Steve Walsh’s winning goal vs Derby in 1994
Leicester City playoff final legend Steve Walsh predicts the result of this year’s showpiece final
Having played in four Championship - or Division One Playoff finals, as they were during my time at Leicester City - I have experienced the extreme highs and pitiful lows of ‘The Richest Game in Football’. The finals in 1992 and 1993 hold very different memories to 1994 and 1996 for me but one thing was the same across them all. On every occasion we entered the arena the atmosphere was electric and you need to be the right kind of character not to shrink under that pressure.
I think this will be the deciding factor in this year’s Championship final between Aston Villa and Fulham. It’ll come down to who can hold their nerve in what I believe will be an extremely tight affair.
Fulham have been in great form, their 23 game unbeaten run in that division is no mean feat and I actually thought right up to that defeat at Birmingham that automatic promotion was theirs for the taking. Slavisa Jokanovic has some fine young talent in that side and like most football fans I have been particularly impressed with Ryan Sessegnon, who I think will be in the Premier League regardless next season. The 17-year-old has been Fulham’s shining light with 16 goals and seven assists and when running at defenders there is no better sign in football. He is going to be hard to contain, tracking him is going to take all of Aston Villa’s experience and no how.
But Steve Bruce’s side is made up of some vastly experienced footballers and when it comes to performing under pressure, experience can be key. With a Premier League winner leading the charge back to the promise land there is no one better at handling the pressure of the occasion than John Terry (not mentioning that Champions League Peno of course).
Another young talent destined for a return to the Premier League is Jack Grealish, reportedly linked with a £20 million move to Leicester City if Aston Villa are not successful in their Wembley adventure. Grealish has played a huge role in Villa’s playoff push and could be the difference for the Claret and Blues this Saturday. Grealish, the outstanding performer at the Riverside Stadium in the semi-final clash with Middlesbrough has flourish this season under Steve Bruce, who now believes he is mature enough to become a world-class talent. I’m not as convinced as Brucie that he is ‘World-Class’ but at his best, Grealish is a joy to watch. He can dictate Villa’s attacking play and like Sessegnon has the skill glide past the Fulham defence.
Despite Villa finishing 5 points behind Fulham in the table this season I have a sneaky feeling that the experience of the likes of Terry, Hutton, Snodgrass and Jedinak will be the deciding factor in this £200 million showpiece final on Saturday. Like I have said previously, it’s going to be a tight old game with few goals but I can see Steve Bruce’s men coming out victorious in a 1-0 win.