Fulham defeated Aston Villa 1-0 to earn the final berth in the EPL next season.
The Daily Mail:” Fulham’s billionaire owner Shahid Khan does not own Wembley yet but the national stadium has provided its first magical memory as he watched his club return to the Premier League after a four-year absence.
The fabulously moustachioed Khan was considered a joke figure when he arrived from the NFL and promptly took Fulham down under another punchline, manager Felix Magath.
But yesterday the Pakistani-American looked drained as Fulham won their place back after a pulstating afternoon experiencing the drama first-hand that association football can provide.
He does not need the extra £170million of Premier League revenue given he is rich enough to table an £900m bid for Wembley but a look at his face at full-time showed how much he cared.
Under foreign ownership and the watchful eye of their Serbian boss Slavisa Jokanovic, Fulham’s all-important goal was made in Britain. Eighteen-year-old prodigy Ryan Sessegnon threaded a sublime pass to Scotland international Tom Cairney after 23 minutes and the captain dispatched his chance effortlessly.
It proved the only goal but told half the story. Villa overcame a poor first half to lay siege on Fulham’s goal, particularly when the Londoners went down to 10 men with Denis Odoi sent off after 70 minutes.
Midfielder Jack Grealish was unplayable at times and nearly scored one of Wembley’s great goals when he slalomed past three defenders.
Grealish also missed two other presentable chances and was kicked to bits, with right-back Ryan Fredericks lucky his stamp on the Villa player’s leg was not spotted.
Grealish was also incensed that a handball appeal against Odoi was not given and recklessly slid in on Cairney out of frustration, and was lucky to escape himself with a yellow.
When Odoi produced one foul too many on Grealish he saw red.
Bruce threw on three attackers to try and take advantage of the extra man. One of them, Jonathan Kodjia, missed his kick in front of goal and Grealish was denied another penalty appeal at the end.
Grealish, a local Brummie, looked devastated at the final whistle and had to be consoled at length by John Terry.
Bruce lost both his parents this year so will keep the result in perspective. But from a football point of view, it hurt.
‘There were big decisions that went against us. It should have been a red card very early [for Fredericks on Grealish],’ he said.
‘For me, he stamps on Jack. I saw it straight away and thought the fourth official was there too. When it’s that close you’d think the officials would have the communication to deal with it. ‘Fouling Jack was part of their gameplan. When he broke, they were a bit cynical.’
There will now be questions over the futures of Grealish, Terry and Bruce. ‘It’s wrong to ask me when I am aching inside. The feeling now is utter disappointment for everybody,’ added the manager.
At least the manager seems game to give it another go.
‘I have been doing it a long time and I’m in charge of a great club with a big history. I’m really gutted for everybody and I will roll my sleeves up again. It’s what I do.’
For Fulham boss Slavis Jokanovic, who won promotion with Watford three years ago but never got the chance to manage in the Premier League, it was a personal triumph.
‘We’ve shown this season we are one of the most stylish teams in the Championship. But for the last 20 minutes with 10 men we had to be solid and fight together for a clean sheet. We suffered, but we have suffered for the last three years.
‘This was a really important victory. It is not easy to play a final at Wembley for young players. They showed the right personality.’
Next season Khan will want to make his mark with the big boys.
‘He is a great man, a head of important businesses. I don’t need to teach him anything. He will know the best step for the football club,’ said Jokanovic, though he also pointed out: ‘To show ambition, you need to show the money too.’
One of his priorities may be to sign striker Aleksandr Mitrovic, on loan from Newcastle.
Fulham’s average home gate this season was 12,000 fewer than Villa. But their fans packed out their half of Wembley on their first visit since 1975. While they basked in the sun, Villa fan the Duke of Cambridge didn’t take off his shades.
Bruce complained about his side’s first-half showing. ‘I don’t know why. The heat maybe, the occasion.’
Fulham dominated until the temperatures dropped. Grealish missed a header and then dribbled around virtually the whole Fulham defence until his final shot was stopped by a combination of Kevin McDonald and Marcus Bettinelli.
Fulham had their chances too. Sessegnon had a header saved by Sam Johnstone. McDonald blazed over and Aboubakar Kamara claimed a penalty as Alan Hutton slid across.
After Odoi was sent off, Bruce introduced Josh Onomah, Kodjia and Scott Hogan. But it wasn’t to be.