Millwall

Millwall slideshow

London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
The fascinating hidden history of London's lost rivers
London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture. Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses. The Moselle, in North London, carries a whiff of the exotic London once needed all the rivers it could get: for drinking water, for harbours and wharves, for mills, for tanneries, and for sluicing away waste. The rivers were London’s sewage system long before any system was conceived, but even tiny medieval London was too much for any stream to cope with. The Walbrook, flowing through the heart of the City of London, was mostly paved over in the 1460s; it was considered a filthy nuisance choked with refuse. London’s origins are deep in the Walbrook, the river around which the Romans founded the city. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of 48 human skulls tell the earliest London tales. The Walbrook reached the Thames near the site of Cannon Street Railway Bridge Credit: oliverhuitson - Fotolia/oliver huitson As London began to grow at the end of the 18th century, and then to mushroom beyond reason during the 19th century, the rivers became a big problem. Floods, filth, stench and disease put off Georgian and Victorian house-buyers. In Mayfair, the Tyburn was tucked away under mews. In West Norwood, the Effra was buried deep under grids of new Victorian villas. The Fleet was legendarily filthy. Redesigned as a Venetian-style canal by Christopher Wren after the Fire of London, it was quickly overtaken by grim reality. Jonathan Swift, in 1710, wrote about the Fleet filled with “the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood.” A few years later Alexander Pope described how “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.” It is no surprise then that the lower Fleet was culverted in huge storm sewer tunnels where it has remained ever since. Yet before the river became more trouble than it was worth, it was a crucial route in as well as out. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves, and even the stones for Old St. Paul’s Cathedral were unloaded here. The source of the Tyburn, Shepherd's Well near Fitzjohn's Avenue in Hampstead Credit: 2005 Getty Images/Hulton Archive The rivers may be hidden but they are far from gone. It is very hard to stop a river from flowing, so they have merely been diverted into the sewer system, often as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s monumental tunnelling programme during the 1860s and 1870s. They can still be seen if you know where to look, flowing through culverts and under gratings. Sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet. Regent’s Park Lake was originally fed by the Tyburn, while the Serpentine was landscaped from the Westbourne in 1731 for the benefit of George II’s consort, Queen Caroline. Unfortunately the sewage problem eventually rendered both rivers unsuitable for ornamental ponds, and they were diverted away. Everything from Welsh cheese to coals from Newcastle arrived at the Fleet wharves Credit: GETTY They also shaped London’s hills and valleys, a landscape layered over but still visible. Mysteriously steep roads, such as Pentonville Rise, make sense when seen as the sides of the Fleet Valley. The sharp dip as Piccadilly passes Green Park shows us where the Tyburn once crossed the road. The Oval is oval because it was built into a bend in the Effra. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing. From the viaduct the valley of the Fleet stretches away below, wide and deep, now occupied by Farringdon Street. The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds are former reservoirs created by damming two streams that form the Fleet Credit: MAX NATHAN Names also contain clues obvious only in retrospect. Kilburn is named after the upper reaches of the Westbourne, also responsible for Bayswater, and once crossed by the Knight’s Bridge. Wandsworth has its very own river, the Wandle. Peckham Rye means “village by the River Peck”. Streets retain the river names: Effra Road and Westbourne Green, or just simply Neckinger and Walbrook. Holborn Viaduct is a bridge with no river built on the site of an ancient Fleet crossing Credit: GETTY Lost rivers really are everywhere, even in the places Londoners think they know intimately. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace. The Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Earl’s Sluice curves its way past Millwall football ground. The lost rivers link the familiar – the Royal Parks, Mayfair, the City, the South Bank – to places few visit – the back streets of Camberwell, Croydon, Earlsfield, Elephant and Castle, Gospel Oak, Kentish Town, Mitcham, Swiss Cottage, and West Norwood to name but a few. The Tyburn runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace London’s rivers are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface while the city roars above. They were here long before people or buildings arrived. They are a hidden system for cutting through the layers on which London stands, and revealing the many places London used to be. Tom Bolton is a researcher and author, whose book London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide reveals the unseen rivers that flow through London.
From cucumber sandwiches and industrial strength gin and tonics on Peter Hill-Wood's lawn, the corridors of power at Arsenal Football Club have sometimes resembled a scene from Brideshead Revisited. Yet despite the Bank of England club's starchy and conservative image, there is a parallel history of radical decisions and innovation. Appointing Mikel Arteta as Arsene Wenger's replacement would be another. Some wised-up supporters have responded to the club's strong interest in Arteta with the words 'typical Arsenal', because his arrival would follow a long line of left-field appointments. Herbert Chapman, who had led Huddersfield Town to consecutive first division titles, was possibly the last to be considered 'high-profile' in his own time - and he arrived in 1925. Wenger himself arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight (stop me if you've heard this story before). The greeting 'Arsene Who?' said more about English football's ignorance than his own CV. Wenger had more than a decade of managerial experience by 1996, so direct comparisons with Arteta are a little misguided. George Graham impressed at Millwall, winning promotion to the second division, to land the Arsenal job in 1986. Double-winning manager Bertie Mee was promoted from the role of physio, a path also followed by league and cup-winning boss Tom Whittaker in the immediate post-war years. At the less successful end of the spectrum, Bruce Rioch was recruited from Bolton Wanderers while Arsenal made the ill-fated decision to hire Tottenham boss Terry Neill in 1976. Despite reaching four cup finals, he was sacked in 1983 amid mounting fan pressure and his tenure is viewed as a nadir in Arsenal's modern history. Don Howe replaced him, a renowned coach who had never managed before. Arsene Wenger's replacement at Arsenal Dusty old annals were not the only source of clues that Ivan Gazidis and his merry men might go down this path, however. The final years of Wenger's reign were defined by a glacial transfer of power away from the dugout, as the levers of control were prised from the Frenchman's grip. Civil war would be overstating things, but it was a tense and awkward political process. Head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, former Barcelona director Raul Sanllehi, contract guru Huss Fahmy and director of high performance Darren Burgess are the key members of a backroom revolution. After two decades in one man's image, Arsenal are building a more collegiate system where power and responsibility is shared between a core of people with a variety of specialisms. The new Arsenal 'manager' will not really 'manage' the club, but coach the first-team. In short, there is no direct replacement for Wenger - four of five people will fill the void he leaves. Gazidis and Arsenal will be wary of any appointment that could put this new dynamic at risk, rightly or wrongly. A seasoned manager might sniff blood, sensing naivety in a regime feeling their way through the post-Wenger era, and stage a power grab. To use another analogy from the history books, Arsenal will not want a Bonaparte-figure to emerge and hijack to their revolution, a manager who fancies himself as the next Wenger. A younger coach making his way will be easier to control. Ivan Gazidis is front and centre following Arsene Wenger's departure Credit: Getty Images Concerns about Arteta are obvious. Some will point to rapid ascent of Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola, but both managed Real Madrid's and Barcelona's B teams who play in competitive leagues. Arteta also has close associations with the Wenger regime, he only left London Colney two years ago, so could be seen as a 'more of the same' continuity appointment. A habitual criticism of Arsenal is that a slightly too cosy and indulgent culture was allowed to fester, with a lack of accountability and consequences for poor performances. Could Arteta change this atmosphere when some of the squad are former teammates and friends? The answer is a long list of unknowns, and even unknowables. Our idea of Arteta the coach is currently based on Arteta the player, a thought process riddled with assumptions and logical leaps. It is highly unlikely a player educated at Barcelona, who played for Wenger's Arsenal and worked under Guardiola will set up like Tony Pulis - but not impossible. There is an unspoken, slightly insidious, idea that because Arteta was a cultured ball-player he will be a soft touch as a coach, or his teams will not be able to defend. Everything furious TV pundits have said about Arsenal this season Despite our instincts, it is not the case that former defenders turn into defensive managers while ex-forwards are attacking ones. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino were both centre backs of differing calibre, but all developed front-footed expansive teams as managers. George Graham's transformation was particularly stark. An elegant playmaker during his playing days at Arsenal, and no stranger to the temptations of London's West End, Graham was an arch-disciplinarian in the dugout. His laconic playing style earned him the nickname 'Stroller' - his managerial methods had Anders Limpar calling him 'Gadaffi'. Arsenal are stepping into the unknown, but definitive judgements on Arteta should be mistrusted. Fans have every right to be anxious, but Arsenal's near and distant history shows they should not be surprised.
Mikel Arteta's appointment might disappoint Arsenal fans, but should not surprise them
From cucumber sandwiches and industrial strength gin and tonics on Peter Hill-Wood's lawn, the corridors of power at Arsenal Football Club have sometimes resembled a scene from Brideshead Revisited. Yet despite the Bank of England club's starchy and conservative image, there is a parallel history of radical decisions and innovation. Appointing Mikel Arteta as Arsene Wenger's replacement would be another. Some wised-up supporters have responded to the club's strong interest in Arteta with the words 'typical Arsenal', because his arrival would follow a long line of left-field appointments. Herbert Chapman, who had led Huddersfield Town to consecutive first division titles, was possibly the last to be considered 'high-profile' in his own time - and he arrived in 1925. Wenger himself arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight (stop me if you've heard this story before). The greeting 'Arsene Who?' said more about English football's ignorance than his own CV. Wenger had more than a decade of managerial experience by 1996, so direct comparisons with Arteta are a little misguided. George Graham impressed at Millwall, winning promotion to the second division, to land the Arsenal job in 1986. Double-winning manager Bertie Mee was promoted from the role of physio, a path also followed by league and cup-winning boss Tom Whittaker in the immediate post-war years. At the less successful end of the spectrum, Bruce Rioch was recruited from Bolton Wanderers while Arsenal made the ill-fated decision to hire Tottenham boss Terry Neill in 1976. Despite reaching four cup finals, he was sacked in 1983 amid mounting fan pressure and his tenure is viewed as a nadir in Arsenal's modern history. Don Howe replaced him, a renowned coach who had never managed before. Arsene Wenger's replacement at Arsenal Dusty old annals were not the only source of clues that Ivan Gazidis and his merry men might go down this path, however. The final years of Wenger's reign were defined by a glacial transfer of power away from the dugout, as the levers of control were prised from the Frenchman's grip. Civil war would be overstating things, but it was a tense and awkward political process. Head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, former Barcelona director Raul Sanllehi, contract guru Huss Fahmy and director of high performance Darren Burgess are the key members of a backroom revolution. After two decades in one man's image, Arsenal are building a more collegiate system where power and responsibility is shared between a core of people with a variety of specialisms. The new Arsenal 'manager' will not really 'manage' the club, but coach the first-team. In short, there is no direct replacement for Wenger - four of five people will fill the void he leaves. Gazidis and Arsenal will be wary of any appointment that could put this new dynamic at risk, rightly or wrongly. A seasoned manager might sniff blood, sensing naivety in a regime feeling their way through the post-Wenger era, and stage a power grab. To use another analogy from the history books, Arsenal will not want a Bonaparte-figure to emerge and hijack to their revolution, a manager who fancies himself as the next Wenger. A younger coach making his way will be easier to control. Ivan Gazidis is front and centre following Arsene Wenger's departure Credit: Getty Images Concerns about Arteta are obvious. Some will point to rapid ascent of Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola, but both managed Real Madrid's and Barcelona's B teams who play in competitive leagues. Arteta also has close associations with the Wenger regime, he only left London Colney two years ago, so could be seen as a 'more of the same' continuity appointment. A habitual criticism of Arsenal is that a slightly too cosy and indulgent culture was allowed to fester, with a lack of accountability and consequences for poor performances. Could Arteta change this atmosphere when some of the squad are former teammates and friends? The answer is a long list of unknowns, and even unknowables. Our idea of Arteta the coach is currently based on Arteta the player, a thought process riddled with assumptions and logical leaps. It is highly unlikely a player educated at Barcelona, who played for Wenger's Arsenal and worked under Guardiola will set up like Tony Pulis - but not impossible. There is an unspoken, slightly insidious, idea that because Arteta was a cultured ball-player he will be a soft touch as a coach, or his teams will not be able to defend. Everything furious TV pundits have said about Arsenal this season Despite our instincts, it is not the case that former defenders turn into defensive managers while ex-forwards are attacking ones. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino were both centre backs of differing calibre, but all developed front-footed expansive teams as managers. George Graham's transformation was particularly stark. An elegant playmaker during his playing days at Arsenal, and no stranger to the temptations of London's West End, Graham was an arch-disciplinarian in the dugout. His laconic playing style earned him the nickname 'Stroller' - his managerial methods had Anders Limpar calling him 'Gadaffi'. Arsenal are stepping into the unknown, but definitive judgements on Arteta should be mistrusted. Fans have every right to be anxious, but Arsenal's near and distant history shows they should not be surprised.
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsene Wenger replacement: Definitive guide to the runners and riders for the new Arsenal manager
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsene Wenger replacement: Definitive guide to the runners and riders for the new Arsenal manager
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsene Wenger replacement: Definitive guide to the runners and riders for the new Arsenal manager
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsene Wenger replacement: Definitive guide to the runners and riders for the new Arsenal manager
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
Arsene Wenger replacement: Definitive guide to the runners and riders for the new Arsenal manager
Arsenal's announcement that Arsène Wenger will step down as manager after 22 years in charge sent shockwaves through English football. Despite widespread acceptance that a parting of the ways was the correct decision, nobody anticipated the timing of the news. After days of tributes and retrospectives on Wenger's reign, attention turned to who Arsenal would choose to succeed the most successful manager in the club's history. Would it be a legendary former player, a youthful head coach with big ideas or a charismatic manager with stature and gravitas? The search is on, and here is everything you need to know about the process. What are Arsenal looking for? Who better to ask than chief executive Ivan Gazidis? In his press conference at the Emirates the day Wenger's departure was announced, he outlined some of the attributes Arsenal value in a manger (without giving too much away, of course). Gazidis said: What I will say is that it’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club, I want to see someone who can continue that for our fans and our fans want to see that, someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play. I also think there is a significant piece in Arsenal Football Club in how the candidate represents the club and I think it’s important to Arsenal fans. So those qualities. Gazidis also spoke about the importance of a coach who gives opportunities to young players, before adding: I think we’ve got to be open-minded and also brave in the decision. When Arsene was appointed, I don’t think he was on many people’s radar screens. And that doesn’t mean that we have to make an another appointment that not everybody is thinking about and talking about. But it does mean we need to be bold in the appointment and get the person that we believe is the right person. Another priority for Arsenal is finding a candidate who can heal the divisions in the fanbase. Although most supporters were unified in their belief the time was right for change, the last five years and more have been marred by in-fighting among Arsenal fans. So much so that they have become their own online 'meme'. Apathy overtook anger this season, with thousands of season ticket holders staying away and leaving their seats empty. While Arsenal will not make a populist appointment simply to appease the masses, they will want to avoid a corrosive character who will re-open old wounds. Our man Jeremy Wilson reports that Arsenal are exploring 'a range of younger head coach-style options', and want someone 'with the coaching track-record to bring out the best in the existing squad while also progressing the club’s younger players'. Re-uniting the fan base will be one of Arsenal's priorities Credit: Reuters What have Arsenal done previously? One of the most intriguing aspects of the story. Arsenal have not needed to appoint a manager since 1996, so when trying to second guess their intentions we are starting from scratch. New head of football relations Raul Sanllehi oversaw several managerial changes at Barcelona, while new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat has seen coaches come and go at Borussia Dortmund. This is Gazidis' first experience of the process, however. Arsenal as a club do have a history of making the kind of left-field, 'bold' appointments Gazidis spoke of. Wenger himself famously arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, George Graham was manager of second division Millwall while 1971 double-winner Bertie Mee was a physio. Arsenal surprised everyone with the appointment of Arsene Wenger Credit: ALLSPORT That could be music to the ears of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who has had success in another sporting venture by appointing a young up-and-comer. His NFL franchise the LA Rams were stagnant under long-serving coach Jeff Fisher, but their fortunes have been revived by Sean McVay - the youngest coach in NFL history. Some clues for Arsenal fans there, perhaps. Who are the key decision makers? Gazidis, Sanllehi and Mislintat will all have a say, with Matt Law reporting in the Daily Telegraph last month that the trio each have their preferred candidates, which could be a source of tension. Ultimately, it will be down to Gazidis to present Kroenke with their recommendations who will sign off on any decision. Kroenke could be assisted by son Josh, who spent three months in London this year familiarising himself with Arsenal operations. The younger Kroenke is thought to be a key ally of Gazidis, and his opinion could prove important. Father and Son: Stand and Josh Kroenke Credit: Getty Images What do the betting markets suggest? The odds on next Arsenal manager were quite volatile in the weeks before the announcement, as is usually the case in markets with low liquidity (not many bets being matched). The news that Thomas Tuchel is likely to join Paris Saint-Germain has seen him fall out of the running, while Massimiliano Allegri and Zeljko Buvac have moved to the front of the market. Neither favourite looks a cast-iron certainty, however. There have been nibbles on Eddie Howe and Carlo Ancelotti at bigger prices. Change in Arsenal manager odds Buvac is the leading candidate to succeed Wenger What now for Arsene Wenger? Wenger has said he will take a four or five week break at the end of the season to review his future. The Frenchman has expressed a desire to continue working, and will be at the World Cup in Russia as a television pundit. Those who know Wenger say he is still full of enthusiasm and vitality, and the 68-year-old is in good health. There are long-running links to the France job, though Wenger's love of day-to-day work on the training ground could put him off international management. Wenger has said it would be 'difficult' emotionally to manage another Premier League team, but hopes he has not managed his last match in the Champions League. All that suggests he might be open to a European club job. What next for Arsene Wenger - the departing Arsenal manager's possible destinations The contenders Mikel Arteta Odds: 1/3 Pros: The emotional bond fans felt towards Wenger could be maintained with the appointment of a former player, with supporters rooting for 'one of their own'. Not many players are offered jobs by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsenal as soon as they retire so Arteta is obviously a smart cookie. Will have learnt so much in two years under Guardiola and potentially has a very a high ceiling. A club man who will defer to the new structure and hierarchy. Cons: No managerial experience. Arteta has also played alongside several members of Arsenal's squad - how will that affect his ability to make ruthless and difficult decisions? Possible that fans will have little patience with a rookie. Brendan Rodgers Odds: 6/1 Pros:Coaches attractive and progressive football, and has an impressive history of developing young attackers. Led Liverpool to within touching distance of their first title since 1990, and has done all that could be asked of him (and a bit more) at Celtic. Cons:The teeth, the tan, the catchphrases. Arsenal became a running joke in the late-Wenger years, and Rodgers also lends himself to parody. Would be deeply unpopular with the fans, something likely to count against him. His Liverpool side were also beset by defensive weaknesses, the very area Arsenal urgently need improvement. How Arsene Wenger's potential replacements would change Arsenal Massimiliano Allegri Odds: 13/2 Pros: A proven track record at the highest level of European football, Allegri has guided to Juventus to successive Serie A titles and two Champions League finals. Like Wenger, is a highly respected figure within football who would be a classy public face for the club. Already has experience of succeeding as a much-loved manager (Antonio Conte) and won over the Juve fans who were unhappy with his appointment. Would bring a more pragmatic approach to Arsenal's football. Cons: Liverpool and Spurs have bettered Arsenal in the past two seasons with coaches who have a clear playing identity or 'philosophy'. Allegri is not quite like that. The Italian said "You think tackling, passing & running wins in football. Footballing discussions in Italy is all about tactics and theory, you’re ruining the game. You don’t look at players or skills, but only formations. This is what damages our football." His tactical flexibility is a virtue, but there is a school of thought it is best served fine-tuning elite teams. Arsenal are more of a project at present. Carlo Ancelotti Odds: 14/1 Pros: A safe pair of hands who could steer Arsenal through what some believe could be a difficult transition. Essentially, he would ensure the club avoid a 'Moyes' situation. Has managed in England before, winning the double with Chelsea in 2010. A friendly and avuncular figure who the fans would warm too. Cons: Too similar to Wenger in his methods. Arsenal watchers have long felt their players suffer due to a lack of prescriptive coaching, with Wenger leaving them to find their own solutions. Ancelotti is also more of a manager than a coach, and a laissez-faire approach could result in more of the same. Luis Enrique won the treble at Barcelona Credit: Getty Images Luis Enrique Odds: 12/1 Pros: Has a crystal clear idea of how he wants football to be played, and won the treble at Barcelona. Enrique has a working relationship with Sanllehi, and unlike other names on this list has experience of managing a big European club. Cons: A disastrous spell at Roma is a black mark on his CV, and reports suggest he will make huge financial demands both contractually and in the transfer market. Enrique can also be a spiky and abrasive character who had frequent run-ins with the press at Barcelona. While Wenger was no stranger to the odd moan, he was also a master of charm in press conferences. Moreover, while it would be ridiculous to say managing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is 'easy', it does make his work at the Nou Camp difficult to assess. Zeljko Buvac is a surprise candidate Credit: Reuters Julian Nagelsmann Odds: 14/1 Pros:A possible dark horse who ticks plenty of Arsenal's boxes. Was appointed Hoffenheim head coach at the age of 28 in 2015, leading them away from relegation trouble in his first season and qualifying for the Champions League in his second. Coaches a dynamic, energetic style based on fast recoveries of possession and looks a huge prospect. Would fit into Arsenal's structure seamlessly, and is another networked German. Cons: The move might be two or three years too soon for him. Nagelsmann might be better off developing elsewhere. Zeljko Buvac Odds: 20/1 Pros: Known as 'The Brain', Buvac is a highly-regarded coach with an intimate knowledge of Arsenal and the Premier League working as Jurgen Klopp's No.2 at Liverpool. Buvac would not demand a transfer warchest - his priority would be getting Arsenal training methods up to speed and extracting the most out of a talented, if unbalanced, squad. Would bring ideas and necessary organisation to Arsenal's play. Cons: Has not managed since 2001, does not speak English and has never dealt with media commitments. It seems slightly strange that a 57-year-old has not gone it alone before if he really had managerial ambitions. A significant section of the fanbase would greet him with scepticism. Eddie Howe Odds: 25/1 Pros: See Rodgers. There is no faulting his work at Bournemouth, and Arsenal just might be attracted to the idea of swimming against the stream and appointing an English manager. Cons: It would feel a bit 'Moyes-ey'. A spell at Burnley did not quite work out for Howe, raising suspicions he might be uniquely suited to Bournemouth. No big club experience. Like Rodgers, his teams also leak cheap goals. Who will replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Joachim Löw Odds: 33/1 Pros: He's a world champion, and has also built a successful team around Mesut Özil. With Per Mertesacker as head of the academy and Arsenal's recent purchases from the Bundesliga, there are obvious connections. Tactically fluid. Cons: Löw has not managed at club level since he left Austria Vienna in 2004, and the demands of a top club job are very different to guiding a team through a summer tournament. Leonardo Jardim Odds: 33/1 Pros: Some of the brightest talents in European football have passed through Jardim's hands at Monaco, and he stitched them together in a stylish team that won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Is used to working at a club that cuts its cloth accordingly in the transfer market, selling their best players for huge fees and reinvesting in the squad. Arsenal will not plan on losing players at the frequency of Monaco, but they also have to be realistic about their place in the financial pecking order. Only 43 years old, too. Cons:Far from a compelling personality, Arsenal might want more from their figurehead. Will Arsenal's scouting be as fruitful as Monaco's? Could Patrick Vieira be the man to succeed Arsene Wenger? Credit: AP Patrick Vieira Odds: 33/1 Pros: See Arteta, but with the added advantage of managing a team of his own (New York City in the MLS). A club legend who could galvanise the fan-base, and who will have the instant respect of the players. Cons: His abilities as a coach are very difficult to ascertain. While Vieira's ability as a player is undisputed, he also had a difficult relationship with the club during summer sagas that saw him push for a move, particularly when Real Madrid came calling. Would he do the same as a manager? Odds correct on May 15 and via Betfair/Paddy Power.
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

What to read next

Back