Fulham's Tim Ream predicts 'cagey' playoff final with Aston Villa
Fulham's United States international defender Tim Ream expects a tight game against Aston Villa in Saturday's Championship promotion playoff final (Noon ET, ESPN+).
Ream, 30, has been with the Cottagers since 2015, spanning a stretch that has seen them go from relegation contenders to missing out on promotion last season when they were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Reading in the playoff semifinals.
Now, thanks to a 2-1 aggregate win against Derby in this year's semis, Fulham are one win away from a first return to the Premier League since the 2013-14 campaign.
Ream told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview: "I think it'll be cagey, in the beginning, I think both teams are going to feel each other out. When we played them earlier in the season [and lost], we weren't at full strength, and when we played them towards the back end of the season [and won], they weren't at full strength.
"So it's going to be interesting to see who blinks first, we have a style that we don't change, they have a style that they've been pretty consistent with all year, so I think it's going to be tight for the first 20-30 minutes, then I think things will open up a bit.
"I think it's going to be a fantastic day, it'll be a great final and it's two of the best teams in the Championship going at it for a place in the Premier League."
It's been a stellar year for Fulham, who had a chance to overtake Cardiff for automatic promotion in the final games of the season. And Ream has seen his fair share of plaudits for the success Slavisa Jokanovic's team have enjoyed.
"I've been the same player," Ream said. "I've not changed anything, I've been the same player. It's a system that suits my style and my strengths. I obviously have to put that down to the manager. When I first came in we tried to play it this way but for whatever reason the cohesion and the players weren't there.
"Over the course of two years now, the confidence that the manager has not only given myself but the entire team and the ability and the freedom to go and play no matter the situation has just brought the best out of us and I am no different."
Ream, who played for the New York Red Bulls and Bolton Wanderers before joining Fulham, sang the praises of teammate Ryan Sessegnon, the 18-year-old who might rival the American for player of the season at Craven Cottage.
"Obviously I don't train against all the other [players] every day of the week, but just his attitude, his work rate, everything he puts into training, on the pitch and in the gym is just incredible," Ream said.
"He's the most humble kid I've ever met. And I think that's what's going to take him very far. You know he doesn't get too up, doesn't get too down, if he struggles in a game he puts it behind him, and he just goes about his business."
Missing out on automatic promotion this year was a "difficult pill to swallow," according to Ream, but he says it won't be something the group is focused on ahead of Saturday's final.
"It was there for us at the end of the year and we didn't perform against Birmingham and ultimately that cost us," Ream said. "But at the same time I think that most of us feel that had we won then Cardiff would have probably have won as well.
"You can't dwell on it and in this division, games come so fast and we knew that had we not done it then we would have another chance and here we are. We obviously played very well against Derby in the first leg and we went 1-0 down and lost the game.
"But we thought we were the better team in that first leg and we were very confident going into the second one. Thankfully, I say thankfully, but we knew everyone was going to show up on the night and perform and we did."
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