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Eni Aluko has announced that she will be leaving Chelsea Ladies “with a heavy heart” following the final game of the Women’s Super League season this weekend. Aluko, who has helped her side to a league and FA Cup double this season, said she “could not dream of a better ending” to her second stint as a Chelsea player. The 31-year-old is yet to reveal which club she will be joining this summer, but held talks with Paris St-Germain and one other overseas team earlier this year. Aluko also won the domestic double with Chelsea in 2015, when she was the team’s player of the year, and was described by the club as one of the great players in their history. “It’s with a heavy heart I confirm I’ll be leaving Chelsea,” she said. “I could not dream of a better ending. To my team-mates who I adore, the club and fans – thank you.” It was announced earlier this week that Aluko, who has made 102 appearances for England, will join ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s men’s World Cup in Russia. Aluko first signed for Chelsea in 2007 before leaving to play in the US a year later. Aluko has made 102 appearances for England Credit: Getty Images She rejoined the club in 2012, and was named Chelsea’s player of the year in 2015, when she was also player of the match in the FA Cup final. She has not been a regular starter under manager Emma Hayes this season, but scored the winning goal against Sunderland this weekend that took them to the brink of the Women’s Super League title. Chelsea secured the trophy with a 2-0 victory over Bristol City on Tuesday night. In a statement, Chelsea said that Aluko is “one of the greats in our Ladies team’s history,” adding her “attacking flair and pace has been a feature of the Blues’ forward play either centrally or out wide”. The decision to leave Chelsea marks the latest event in a turbulent year for Aluko, who was involved in a discrimination case against Mark Sampson, the former England women’s manager. Sampson was found guilty of racially abusing Aluko and Drew Spence at the third time of asking, after being cleared of doing so by two previous inquiries. Sampson had been sacked a month earlier after evidence emerged of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players during his time as Bristol Academy manager.
Eni Aluko is leaving Chelsea Ladies 'with a heavy heart'
Eni Aluko has announced that she will be leaving Chelsea Ladies “with a heavy heart” following the final game of the Women’s Super League season this weekend. Aluko, who has helped her side to a league and FA Cup double this season, said she “could not dream of a better ending” to her second stint as a Chelsea player. The 31-year-old is yet to reveal which club she will be joining this summer, but held talks with Paris St-Germain and one other overseas team earlier this year. Aluko also won the domestic double with Chelsea in 2015, when she was the team’s player of the year, and was described by the club as one of the great players in their history. “It’s with a heavy heart I confirm I’ll be leaving Chelsea,” she said. “I could not dream of a better ending. To my team-mates who I adore, the club and fans – thank you.” It was announced earlier this week that Aluko, who has made 102 appearances for England, will join ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s men’s World Cup in Russia. Aluko first signed for Chelsea in 2007 before leaving to play in the US a year later. Aluko has made 102 appearances for England Credit: Getty Images She rejoined the club in 2012, and was named Chelsea’s player of the year in 2015, when she was also player of the match in the FA Cup final. She has not been a regular starter under manager Emma Hayes this season, but scored the winning goal against Sunderland this weekend that took them to the brink of the Women’s Super League title. Chelsea secured the trophy with a 2-0 victory over Bristol City on Tuesday night. In a statement, Chelsea said that Aluko is “one of the greats in our Ladies team’s history,” adding her “attacking flair and pace has been a feature of the Blues’ forward play either centrally or out wide”. The decision to leave Chelsea marks the latest event in a turbulent year for Aluko, who was involved in a discrimination case against Mark Sampson, the former England women’s manager. Sampson was found guilty of racially abusing Aluko and Drew Spence at the third time of asking, after being cleared of doing so by two previous inquiries. Sampson had been sacked a month earlier after evidence emerged of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players during his time as Bristol Academy manager.
Eni Aluko has announced that she will be leaving Chelsea Ladies “with a heavy heart” following the final game of the Women’s Super League season this weekend. Aluko, who has helped her side to a league and FA Cup double this season, said she “could not dream of a better ending” to her second stint as a Chelsea player. The 31-year-old is yet to reveal which club she will be joining this summer, but held talks with Paris St-Germain and one other overseas team earlier this year. Aluko also won the domestic double with Chelsea in 2015, when she was the team’s player of the year, and was described by the club as one of the great players in their history. “It’s with a heavy heart I confirm I’ll be leaving Chelsea,” she said. “I could not dream of a better ending. To my team-mates who I adore, the club and fans – thank you.” It was announced earlier this week that Aluko, who has made 102 appearances for England, will join ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s men’s World Cup in Russia. Aluko first signed for Chelsea in 2007 before leaving to play in the US a year later. Aluko has made 102 appearances for England Credit: Getty Images She rejoined the club in 2012, and was named Chelsea’s player of the year in 2015, when she was also player of the match in the FA Cup final. She has not been a regular starter under manager Emma Hayes this season, but scored the winning goal against Sunderland this weekend that took them to the brink of the Women’s Super League title. Chelsea secured the trophy with a 2-0 victory over Bristol City on Tuesday night. In a statement, Chelsea said that Aluko is “one of the greats in our Ladies team’s history,” adding her “attacking flair and pace has been a feature of the Blues’ forward play either centrally or out wide”. The decision to leave Chelsea marks the latest event in a turbulent year for Aluko, who was involved in a discrimination case against Mark Sampson, the former England women’s manager. Sampson was found guilty of racially abusing Aluko and Drew Spence at the third time of asking, after being cleared of doing so by two previous inquiries. Sampson had been sacked a month earlier after evidence emerged of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players during his time as Bristol Academy manager.
Eni Aluko is leaving Chelsea Ladies 'with a heavy heart'
Eni Aluko has announced that she will be leaving Chelsea Ladies “with a heavy heart” following the final game of the Women’s Super League season this weekend. Aluko, who has helped her side to a league and FA Cup double this season, said she “could not dream of a better ending” to her second stint as a Chelsea player. The 31-year-old is yet to reveal which club she will be joining this summer, but held talks with Paris St-Germain and one other overseas team earlier this year. Aluko also won the domestic double with Chelsea in 2015, when she was the team’s player of the year, and was described by the club as one of the great players in their history. “It’s with a heavy heart I confirm I’ll be leaving Chelsea,” she said. “I could not dream of a better ending. To my team-mates who I adore, the club and fans – thank you.” It was announced earlier this week that Aluko, who has made 102 appearances for England, will join ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s men’s World Cup in Russia. Aluko first signed for Chelsea in 2007 before leaving to play in the US a year later. Aluko has made 102 appearances for England Credit: Getty Images She rejoined the club in 2012, and was named Chelsea’s player of the year in 2015, when she was also player of the match in the FA Cup final. She has not been a regular starter under manager Emma Hayes this season, but scored the winning goal against Sunderland this weekend that took them to the brink of the Women’s Super League title. Chelsea secured the trophy with a 2-0 victory over Bristol City on Tuesday night. In a statement, Chelsea said that Aluko is “one of the greats in our Ladies team’s history,” adding her “attacking flair and pace has been a feature of the Blues’ forward play either centrally or out wide”. The decision to leave Chelsea marks the latest event in a turbulent year for Aluko, who was involved in a discrimination case against Mark Sampson, the former England women’s manager. Sampson was found guilty of racially abusing Aluko and Drew Spence at the third time of asking, after being cleared of doing so by two previous inquiries. Sampson had been sacked a month earlier after evidence emerged of “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players during his time as Bristol Academy manager.
Chelsea celebrate after their 2-0 victory at Bristol City secured the Women’s Super League title on Tuesday.
Chelsea reclaim the high ground thanks to inspirational Emma Hayes
Chelsea celebrate after their 2-0 victory at Bristol City secured the Women’s Super League title on Tuesday.
Goals from Drew Spence and Jonna Anderson steered Chelsea Ladies to the Women's Super League title with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Bristol City. Spence headed Chelsea in front and Anderson fired in a late second to wrap up a domestic double after their FA Cup final win over Arsenal earlier this month. The Blues, led by assistant boss Paul Green with manager Emma Hayes advised not to travel at this stage of her pregnancy, were rarely troubled by the Vixens. Hayes' side, who are now just one game away from finishing the league season unbeaten, had never won a trophy prior to her arrival in 2012, but this is the second double of her tenure - matching their efforts from 2015. Chelsea captain Katie Chapman told BT Sport: "It's great to be in this team. You can see what it means to the team. We performed really well this year and I think we deserved another double." Drew Spence scored the first of two goals to beat Bristol City Credit: pa Chapman, who last week announced she would be retiring at the end of the season, added: "To go out with two trophies is unreal. I love this team and I love this club and I think we're deserving of that. "Hopefully we can go the whole (league) season unbeaten - so we've still got one game to go (against Liverpool on Sunday). "I've loved ending my career at Chelsea. These girls are great and our team is fantastic. What an honour for me to play in a team like this and to do the double with them."
Chelsea Ladies win Super League title to complete double and give Katie Chapman perfect farewell
Goals from Drew Spence and Jonna Anderson steered Chelsea Ladies to the Women's Super League title with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Bristol City. Spence headed Chelsea in front and Anderson fired in a late second to wrap up a domestic double after their FA Cup final win over Arsenal earlier this month. The Blues, led by assistant boss Paul Green with manager Emma Hayes advised not to travel at this stage of her pregnancy, were rarely troubled by the Vixens. Hayes' side, who are now just one game away from finishing the league season unbeaten, had never won a trophy prior to her arrival in 2012, but this is the second double of her tenure - matching their efforts from 2015. Chelsea captain Katie Chapman told BT Sport: "It's great to be in this team. You can see what it means to the team. We performed really well this year and I think we deserved another double." Drew Spence scored the first of two goals to beat Bristol City Credit: pa Chapman, who last week announced she would be retiring at the end of the season, added: "To go out with two trophies is unreal. I love this team and I love this club and I think we're deserving of that. "Hopefully we can go the whole (league) season unbeaten - so we've still got one game to go (against Liverpool on Sunday). "I've loved ending my career at Chelsea. These girls are great and our team is fantastic. What an honour for me to play in a team like this and to do the double with them."
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies celebrate winning the league and cup double after their 2-0 victory over Bristol City Women.
Jonna Andersson sets seal as Chelsea wrap up double with win at Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies celebrate winning the league and cup double after their 2-0 victory over Bristol City Women.
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
Chelsea Ladies win Women's Super League title after victory over Bristol City
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa, Championship play-off first leg: live score updates
7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Burnley manager Sean Dyche is ready to offer £6m for Bristol City’s Joe Bryan as he prepares for the Europa League. Bryan is a top target for Burnley this summer and Dyche is set to test City’s resolve to keep one of their key players of the season. The 24-year-old has scored six goals in the Championship and impressed during City’s run to the Football League Cup semi-final, scoring against Manchester United. And Dyche is prepared to make his move at the end of the season, with Bryan likely to cost around £6m. Bryan’s versatility appeals to Burnley as he can play left-back or in midfield. Dyche will be assured of funds by Burnley’s board after an excellent campaign which seems certain to guarantee European football next season. Nick Pope, the goalkeeper, said: “We’ve got to go in to the next game with the same attitude and get it over the line for sure but we’re in a great position. Why Nick Pope must start in goal for England “We’ll look to take that forward after getting another point on the board and move on. “Let’s wait and see until it’s nailed on. If you celebrate and it doesn’t happen then you’re left with egg on your face. It’s important for us to get it over the line. “It’s a great achievement for the club, the staff, the players and the fans. It’s a massive achievement for a club like Burnley to be playing Europa League football. The celebrations will be well deserved.”
Burnley ready to offer £6m for Bristol City's Joe Bryan as Sean Dyche prepares for Europa League
Burnley manager Sean Dyche is ready to offer £6m for Bristol City’s Joe Bryan as he prepares for the Europa League. Bryan is a top target for Burnley this summer and Dyche is set to test City’s resolve to keep one of their key players of the season. The 24-year-old has scored six goals in the Championship and impressed during City’s run to the Football League Cup semi-final, scoring against Manchester United. And Dyche is prepared to make his move at the end of the season, with Bryan likely to cost around £6m. Bryan’s versatility appeals to Burnley as he can play left-back or in midfield. Dyche will be assured of funds by Burnley’s board after an excellent campaign which seems certain to guarantee European football next season. Nick Pope, the goalkeeper, said: “We’ve got to go in to the next game with the same attitude and get it over the line for sure but we’re in a great position. Why Nick Pope must start in goal for England “We’ll look to take that forward after getting another point on the board and move on. “Let’s wait and see until it’s nailed on. If you celebrate and it doesn’t happen then you’re left with egg on your face. It’s important for us to get it over the line. “It’s a great achievement for the club, the staff, the players and the fans. It’s a massive achievement for a club like Burnley to be playing Europa League football. The celebrations will be well deserved.”

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