By Terry Phillips
Wales youngster Harry Wilson is preparing for the biggest match of his young playing career.
The 22-year-old from Wrexham – a former Ysgol Dinas Bran, Llangollen pupil – looks certain to be in Derby County’s starting line-up for their Sky Bet Championship play-off final against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday (3pm).
More than 38,000 Rams fans will roar their support for Derby and Wilson says: “The biggest game of my career to date? I’d say so. It’s certainly up there.
“It’s a massive game for me – probably the biggest of my career.”
Wilson became the youngest Wales senior international when, aged 16 years and 207 days, he beat the previous record set by Gareth Bale.
The prize on offer at Wembley is promotion to the Premier League and that is worth around £170m to the winners.
“We all know what the rewards are,” said Wilson. “As players, you get to play in the best league in the world, and everyone knows what it does for the club financially, and for the fans.
“To be able to watch their team in the Premier League next season is massive. Obviously, I’m excited, and looking forward to it.
“I could tell from the first day I arrived here what a footballing city this is.
“It’s a one-club city and it doesn’t surprise me that so many fans are travelling down to support us.
“We’ll be doing all we can to make sure we send them home happy.”
Wilson joined County on a season-long loan from Liverpool last summer and has scored 15 goals in 40 Championship appearances.
He has not ruled out a return to Derby next season if they can achieve promotion by beating Villa.
“I’ve been here long enough to know what a fantastic club it is, and what it means to the fans – and what it means to us as players,” said Wilson.
“There are a few lads who have been in this type of scenario before. A couple of them have won and a couple of them have lost, so they’ll be helping us younger lads in the team through the game.
“The manager (Frank Lampard) has played in finals at the top level, so we’ve got a good mixture of youth and experience.
“And us loan lads want it just as much as everyone else.”
Wembley will be a new playing experience for Wilson. He has been to the national stadium before as a spectator to watch the 2012 FA Cup between his parent club Liverpool and Chelsea.
Lampard played for Chelsea that day, as did Derby defender Ashley Cole and Villa assistant boss John Terry.
“Unfortunately, Liverpool lost on that day (2-1), but it is a fantastic stadium and the atmosphere on that day was great,” said Wilson.
“I’m sure it will be just as good on Monday.
“Of course, as a player, you want to play in all the best stadiums around. Wembley is one of them – and when it’s full like it’s going to be on Monday, in a massive game, they are the games you want to be involved in.”
Villa are the bookies’ favourites to win the final. They finished one place and two points above Derby after a 10-match winning streak secured their top-six spot.
Dean Smith’s men completed an emphatic double over Derby during the regular campaign, winning 3-0 away and 4-0 at home.
“To go on a 10-game winning streak in the Championship is some going, because everyone knows what a competitive league it is,” said Wilson.
“I know a couple of the Welsh lads at Villa – Neil Taylor, James Chester – from my time with Wales.”
Wilson is Derby’s leading scorer for the season, having netted 18 in all competitions.
“I didn’t set any targets for the season but it would be nice to get to the 20-goal mark at Wembley,” he said.
“If that happens, great, but all that matters is us winning the game.”
While Wilson and Tom Lawrence prepare for the Wembley experience and a high pressure match, two of their club-mates with Welsh connections are certain to miss out.
Wales international Andy King is ruled out by injury, while former Cardiff City left-back Scott Malone is serving a one match suspension after being sent off in the play-off semi-final win against Leeds United.
Malone’s absence opens the way for 38-year-old former England, Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole to play.
“I am more disappointed for Scott, because, whether I play or not, I would have still wanted him to play,” says Cole.
“I am sad for him he is going to miss this great occasion but, hopefully, I can do him justice, play well and get the team to the Premier League.”
Favourites Villa include former Swansea City players Neil Taylor, James Chester, Tom Carroll and Tammy Abraham.
Rhyl-born Chester looks certain to miss the match because of a knee injury, while Taylor, a 30-year-old from St Asaph, and 21-year-old Abraham look likely to be in Villa’s starting line-up.
Carroll is out of favour at Villa Park and is highly unlikely to be involved.
Taylor has been consistently in the Villa team since Smith was appointed manager in October and appeared in all fixtures during their club record 10-game winning streak that saw them go from mid-table to a fifth-placed finish.
Taylor spent more than six seasons with Swansea, signing a year before their top-flight promotion in 2011. His professional career had started at Manchester City, while he moved to Wrexham after being released from his youth contract.
“I started my career at the bottom of the ladder so I know every avenue of football there is to know and I can call on it,” says Taylor, capped 42 times since 2010.
“I was lucky enough to have that grounding, the year-to-year contracts so that what happens after is then a bonus. I try to enjoy it and pass it on.
“I feel experienced enough to deal with most emotions game can throw at you – I’m just hoping I get a new one with a massive football club on Monday.”
Bluebirds manager Neil Warnock will be watching the play-off final with interest – and judging the Championship standards Cardiff City will need to meet in 2019-20.