MUCH has changed in the 16 years since Steve Fletcher walked out at Millennium Stadium ahead of Cherries’ Division Three play-off final against Lincoln.

Despite a momentous 5-2 victory in Cardiff, the Dorset club would drop back into the fourth tier five seasons later before plotting their well-told journey to the Premier League.

Tomorrow afternoon (3pm), Cherries loanee Tyrone Mings hopes to help Aston Villa complete a far shorter trip back into the top flight. Victory against Derby at Wembley in a match often labelled ‘the richest game in sports’ would deliver a reported £170million windfall for the club.

Back in 2003 lower down the football pyramid, there was far less at stake financially but the pressure remained high.

Speaking to the Daily Echo ahead of the Lincoln showdown, Fletcher said the clash was “100 times more important” than the 1998 Auto Windscreen final he played in at Wembley.

He added: “It’s our whole season boiling down to one game.”

Return to 2019 and the now assistant first-team coach has not changed his view.

Quizzed on the unique challenge of the play-off final, Fletcher told the Daily Echo: “It is very tough in the final because your whole season depends on it.

“It is not like a cup final. I played in the Auto Windscreen final at Wembley in ‘98 in front of 70,000. We got beat but you still did brilliantly to get to the final.

“When you play in the play-off final, all the games you played during the whole season – the 48 games – all boil down to one 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, so there is a lot riding on it, which means there is a lot more pressure – probably more than a cup final.

“I wish him (Mings) all the best and all the luck in the world. Hopefully, they can do it.”

Discussing the defender’s impact at Villa Park, the 46-year-old said: “Tyrone has done amazing since he has been there. He has been a talisman for them.

“I follow him on social media and the plaudits he has been getting from the Aston Villa supporters – they absolutely love him.

“He went on to break a record with Aston Villa when they went on a 10-game winning run. It is what he needed.

“He needed to go out and play games, get the experience, get minutes under his belt and he has done amazing with Villa but they still have one more step to go.”

Since his January switch to the Midlands, Mings has enjoyed a consistent run in Dean Smith’s side, leaving a lasting impression on the Villa faithful in the process.

The Bath-born talent has made 17 appearances for the Lions, including every minute of their play-off semi-final triumph over rivals West Brom.

Asked where he felt a play-off success would rank in the 26-year-old’s career, Fletcher said: “To play in the Premier League would be up there as anybody’s dream, so next is probably getting promoted to the Premier League.

“Hopefully, Tyrone can do it with Aston Villa, which means he will be a Premier League player once all over again. Then he will come back to Bournemouth and we will see what will happen.

“I am really pleased for him. It is something he deserves and he has worked hard at.

“He has played second fiddle a lot of the time since he has been here but now he has got his just rewards for the hard work and dedication he has shown in training throughout the years and, hopefully, he will get that play-off final win with Aston Villa.”

The potential play-off glory would not be the only similarity between Mings and Fletcher.

While the former faced more than a year out after an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his Cherries league debut in 2015, the latter battled various knee injuries throughout his career.

Quizzed on Mings’s ability to overcome the injury woes, Fletcher said: “It is horrible when you are injured.

“I was out for 14 months with one knee. I worked out it was more than three years I was out with knee injuries and it is tough mentally more than physically.

“You never think you are going to get back to your best.

“You never think the good times are close by, you always think they are in the distance and you will never reach them.

“For him to come through that cruciate ligament injury and be in the position he is with Aston Villa is credit to himself to get fit and play the way he has done.”