rock-solid over the two legs against Middlesbrough, keeping two clean sheets and conceding just two shots on target, both of them during the 1-0 first-leg success at the Riverside.

Boro were criticised in some quarters for a lack of attacking intent but they were given a tough time by Villa, who played with intensity and stopped them from getting into a rhythm.

It will be harder for them to contain Fulham, who play arguably the best football in the division.

Fulham should appreciate the conditions at Wembley and the enormity of the occasion is unlikely to faze talented teenager Ryan Sessegnon, who has scored 15 league goals this season and attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs.

Centre-forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, 12 goals in 17 games this season, is another potential match-winner and classy midfielders Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald possess the ability to assist and get on the scoresheet.

An open game would likely suit the Cottagers, who have pace to burn on the counter-attack, but Championship playoff finals are often nervy, cautious affairs where mistakes rather than moments of brilliance are defining factors.

The last five playoff finals have generated a total of five goals, including one scored in extra-time.

The last five winners have all kept clean sheets and Villa's sharper defensive instincts may just give them the edge.

Villa have achieved shutouts in seven of their last ten matches and a solid, unspectacular performance may be enough to seal a return to the Premier League after a painful two-year absence.

Aston Villa to be promoted
1pt 5-4 Sky Bet

Sky Bet Championship final standings

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Team news
Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo is sidelined but Floyd Ayite (hamstring) is available.

Aston Villa
Ahmed Elmohamady (muscle strain) is a doubt and Neil Taylor (hamstring), Jed Steer (shoulder) and Axel Tuanzebe (foot) miss out.

Key stat
Aston Villa have kept seven clean sheets in their last ten matches.

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The last five playoff finals have generated a total of five goals, including one scored in extra-time
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