Fulham returning to English Premier League after four years away

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"At the start of the season if someone bet on against Fulham, people would bet on", he said.

Cairney, 27, had attracted interest from West Ham in January, while the likes of 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon and attacking full-back Ryan Fredericks have also been linked with moves away from Craven Cottage.

It is understood, as is the case for most teams chasing promotion, that Villa had drawn up two lists of potential targets depending on where they would be playing next season.

A 17th place finish the following season was followed by 20th place in 2015/16, and after missing out on promotion past year in the play-offs having ended in sixth, Slavisa Jokanovic's side finished the recently completed season in third before overcoming Derby County and now Steve Bruce's Villa. "We deserved it. It's not easy to play at Wembley, there is a lot of pressure", said Jokanovic.

However, if the Midlands outfit were to secure promotion on Saturday they would need further additions to adequately equip themselves for the gruelling nature of the Premier League.

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Four minutes later, they were reduced to 10 men after Denis Odoi went in hard on Grealish, giving the man in the middle no choice but to show a second yellow card and subsequent red.

Villa, meanwhile, were struggling to get going, particularly in the last third and looked prone to conceding another goal.

However, if they beat Fulham in the play-off final, the claret and blues will be in a position to spend heavily over the summer.

Clare was one of the players pencilled in should Steve Bruce's side not manage to gain promotion.

Ryan Sessegnon set up the goal for Cairney with a pinpoint through-ball, continuing his influential role for Fulham this season and especially in the playoffs.

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"I believed in the way we play, and the manager has put a lot of faith in me".

Newcastle-born Bruce's second season with Villa has been played out to the backdrop of personal sadness, having lost both his father Joe and his mother Sheenagh in the space of three months.

Fulham's Tim Ream (right) challenges Aston Villa's Jack Grealish (centre).

The former Watford boss, though, has admitted that he can not completely guarantee that the 18-year-old winger will be at Craven Cottage next season. "Discussions have got to be had above me to decide what we've got and what we haven't got".

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