Save the date

Villa are off to Wembley and Dave Woodhall is getting a bit excited at the prospect.

The twenty-sixth of May is an auspicious date in history; you know that already. And we have the chance to make the occasion a bit more memorable, even if it’s for something much, much less important.

Here’s something to be going on with – Villa don’t deserve to go up. Fulham should already be promoted. I don’t agree with play-offs; to my mind they’re an artificial invention designed to make more money out of supporters at the expense of sporting credibility. If three teams are to be promoted then it should be the best three over the course of the league programme. I may have incredibly flexible double standards where the Villa are concerned, but they don’t stretch that far.

Having said that, I’ll still be going to Wembley and still get hardly any sleep the night before, because in addition to those double standards I’m still wildly irrational on the subject. At least the play-offs have worked out how they should, with third versus fourth in the final, even if that does mean that whatever happens, we won’t be going on our favourite away trip next season.

Everyone loves Fulham, although a few keyboard warriors and newspaper commentators have tried to do some stirring this week. They haven’t got as many supporters as us so they’ve tried to rope in as many second-teamers and day trippers as they can to support them on the day – that’s their prerogative and I don’t blame them.

There’s been talk of large numbers of tickets being touted and segregation breaking down at the other end of the ground but such comments are bound to be as way off the mark as they usually are; just look how often we hear of thousands of away supporters with tickets for home areas of Villa Park. It never happens and although there’ll be Villa supporters dotted around all parts of Wembley I’ll be surprised if we’re in great numbers anywhere other than where we should be.

As for the match itself, we’re the underdogs but when it comes to the big occasion we usually are. The only time I can remember us going into a final as favourites was against Leeds in 1996; every other time we’ve had to overcome what was seen as superior opposition. Maybe that’s why we never seem totally at home on the big stage, which is a particular bugbear of mine. We always see showpiece games as an occasional treat rather than a regular occurrence, which makes success all the more enjoyable but might be the reason why we don’t have as much of it as we should.

Fulham have got a decent team, who managed to spectacularly blow promotion on the final day of the league season. That could be a taste of things to come – they don’t perform when the pressure’s on. That’s definitely where Villa have got the edge; we’ve got players who have been there, done it and got the t-shirt, even if they did have to put it on at the end of the match when they hadn’t been playing.

We’ve got goalscorers, matchwinners and as for Fulham finishing higher than us, if Jack Grealish and Jonathan Kodjia hadn’t suffered lengthy lay-offs I’m convinced we’d be promoted already. We’ve shown we can beat anyone and I don’t believe any team played as well all season as we did at home to Wolves. If Steve Bruce can get the team performing to anything like that standard the match will be over before it’s begun.

Then there’s the final secret weapon. If the score’s still level at the end of extra time just hand over the trophy there and then. There’s no way John Terry will let Fulham have any penalties.

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