Steve Bruce: Aston Villa manager hopes experience will count at Wembley

John Terry
John Terry has enjoyed a fine first season at Aston Villa, making 35 appearances

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce hopes that past experience will prove a key factor in the Championship play-off final against Fulham at Wembley.

Bruce has won promotion to the Premier League four times before - twice with Birmingham City and twice with Hull City.

He won promotion to the top flight through the play-offs with both Blues and the Tigers and will be looking to make it a third success after Villa's 1-0 aggregate win over Middlesbrough.

"The one thing I know about management is that the longer you do it the better you become, because you find out about more different scenarios," he told BBC Sport.

"I'd still rather go up second and be sitting on a beach right now but it's a great way to go up. I've done it a couple of times now, once at Cardiff, once at Wembley.

"Can it be five promotions? I will do my utmost to make that happen and hope that my experience stands me in good stead."

For all his own past experience - in keeping players motivated, inspiring youngsters, bringing the best out of players and preventing unwanted off-field headlines - Bruce knows the most important ingredient is what happens on the pitch.

And he is aware that the experience of the players he has brought in, especially the signing of former Chelsea and England captain John Terry, has been crucial.

'This place was in a mess'

Prior to Bruce's arrival as Roberto di Matteo's successor in October 2016, Villa had won only four league games in 17 months.

However, the former Wigan and Sunderland boss claimed seven victories in his first 11 matches and even threatened a push at the play-offs before a bad run of form in January and February left them having to settle for 13th place.

Despite a poor start to this season, Bruce's men have looked much more like promotion material this season - particularly since Jack Grealish's return from injury in November - and a 4-1 win over champions Wolves in March underlined their credentials.

"Nineteen months ago the place was in a mess," said Bruce. "The experienced players have done a job for us, it has proved invaluable to bring them in.

"I inherited Alan Hutton and Mile Jedinak. But Glenn Whelan, Ahmed Elmohamady, Robert Snodgrass, Lewis Grabban and, of course, John Terry, they're all experienced players who've helped turn the club round a bit.

"Our big players, JT, Jack, Mile, Jonathan Kodjia have all missed large chunks of the season. And the main concern I've had has always been the recovery time of playing Saturday, Tuesday, Sat, Tuesday. Now we've got 11 days to prepare."

Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish was carried from the pitch by ecstatic fans after helping Villa reach the play-off final

Bruce 'delighted' for fans

After Tuesday's 0-0 draw between the sides, Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis gracefully admitted that having the sides who finished third and fourth in the Championship playing at Wembley had to be seen as the fairest outcome.

By the same token, a Fulham side who finished five points ahead of fourth-placed Villa must now be considered favourites to join Wolves and Cardiff City in the top flight.

Added to which, past statistical evidence points to fourth place being the least-successful play-off spot - although Bruce himself disproved that notion when he took Hull up just two years ago.

With the home team winning both of the meetings between the two sides this season, Bruce is confident his side have the capacity to end their two-season stay outside the Premier League.

"It'll be two good teams who play good football, gracing Wembley," he said.

"We watched them on Monday night. We know what to expect. It will be difficult. But can we pose them a few problems too? I'm sure we can.

"The reason why any club survives is its supporters. So I'm just delighted for them what we can now plan a trip to Wembley. It should be a cracking game."

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