EFL Reporter @simgholam
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish hoping last year's play-off misery will inspire Wembley glory
Watch the Sky Bet Championship play-off final between Aston Villa and Derby on Monday from 2pm on Sky Sports Football; kick-off is at 3pm.
Last Updated: 27/05/19 3:00pm
When Jack Grealish leads Aston Villa out at Wembley on Monday, it will be just over a year to the day since he sank to the turf there in last season's play-off final - tired, distraught and forced to watch Fulham celebrate promotion to the Premier League.
Grealish was, to all intents and purposes, the best player on the park that day. He did all he could to get Villa back to the Premier League, but a first-half Tom Cairney strike ultimately proved the difference on the day.
"I tried to look away as Fulham walked up the steps, because I didn't really want to see it," he told Sky Sports. "Hopefully this year it will be us doing it.
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"I can't remember too much [after they scored] but we had to try and get back into the game, and I think I had a chance just before half-time. I had a few chances that day and it's a bit of a regret that I couldn't put one in the back of the net.
"It was the worst feeling ever at the end. I was absolutely shattered and I didn't have much left in my legs. It's never nice to lose a final, but especially as big a final as that. I lost the FA Cup final but the play-off final is probably the biggest in terms of it being the richest game in club football all over the world."
If last season's final was a genuine coming-of-age display for Grealish, this season has proven to be his first truly consistent year.
You only need to look at Villa's record with and without him this campaign to see how vital he has been. A mid-season injury saw them win just two of 13 games. Either way, they won 14 out of 17 with him in the side.
There were never any doubts about his talent, and now there can be no question about his application or enthusiasm for the game either. Grealish has become Villa's man for the big occasion, and that is why boss Dean Smith handed him the captaincy.
"It depends on what kind of player you are," he said. "Some get nervous but I just get excited for big games.
"It will be my fourth time [at Wembley] now in the starting XI for Aston Villa and I've enjoyed every single one of them. I'm looking forward to this one as well because everyone wants to play there.
"Last year was a tough game against a good Fulham side, but this year our team is very different. We are younger and more energetic, so I hope that translates to the pitch at Wembley."
Villa were slight underdogs against a top-quality Fulham side last season. It is different this time around. They are favourites against Derby and have already beaten Frank Lampard's side twice in 2018/19, by an aggregate scoreline of 7-0.
Derby's win over Leeds in the semi-finals, however, proves that nothing is guaranteed in the play-offs. Grealish is well aware of that.
"I've got the experience and remember the pain from last year, but it's still about who turns up on the day," he said. "I think we can beat anyone if we play to the best of our ability and I have huge confidence when I look at the players around me."
Sooner or later Grealish will be a Premier League player. Everyone associated with Aston Villa will be desperate for it to be with them next season. The boyhood Villa fan is no different.
"I'm a lifelong Villa fan and walking out there on that day, as captain, will mean the world to me and my family," he said. "Hopefully I'll get to walk up those steps as a winner at the end."
All the ways to watch the play-off finals...
All three play-off finals will be live on Sky Sports Football.
Sky Sports subscribers can also stream games via the Sky Sports app or the Sky Go app.
- Watch on Sky Sports
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- Watch on NOW TV for £8.99
Non-subscribers can watch through NOW TV. A Sky Sports day pass is available for £8.99, a week pass for £14.99 or a month pass for £33.99. NOW TV can be streamed through a computer or apps.
If you can't watch live then you can also follow the action with our live blogs on www.skysports.com and the Sky Sports app, with in-game clips and highlights throughout the match.