If Aston Villa have one thing in their favour in Tuesday morning’s (12am AEST) Championship playoff final against Derby County, it’s the presence of Mile Jedinak.
The former Caltex Socceroos skipper is back at Wembley in the widely touted as the ‘richest game in world football’, with promotion to England’s Premier League on the line.
For Jedinak, he’s no stranger to the high-stakes, nerve-jangling emotions the playoff final encapsulates.
The man with arguably the best beard in world football has been there, done that.
Six years ago Jedinak helped guide Crystal Palace past Watford at Wembley 1-0 after extra-time to get their spot back in the EPL, where they have remained ever since.
The 34-year-old was back there last year with Villa, although this time there was no fairytale as his side lost 1-0 to Fulham.
So now he’s back on the big stage and desperate to help the Villans get back to the EPL for the first time since 2016.
But Jedinak, who retired from the Caltex Socceroos after last year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, has played a very different role under Dean Smith.
He’s managed just 327 minutes – starting twice – since the new manager took over in the middle of the season.
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But Jedinak’s contribution to Villa’s success shouldn’t be underestimated.
Those two games he did start – against Millwall and Ipswich – were both wins for Villa, while his much-admired temperament has been invaluable around the training ground.
And then there was his contribution in the playoff semi-final win over West Brom as Villa advanced on penalties.
Coming off the bench with barely a minute left in extra-time, the ice-cool Jedinak tucked away his spot-kick – his very first touch of the match – to get his side over the line at The Hawthorns.
Whether Jedinak gets on the pitch or not at Wembley remains to be seen, but if Villa can draw on his confidence and composure they have a great shot at catapulting themselves back to English football’s top flight.
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