Steve Bruce believes that Fulham’s Ryan Fredericks should have been sent off for a “deliberate” stamp on Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in the first half of the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Fredericks brought one boot down hard on Grealish, lying on the ground, right in front of the managers and the fourth official, prompting protest from Bruce but no punishment from referee Anthony Taylor. Bruce was crestfallen with the defeat and said he was “absolutely aching inside” afterwards. But he was insistent that Fredericks should have been sent off, which would have meant a very different game at Wembley.

“In the first half, no, I don’t think we did enough,” Bruce said afterwards. “But there were big decisions that went against us too, the boy [Fredericks] for me should have had a red card very, very early. It was right in front of the fourth official and the referee, and he stamps on him [Grealish].

“No one wants to see the spectacle ruined. Nobody wants to see someone sent off. But when it is as deliberate as that, he deserves a red card.”

Bruce believes that Fulham set out to rough up Grealish, but said he could not use that as an excuse. “It was part of the game plan, to be cynical towards him. But at the end of the day, we can’t make that an excuse. Jack, from the way he plays, is going to draw fouls.”

But ultimately Bruce accepts that Villa paid for their own poor first-half performance. “I can’t disguise that we didn’t do enough in the first half,” he said. “We were too deep, too respectful, we didn’t do enough with or without the ball. The second half was much, much better. We asked more questions, we just needed a break and we didn’t get it.”

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