On a muggy, sweaty afternoon, Fulham joined their neighbours Chelsea in the top flight, after defeating Aston Villa 1-0 in a play-off final that was far more one-sided than the scoreline suggested.
It’s a great feather in the cap for Hammersmith & Fulham borough to boast two Premier League teams… although the coming season will be Chelsea’s last at the existing Stamford Bridge before the bulldozers flatten it to rebuild with 20,000 more seats.
The neighbours at the other end of Fulham Road looked promising top-flight material at Wembley, comfortably beating a leaden-footed Villa team who seemed to have little or nothing to offer up front, apart from a couple of marauding excursions by the inventive Jack Grealish.
That the Whites managed to win despite being reduced to 10 men in the 70th minute, when Denis Odoi was sent off for a second bookable offence, gave a clue to their organisation and grit. They wound down the clock professionally, and Villa were simply unable to find an equaliser.
Had the match gone to extra time, it might have been a different story. The Midlands team had started to look stronger in the second half, and it’s likely that the Whites would have been exhausted towards the end. In the end, captain Tom Cairney’s goal in the 23rd minute, set up by a defence-splitting pass from the superb Ryan Sessegnon, was enough.
It almost certainly marks the end of Villa – and ex-Chelsea – captain John Terry’s bid to return to the Premier League. The through ball that teed up the only goal flew past the defender, who was simply unable to cope with the speed of that particularly Fulham attack.
In front of 85,243, the Championship play-off once again proved to be one of English football’s great, tense occasions, with so much riding on the outcome. Fulham owner Shahid Khan looked please as punch with the outcome… unsurprisingly. His bid to buy Wembley now looks even more likely to succeed with a cash injection of more than £200million from promotion.
Chelsea and Fulham’s rivalry will resume after the Whites’ four years in the ‘wilderness’.