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Championship play-offs: Fulham win Premier League promotion over Aston Villa in Wembley final

2:05 PM EDT 5/26/18
Tom Cairney Aston Villa Fulham Championship play-off final 260518
Denis Odoi's 70th-minute red card meant Slavisa Jokanovic's side were down to 10 men, but Tom Cairney's first-half strike was enough to triumph

Ten-man Fulham have secured promotion to the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley in Saturday's Championship play-off final.

Wolves and Cardiff City have already secured automatic promotion with first and second-placed finishes respectively, but the Cottagers are assured of a spot in the top tier for 2018-19 following a remarkable second half of the season.

Fulham lost just once in the regular season since the beginning of 2018, in their final game before the play-offs against Birmingham City, which denied them a dramatic automatic promotion.

A 2-1 aggregate win over Derby County in the semi-finals secured a clash with Steve Bruce's Villa, who eliminated Middlesbrough over two legs in the previous round.

Tom Cairney's goal in the first half - assisted by English teenage wing sensation Ryan Sessegnon - gave Slavisa Jokanovic's side the upper hand heading in at half-time.

Denis Odoi's 70th-minute red card made Fulham sweat for a victory, faced with the prospect of 30 minutes of extra time with one less player should Aston Villa have scored, but they successfully held on for a euphoric victory.

Goal's Chris Wheatley spoke to Jokanovic ahead of the play-offs and he believes the London club - who were relegated from the Premier League in 2014 - have benefited from investing in his vision.

“If you want to play the football on the floor then I need better tools for my work," he said. "They [Fulham] interpreted me well, they understand my position and really quick after a few months we started this kind of new improvements."

Promotion to the Premier League not only brings the prestige of playing in one of the biggest competitions in world football, it also provides an insanely lucrative boost to the tune of hundreds of millions.

In recent seasons, the influx of television money to England's top division has increased its allure and, as a result of that, the Championship play-off final has been popularly dubbed as the £170 million game in recent years due to the minimum monetary uplift that is estimated to await the victor.

When and where was the 2018 Championship play-off final?

The 2018 Championship play-off final was scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 26 at the traditional venue of Wembley Stadium in London.

The play-offs were not always held at Wembley and from 2001 to 2006, when the 'Home of Football' was being rebuilt, they were played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

Wembley has a capacity of 90,000 and the Championship play-off final regularly sells out the state-of-the-art venue.

In the past two seasons, attendances at the play-off final have reached just over the 70,000 mark, but they have been close to sell-outs too.

Which teams qualified for the Championship play-offs?

The participants of the 2017-18 Championship play-offs have been decided, with Fulham's failure to capitalise on Cardiff City's draw with Reading ensuring they missed out on automatic promotion.

Fulham will be joined in the play-offs by Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Derby County. The Rams confirmed their place in the top six with a 4-1 victory over Barnsley on the final day of the season.

Both Preston North End and Millwall won their last game, but Derby's win meant that they were unable to move into the top six. Neither Aston Villa nor Middlesbrough could pick up three points in their final match of the regular season, but their results proved irrelevant as they had already wrapped up their places in the play-offs.

Latest Championship table:

Pos Team MP W D L GD Pts
1 Wolves (P) 46 30 9 7 +43 99
2 Cardiff City 46 27 9 10 +30 90
3 Fulham 46 25 13 8 +33 88
4 Aston Villa 46 24 11 11 +30 83
5 Middlesbrough 46 22 10 14 +22 76
6 Derby County  46 20 15 11 +22 75
7 Preston North End 46 19 16 11 +11 73
8 Millwall 46 19 15 12 +11 72

What happened in last year's Championship play-offs?

The 2016-17 Championship play-offs were won by Huddersfield Town , who subsequently joined Newcastle United and Brighton in moving up to the Premier League.

Huddersfield booked their place in the division's ultimate battle by finishing fifth in the league and they were joined by Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham, who finished third, fourth and sixth respectively.

The rules of the play-offs dictated that the third-placed team played the sixth-placed team in the semi-finals and the fourth-placed was paired with the fifth-placed team. So Reading took on Fulham in one semi-final and Sheffield Wednesday played Huddersfield.

Reading overcame Fulham by an aggregate score of 2-1, thanks to a Yann Kermogant penalty in the second leg, while Huddersfield defeated Wednesday on penalties after the sides could not be separated over the two legs.

The final saw Reading up against Huddersfield in the show-piece event and the game was decided on penalties after 120 minutes of football could not yield a victor. Huddersfield's on-loan goalkeeper Danny Ward saved a penalty and Christopher Schindler scored the winning spot-kick as the Terriers triumphed 4-3 in the shoot-out.

The game was played in front of 76,682 spectators at Wembley Stadium and Huddersfield qualified for the Premier League for the first time, having last played in the top-flight in 1972.