Aston Villa have made their way back to the Premier League after defeating Derby County 2-1 at Wembley in the Championship playoff final. The club joins Norwich City and Sheffield United as the three clubs heading to the top flight and replacing Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City.
It’s not clear whether the play was a result of nerves from being in a final, or exhaustion after a long grueling season, but neither team seemed especially prepared for today’s match. The result was more a case of Derby County playing at a below-average level longer than Aston Villa did. That’s not to say that both teams were devoid of any good play. Villa’s first goal came at the end of some excellent team play that led to Anwar El Ghazi’s header.
That build-up rectified the sloppy play that both teams had demonstrated in the first half, and helped Villa get a strong start to the second half. The aggressive attacks did not go unrewarded as John McGinn was able to head the ball in the net and double his club’s lead—though it certainly helped that Derby’s defense does deserve some credit for that score as they lost track of the ball in the air.
It wasn’t until the final 20 minutes of the match that Derby showed some semblance of a fight and was able to send their opponents scrambling on a few occasions with their waves of attacks. After winning a solid collection of corners, the team was able to cut the lead in half when substitute Jack Marriott calmly slotted in his shot in the middle of a crowded penalty box.
It was too little too late for the side managed by Frank Lampard as the clock ran its course before Derby could get another opportunity. Once the referee blew his whistle, Villa’s supporters screamed in jubilation, and who could blame them? The victory was about more than just getting the £170 million from promotion; it was also about the club’s fortunes turning a corner three years after the club was relegated to the Championship with one of the worst campaigns in Premier League history. To make things even sweeter for them, this season of redemption was led by lifelong club supporter Dean Smith
There was also a chance that many of the supporters felt relief alongside their excitement given that repeating this kind of campaign would be much more difficult next year. Club captain Jack Grealish has attracted many suitors for what he’s done over this past season, and will likely end up on a top-tier Premier League club this summer. Villa can feel a bit better about his departure given that he’s helped them return some glory to the team.
But none of that likely feels as good as the fact that this win comes one year after the club suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in last year’s Championship playoff final, and that one of the teams they’ll be replacing in the Premier League is the one that stopped them from going up in that game: Fulham.