Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest slideshow

The former Aston Villa man made a move to the Tigers from Nottingham Forest on Friday
USMNT defender Lichaj completes Hull City move
The former Aston Villa man made a move to the Tigers from Nottingham Forest on Friday
The former Aston Villa man made a move to the Tigers from Nottingham Forest on Friday
USMNT defender Lichaj completes Hull City move
The former Aston Villa man made a move to the Tigers from Nottingham Forest on Friday
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Nottingham Forest poised to sign young Monaco winger Gil Bastiao Dias
Frank Lampard's first competitive game as Derby manager will kick-off the Championship campaign. Former England midfielder Lampard, who took over as boss of the Rams three weeks ago, takes his team to Reading on Friday, August 3. Derby also figured in the opening game of the 2017-18 campaign, drawing 1-1 at Sunderland. They went on to finish sixth but lost out to promoted Fulham in the play-offs, with Gary Rowett since leaving to join Stoke following their relegation from the Premier League. The opening round of Championship matches, revealed by the EFL on Thursday morning, will be spread over four days. There is an intriguing contest at Elland Road on Sunday, August 5, with Leeds hosting Stoke in what will represent the first competitive match with their new clubs for respective managers Marcelo Bielsa and Rowett. Marcelo Bielsa is the new Leeds coach Credit: afp Steve Bruce takes his Aston Villa side - beaten play-off finalists last month - to former club Hull on Monday, August 6, with the remaining nine Championship games taking place on the Saturday. Relegated West Brom, who confirmed Darren Moore as their permanent boss following an impressive stint as caretaker, open at home to Bolton while Graham Potter's Swansea - the other team bidding for an instant top flight return - have an evening game at Sheffield United. Of the promoted trio, League One champions Wigan start at home to Sheffield Wednesday, runners-up Blackburn are at Ipswich and play-off winners Rotherham go to Brentford. Elsewhere, Birmingham host Norwich, Middlesbrough are at Millwall, Bristol City face Nottingham Forest at Ashton Gate and Preston welcome QPR. There is deja vu among the final round of fixtures. Bolton ensured survival last month with a final-day home win over Nottingham Forest and the two teams meet again in their final game of next season, albeit at Forest. Lampard's Rams host West Brom in the most eye-catching May 5 fixture. Stoke finish at home to Sheffield United and Swansea are at Blackburn. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article In League One, Joey Barton starts his management career at Fleetwood with a home match against AFC Wimbledon. Sunderland, playing in the third tier of English football for only the second time after finishing bottom of last season's Championship, open with a home match against Charlton at 1230 on August 4. There are home games too for the other relegated sides, with Barnsley hosting Oxford and Burton taking on Rochdale. League Two champions Accrington open at home to Gillingham, Wycombe face Blackpool and play-off winners Coventry tackle Scunthorpe, with the other team to move up - Luton - away to Portsmouth. Beaten play-off finalists Shrewsbury - now under the leadership of John Askey - start at home to Bradford, Peterborough face Bristol Rovers, Southend host Doncaster and Plymouth go to Walsall. Macclesfield and Tranmere, back in the EFL after promotion last season, both start their League Two campaigns away from home. test - do not delete National League champions Macclesfield, with Mark Yates now at the helm following Askey's departure, open at Swindon. Tranmere - Wembley conquerors of Boreham Wood - begin at Stevenage. Bury, Northampton and Oldham all start with home games as they bid for an instant return to League One, with Yeovil, Lincoln and MK Dons - the other relegated team - the respective opponents. Carlisle have a near 700-mile round trip to beaten play-off finalists Exeter on the opening day, Notts County host Colchester and Mansfield are at home to Newport. Grimsby begin at home to Forest Green, Cheltenham host Crawley, Cambridge travel to Port Vale and Morecambe are at Crewe.
Football League fixtures 2018/19: Frank Lampard starts Championship campaign as Derby manager against Reading
Frank Lampard's first competitive game as Derby manager will kick-off the Championship campaign. Former England midfielder Lampard, who took over as boss of the Rams three weeks ago, takes his team to Reading on Friday, August 3. Derby also figured in the opening game of the 2017-18 campaign, drawing 1-1 at Sunderland. They went on to finish sixth but lost out to promoted Fulham in the play-offs, with Gary Rowett since leaving to join Stoke following their relegation from the Premier League. The opening round of Championship matches, revealed by the EFL on Thursday morning, will be spread over four days. There is an intriguing contest at Elland Road on Sunday, August 5, with Leeds hosting Stoke in what will represent the first competitive match with their new clubs for respective managers Marcelo Bielsa and Rowett. Marcelo Bielsa is the new Leeds coach Credit: afp Steve Bruce takes his Aston Villa side - beaten play-off finalists last month - to former club Hull on Monday, August 6, with the remaining nine Championship games taking place on the Saturday. Relegated West Brom, who confirmed Darren Moore as their permanent boss following an impressive stint as caretaker, open at home to Bolton while Graham Potter's Swansea - the other team bidding for an instant top flight return - have an evening game at Sheffield United. Of the promoted trio, League One champions Wigan start at home to Sheffield Wednesday, runners-up Blackburn are at Ipswich and play-off winners Rotherham go to Brentford. Elsewhere, Birmingham host Norwich, Middlesbrough are at Millwall, Bristol City face Nottingham Forest at Ashton Gate and Preston welcome QPR. There is deja vu among the final round of fixtures. Bolton ensured survival last month with a final-day home win over Nottingham Forest and the two teams meet again in their final game of next season, albeit at Forest. Lampard's Rams host West Brom in the most eye-catching May 5 fixture. Stoke finish at home to Sheffield United and Swansea are at Blackburn. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article In League One, Joey Barton starts his management career at Fleetwood with a home match against AFC Wimbledon. Sunderland, playing in the third tier of English football for only the second time after finishing bottom of last season's Championship, open with a home match against Charlton at 1230 on August 4. There are home games too for the other relegated sides, with Barnsley hosting Oxford and Burton taking on Rochdale. League Two champions Accrington open at home to Gillingham, Wycombe face Blackpool and play-off winners Coventry tackle Scunthorpe, with the other team to move up - Luton - away to Portsmouth. Beaten play-off finalists Shrewsbury - now under the leadership of John Askey - start at home to Bradford, Peterborough face Bristol Rovers, Southend host Doncaster and Plymouth go to Walsall. Macclesfield and Tranmere, back in the EFL after promotion last season, both start their League Two campaigns away from home. test - do not delete National League champions Macclesfield, with Mark Yates now at the helm following Askey's departure, open at Swindon. Tranmere - Wembley conquerors of Boreham Wood - begin at Stevenage. Bury, Northampton and Oldham all start with home games as they bid for an instant return to League One, with Yeovil, Lincoln and MK Dons - the other relegated team - the respective opponents. Carlisle have a near 700-mile round trip to beaten play-off finalists Exeter on the opening day, Notts County host Colchester and Mansfield are at home to Newport. Grimsby begin at home to Forest Green, Cheltenham host Crawley, Cambridge travel to Port Vale and Morecambe are at Crewe.
Frank Lampard's first competitive game as Derby manager will kick-off the Championship campaign. Former England midfielder Lampard, who took over as boss of the Rams three weeks ago, takes his team to Reading on Friday, August 3. Derby also figured in the opening game of the 2017-18 campaign, drawing 1-1 at Sunderland. They went on to finish sixth but lost out to promoted Fulham in the play-offs, with Gary Rowett since leaving to join Stoke following their relegation from the Premier League. The opening round of Championship matches, revealed by the EFL on Thursday morning, will be spread over four days. There is an intriguing contest at Elland Road on Sunday, August 5, with Leeds hosting Stoke in what will represent the first competitive match with their new clubs for respective managers Marcelo Bielsa and Rowett. Marcelo Bielsa is the new Leeds coach Credit: afp Steve Bruce takes his Aston Villa side - beaten play-off finalists last month - to former club Hull on Monday, August 6, with the remaining nine Championship games taking place on the Saturday. Relegated West Brom, who confirmed Darren Moore as their permanent boss following an impressive stint as caretaker, open at home to Bolton while Graham Potter's Swansea - the other team bidding for an instant top flight return - have an evening game at Sheffield United. Of the promoted trio, League One champions Wigan start at home to Sheffield Wednesday, runners-up Blackburn are at Ipswich and play-off winners Rotherham go to Brentford. Elsewhere, Birmingham host Norwich, Middlesbrough are at Millwall, Bristol City face Nottingham Forest at Ashton Gate and Preston welcome QPR. There is deja vu among the final round of fixtures. Bolton ensured survival last month with a final-day home win over Nottingham Forest and the two teams meet again in their final game of next season, albeit at Forest. Lampard's Rams host West Brom in the most eye-catching May 5 fixture. Stoke finish at home to Sheffield United and Swansea are at Blackburn. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article In League One, Joey Barton starts his management career at Fleetwood with a home match against AFC Wimbledon. Sunderland, playing in the third tier of English football for only the second time after finishing bottom of last season's Championship, open with a home match against Charlton at 1230 on August 4. There are home games too for the other relegated sides, with Barnsley hosting Oxford and Burton taking on Rochdale. League Two champions Accrington open at home to Gillingham, Wycombe face Blackpool and play-off winners Coventry tackle Scunthorpe, with the other team to move up - Luton - away to Portsmouth. Beaten play-off finalists Shrewsbury - now under the leadership of John Askey - start at home to Bradford, Peterborough face Bristol Rovers, Southend host Doncaster and Plymouth go to Walsall. Macclesfield and Tranmere, back in the EFL after promotion last season, both start their League Two campaigns away from home. test - do not delete National League champions Macclesfield, with Mark Yates now at the helm following Askey's departure, open at Swindon. Tranmere - Wembley conquerors of Boreham Wood - begin at Stevenage. Bury, Northampton and Oldham all start with home games as they bid for an instant return to League One, with Yeovil, Lincoln and MK Dons - the other relegated team - the respective opponents. Carlisle have a near 700-mile round trip to beaten play-off finalists Exeter on the opening day, Notts County host Colchester and Mansfield are at home to Newport. Grimsby begin at home to Forest Green, Cheltenham host Crawley, Cambridge travel to Port Vale and Morecambe are at Crewe.
Football League fixtures 2018/19: Frank Lampard starts Championship campaign as Derby manager against Reading
Frank Lampard's first competitive game as Derby manager will kick-off the Championship campaign. Former England midfielder Lampard, who took over as boss of the Rams three weeks ago, takes his team to Reading on Friday, August 3. Derby also figured in the opening game of the 2017-18 campaign, drawing 1-1 at Sunderland. They went on to finish sixth but lost out to promoted Fulham in the play-offs, with Gary Rowett since leaving to join Stoke following their relegation from the Premier League. The opening round of Championship matches, revealed by the EFL on Thursday morning, will be spread over four days. There is an intriguing contest at Elland Road on Sunday, August 5, with Leeds hosting Stoke in what will represent the first competitive match with their new clubs for respective managers Marcelo Bielsa and Rowett. Marcelo Bielsa is the new Leeds coach Credit: afp Steve Bruce takes his Aston Villa side - beaten play-off finalists last month - to former club Hull on Monday, August 6, with the remaining nine Championship games taking place on the Saturday. Relegated West Brom, who confirmed Darren Moore as their permanent boss following an impressive stint as caretaker, open at home to Bolton while Graham Potter's Swansea - the other team bidding for an instant top flight return - have an evening game at Sheffield United. Of the promoted trio, League One champions Wigan start at home to Sheffield Wednesday, runners-up Blackburn are at Ipswich and play-off winners Rotherham go to Brentford. Elsewhere, Birmingham host Norwich, Middlesbrough are at Millwall, Bristol City face Nottingham Forest at Ashton Gate and Preston welcome QPR. There is deja vu among the final round of fixtures. Bolton ensured survival last month with a final-day home win over Nottingham Forest and the two teams meet again in their final game of next season, albeit at Forest. Lampard's Rams host West Brom in the most eye-catching May 5 fixture. Stoke finish at home to Sheffield United and Swansea are at Blackburn. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article In League One, Joey Barton starts his management career at Fleetwood with a home match against AFC Wimbledon. Sunderland, playing in the third tier of English football for only the second time after finishing bottom of last season's Championship, open with a home match against Charlton at 1230 on August 4. There are home games too for the other relegated sides, with Barnsley hosting Oxford and Burton taking on Rochdale. League Two champions Accrington open at home to Gillingham, Wycombe face Blackpool and play-off winners Coventry tackle Scunthorpe, with the other team to move up - Luton - away to Portsmouth. Beaten play-off finalists Shrewsbury - now under the leadership of John Askey - start at home to Bradford, Peterborough face Bristol Rovers, Southend host Doncaster and Plymouth go to Walsall. Macclesfield and Tranmere, back in the EFL after promotion last season, both start their League Two campaigns away from home. test - do not delete National League champions Macclesfield, with Mark Yates now at the helm following Askey's departure, open at Swindon. Tranmere - Wembley conquerors of Boreham Wood - begin at Stevenage. Bury, Northampton and Oldham all start with home games as they bid for an instant return to League One, with Yeovil, Lincoln and MK Dons - the other relegated team - the respective opponents. Carlisle have a near 700-mile round trip to beaten play-off finalists Exeter on the opening day, Notts County host Colchester and Mansfield are at home to Newport. Grimsby begin at home to Forest Green, Cheltenham host Crawley, Cambridge travel to Port Vale and Morecambe are at Crewe.
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 Guide to World Cup free bets and offers What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018, Iran vs Spain: What time is kick-off, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 Guide to World Cup free bets and offers What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 Guide to World Cup free bets and offers What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018, Iran vs Spain: What time is kick-off, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 Guide to World Cup free bets and offers What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
World Cup 2018, Iran vs Spain: What time is kick-off tomorrow, what TV channel is it on and what is our prediction?
What is it? This match sees Spain, looking for their first win of the Russia 2018 World Cup, face Iran who beat Morocco on Friday. When is it? Wednesday 20 June. What time is kick-off? 7pm BST What TV channel is it on? ITV1 or ITV HD. Alternatively, you can follow the match live with us on Telegraph Sport. World Cup 2018 Simulator Single Game Where is the game being played? At the Kazan Arena in Kazana, home to Rubin Kazan's home games. Surprise. What is the team news? Both sides escaped their openers injury free, and neither Spain manager Fernando Hierro nor his Morrocan counterpart Herve Renard are likely to tinker with their sides. David De Gea will keep his starting place in the side despite his error that led to Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal against the Spain side. As for Iran, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. After a 1-0 win and a clean sheet in their first match, Iran look like sticking with their back four, though they are unlikely to be quite as aggressive against Spain. One of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Vahid Amiri is likely to drop out in favour of another defensive midfielder. World Cup 2018 | Fixtures, groups, squads and more What is the team news? Iran: Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo). Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal). Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis). Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest). Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran celebrates after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Morocco and Iran Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Spain: Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao). Defenders: Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City). Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid). What's the latest news on the two teams? In the end, there was little fallout after Spain sacked former manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before their Russia 2018 World Cup opener. Fernando Hierro's side were only denied a win against Portugal because of the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and there's no one even close to his calibre in the Iran side. Iran celebrated their first World Cup win in 20 years and currently sit top of group B. They have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying, but they'll still need to get something against either Spain or Portugal, and even then it might not be enough. What are the odds? Iran 20/1 Spain 6/1 Draw 1/6 What's our prediction? Spain to struggle to breakdown a stubborn Iran side in the first half, but eventually find the breakthrough in Diego Costa. Throw another VAR-inspired penalty into the mix, and this will end up in a comfortable Spain victory. Iran 0 Spain 3 World Cup 2018 | The best of the Telegraph's coverage WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
Aston Villa under pressure to raise up to £50m in player sales
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
Aston Villa under pressure to raise up to £50m in player sales
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
Aston Villa under pressure to raise up to £50m in player sales
Aston Villa are under pressure to raise up to £50 million in player sales over the next two transfer windows, it can be revealed. Villa manager Steve Bruce is facing the prospect of key stars including Jack Grealish, James Chester and Jonathan Kodjia being sold as the Championship club battle a financial crisis. Grealish is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, as revealed by Telegraph Sport on June 7, and Mauricio Pochettino is set to test Villa’s resolve with an opening offer of £15m. Chelsea and West Ham are also interested in the former England under-21 international, and it seems inevitable the homegrown attacker will be sold after Villa’s failure to beat Fulham in last month’s play-off final. Despite Grealish’s reputation and undoubted ability, it is thought unlikely that Villa will get anywhere near their £40m valuation. Bruce will lose some key players this summer Credit: Getty Images Chester, the Wales international defender, is on the radar of Brighton and Stoke and could fetch up to £10m, while Ivory Coast international Kodjia is likely to be coveted by clubs across Europe. It is understood Villa must bring in a minimum of £40m to ease their financial worries and comply with strict Financial Fair Play regulations for next year. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered to around £45m – from just over £60m – after the departure of skipper John Terry and loan players including Robert Snodgrass, Sam Johnstone, Lewis Grabban and Josh Onomah. But there is still pressure to slash it even further and Villa’s technical director Steve Round was given the news in a meeting earlier this week. Villa’s wage bill has been already lowered after the departure of skipper John Terry Credit: Getty Images Bruce and Round have accepted the plans and are understood to be keen to stay on and rebuild the club ahead of next season. Some sources have even insisted that the financial picture was expected to be far bleaker. The EFL will meet with Villa officials next week to discuss their plight and how they plan to operate ahead of their third season in the Championship. Dr Tony Xia, the club’s beleaguered owner, is reluctant to sell up and is exploring ways of sourcing investment. There was one piece of positive news for Villa on Thursday, however, with defender Alan Hutton agreeing a new 12-month deal despite strong interest from Nottingham Forest. Hutton has taken a significant pay cut to stay on at Villa, estimated to be £15,000 a week, in a welcome boost for Bruce. Hutton said: “I’ve definitely found it tough since the Fulham defeat and it hurt me, its taken me time to get to terms with it. “Everybody’s aim was to get promoted last season and we just faltered at the last step. But we have to look forward now and put it behind us. “We’re definitely a Premier League team in my eyes and we will be pushing to do that next season. I’m delighted to stay here and I’ve got a special bond with the club.”
As an international manager, you normally feel like you are borrowing the players, that they don't actually belong to you. You have them for perhaps two or three days before a qualifying game and then you lose them again immediately afterwards. That is something I knew I had to reckon with when I first became Republic of Ireland manager. But when you are building up to and are in a major tournament, for those of us who have done both, it feels like club management. You feel more in control of the players even to the extent of their fitness because you have a much longer preparation period. And of course the results have an immediate effect based on the here and now rather than the prolonged quest for qualification. Ahead of that first game, you want to be stood on the touchline watching them warm up, thinking we have prepared as well as we could have from a coaching point of view. The preparation period is to make them feel: 1. That they are psychologically prepared for it; 2. That they are physically ready for it; and 3. That they are emotionally prepared, which can be overlooked. When you are representing your country there is a lot of excitement, but also pressure, and you need to make sure the players are comfortable with all of that. Then of course there is the tactical side of things. Because you’ve had the players for much longer than in the qualifying games consequently you have more time to work on tactics and formations. Indeed you have a better understanding of the players individually and collectively. At the Euros in 2016, I really enjoyed that feeling of a club atmosphere within the national set-up. Martin O'Neill enjoyed a club set-up feel at Euro 2016 with the Republic of Ireland Credit: Reuters You have to face up to the fact that you are going to have to make some difficult decisions ahead of the first game, with who might start the match and who might miss out. Those decisions will inevitably cause disappointment to some players, but you have to be able to manage that. It's a key component of managing in a tournament, keeping everyone together. The World Cup has this unique power to turn players into deities. Your own life can be changed forever, in such a short period of time in a way that no other competition can match. It can turn footballers into national heroes, no matter which country you are from, regardless of how big or small. Some players can unexpectedly rise to the occasion and implant themselves so vividly in the world’s consciousness that they could never be forgotten. The images of those who are successful at a World Cup will be replayed over and over again. It is a chance to make history. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Toto Schillaci, the Juventus forward, springs immediately to mind. He was the last member of the Italian squad to be pencilled in for the 1990 World Cup yet ended up being the leading scorer in the competition and one of the most talked about figures thereafter. Indeed whether it was Diego Maradona in 1986, Pele in 1958 and 1970, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Roger Milla or Paul Gascoigne in 1990, they are immortalised by what they did at a World Cup. There are so many others, all special to the countries they performed for. It's not just about the team that wins the tournament. Every nation can create their own heroes, success is relative. It isn't just about the big boys with a track record of doing well. The fact the competition only comes around every four years means you are very lucky to participate in one either as player or manager. Even the great George Best missed out on this experience. Behind the scenes: England's World Cup squad get suited and booted for their official shoot Playing in the World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1982 was an unforgettable experience for me, and those players from that team are still revered today. The victory over the host nation Spain to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament is still fresh in my memory and ranks alongside my club achievements with Nottingham Forest. It is something you will remember for the rest of your life so make the most of it. Be prepared to sacrifice everything. As an individual be at your best and the collective success will hopefully follow. As a manager, that would be my message to the players on the eve of the tournament. This is their time to make history. It's an opportunity not to be missed, to do it for your country, that is very, very important. Sometimes you hear rumours about players being bored at tournaments or missing their families because of a prolonged period of time away. I don’t get that at all, in fact I’ve never got it. My view is the same as a manager as when I was captain of Northern Ireland – you can be bored or homesick another time, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so during the rest of your life. World Cup whatsapp promo This is a wonderful moment in your life that you will, perhaps, never have again. Everything else can be pushed to one side. It's so infrequent, so special, you've got to make some sort of sacrifice and if you don't, I'm telling you, you will regret it later in life. The camaraderie you have as a team, the bond you create with your supporters, it is an incredible thing to be a part of. I may well be only re-enforcing to the players something they have thought about themselves. I'm sure they are aware of that, but you want to make sure they realise the full scale of things, particularly when you are preparing for that first game. I will watch with intrigue how Denmark fare in their group, we having been pipped at the post by them in the playoffs. All of those emotions we went through during the Euros in France two years ago we wanted to relive again. The players’ rapport with the fans may be what I will miss most. That’s why these major competitions are so powerful. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
It's not just about the team that wins the World Cup. Every nation can create their own heroes
As an international manager, you normally feel like you are borrowing the players, that they don't actually belong to you. You have them for perhaps two or three days before a qualifying game and then you lose them again immediately afterwards. That is something I knew I had to reckon with when I first became Republic of Ireland manager. But when you are building up to and are in a major tournament, for those of us who have done both, it feels like club management. You feel more in control of the players even to the extent of their fitness because you have a much longer preparation period. And of course the results have an immediate effect based on the here and now rather than the prolonged quest for qualification. Ahead of that first game, you want to be stood on the touchline watching them warm up, thinking we have prepared as well as we could have from a coaching point of view. The preparation period is to make them feel: 1. That they are psychologically prepared for it; 2. That they are physically ready for it; and 3. That they are emotionally prepared, which can be overlooked. When you are representing your country there is a lot of excitement, but also pressure, and you need to make sure the players are comfortable with all of that. Then of course there is the tactical side of things. Because you’ve had the players for much longer than in the qualifying games consequently you have more time to work on tactics and formations. Indeed you have a better understanding of the players individually and collectively. At the Euros in 2016, I really enjoyed that feeling of a club atmosphere within the national set-up. Martin O'Neill enjoyed a club set-up feel at Euro 2016 with the Republic of Ireland Credit: Reuters You have to face up to the fact that you are going to have to make some difficult decisions ahead of the first game, with who might start the match and who might miss out. Those decisions will inevitably cause disappointment to some players, but you have to be able to manage that. It's a key component of managing in a tournament, keeping everyone together. The World Cup has this unique power to turn players into deities. Your own life can be changed forever, in such a short period of time in a way that no other competition can match. It can turn footballers into national heroes, no matter which country you are from, regardless of how big or small. Some players can unexpectedly rise to the occasion and implant themselves so vividly in the world’s consciousness that they could never be forgotten. The images of those who are successful at a World Cup will be replayed over and over again. It is a chance to make history. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Toto Schillaci, the Juventus forward, springs immediately to mind. He was the last member of the Italian squad to be pencilled in for the 1990 World Cup yet ended up being the leading scorer in the competition and one of the most talked about figures thereafter. Indeed whether it was Diego Maradona in 1986, Pele in 1958 and 1970, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Roger Milla or Paul Gascoigne in 1990, they are immortalised by what they did at a World Cup. There are so many others, all special to the countries they performed for. It's not just about the team that wins the tournament. Every nation can create their own heroes, success is relative. It isn't just about the big boys with a track record of doing well. The fact the competition only comes around every four years means you are very lucky to participate in one either as player or manager. Even the great George Best missed out on this experience. Behind the scenes: England's World Cup squad get suited and booted for their official shoot Playing in the World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1982 was an unforgettable experience for me, and those players from that team are still revered today. The victory over the host nation Spain to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament is still fresh in my memory and ranks alongside my club achievements with Nottingham Forest. It is something you will remember for the rest of your life so make the most of it. Be prepared to sacrifice everything. As an individual be at your best and the collective success will hopefully follow. As a manager, that would be my message to the players on the eve of the tournament. This is their time to make history. It's an opportunity not to be missed, to do it for your country, that is very, very important. Sometimes you hear rumours about players being bored at tournaments or missing their families because of a prolonged period of time away. I don’t get that at all, in fact I’ve never got it. My view is the same as a manager as when I was captain of Northern Ireland – you can be bored or homesick another time, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so during the rest of your life. World Cup whatsapp promo This is a wonderful moment in your life that you will, perhaps, never have again. Everything else can be pushed to one side. It's so infrequent, so special, you've got to make some sort of sacrifice and if you don't, I'm telling you, you will regret it later in life. The camaraderie you have as a team, the bond you create with your supporters, it is an incredible thing to be a part of. I may well be only re-enforcing to the players something they have thought about themselves. I'm sure they are aware of that, but you want to make sure they realise the full scale of things, particularly when you are preparing for that first game. I will watch with intrigue how Denmark fare in their group, we having been pipped at the post by them in the playoffs. All of those emotions we went through during the Euros in France two years ago we wanted to relive again. The players’ rapport with the fans may be what I will miss most. That’s why these major competitions are so powerful. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
As an international manager, you normally feel like you are borrowing the players, that they don't actually belong to you. You have them for perhaps two or three days before a qualifying game and then you lose them again immediately afterwards. That is something I knew I had to reckon with when I first became Republic of Ireland manager. But when you are building up to and are in a major tournament, for those of us who have done both, it feels like club management. You feel more in control of the players even to the extent of their fitness because you have a much longer preparation period. And of course the results have an immediate effect based on the here and now rather than the prolonged quest for qualification. Ahead of that first game, you want to be stood on the touchline watching them warm up, thinking we have prepared as well as we could have from a coaching point of view. The preparation period is to make them feel: 1. That they are psychologically prepared for it; 2. That they are physically ready for it; and 3. That they are emotionally prepared, which can be overlooked. When you are representing your country there is a lot of excitement, but also pressure, and you need to make sure the players are comfortable with all of that. Then of course there is the tactical side of things. Because you’ve had the players for much longer than in the qualifying games consequently you have more time to work on tactics and formations. Indeed you have a better understanding of the players individually and collectively. At the Euros in 2016, I really enjoyed that feeling of a club atmosphere within the national set-up. Martin O'Neill enjoyed a club set-up feel at Euro 2016 with the Republic of Ireland Credit: Reuters You have to face up to the fact that you are going to have to make some difficult decisions ahead of the first game, with who might start the match and who might miss out. Those decisions will inevitably cause disappointment to some players, but you have to be able to manage that. It's a key component of managing in a tournament, keeping everyone together. The World Cup has this unique power to turn players into deities. Your own life can be changed forever, in such a short period of time in a way that no other competition can match. It can turn footballers into national heroes, no matter which country you are from, regardless of how big or small. Some players can unexpectedly rise to the occasion and implant themselves so vividly in the world’s consciousness that they could never be forgotten. The images of those who are successful at a World Cup will be replayed over and over again. It is a chance to make history. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Toto Schillaci, the Juventus forward, springs immediately to mind. He was the last member of the Italian squad to be pencilled in for the 1990 World Cup yet ended up being the leading scorer in the competition and one of the most talked about figures thereafter. Indeed whether it was Diego Maradona in 1986, Pele in 1958 and 1970, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Roger Milla or Paul Gascoigne in 1990, they are immortalised by what they did at a World Cup. There are so many others, all special to the countries they performed for. It's not just about the team that wins the tournament. Every nation can create their own heroes, success is relative. It isn't just about the big boys with a track record of doing well. The fact the competition only comes around every four years means you are very lucky to participate in one either as player or manager. Even the great George Best missed out on this experience. Behind the scenes: England's World Cup squad get suited and booted for their official shoot Playing in the World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1982 was an unforgettable experience for me, and those players from that team are still revered today. The victory over the host nation Spain to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament is still fresh in my memory and ranks alongside my club achievements with Nottingham Forest. It is something you will remember for the rest of your life so make the most of it. Be prepared to sacrifice everything. As an individual be at your best and the collective success will hopefully follow. As a manager, that would be my message to the players on the eve of the tournament. This is their time to make history. It's an opportunity not to be missed, to do it for your country, that is very, very important. Sometimes you hear rumours about players being bored at tournaments or missing their families because of a prolonged period of time away. I don’t get that at all, in fact I’ve never got it. My view is the same as a manager as when I was captain of Northern Ireland – you can be bored or homesick another time, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so during the rest of your life. World Cup whatsapp promo This is a wonderful moment in your life that you will, perhaps, never have again. Everything else can be pushed to one side. It's so infrequent, so special, you've got to make some sort of sacrifice and if you don't, I'm telling you, you will regret it later in life. The camaraderie you have as a team, the bond you create with your supporters, it is an incredible thing to be a part of. I may well be only re-enforcing to the players something they have thought about themselves. I'm sure they are aware of that, but you want to make sure they realise the full scale of things, particularly when you are preparing for that first game. I will watch with intrigue how Denmark fare in their group, we having been pipped at the post by them in the playoffs. All of those emotions we went through during the Euros in France two years ago we wanted to relive again. The players’ rapport with the fans may be what I will miss most. That’s why these major competitions are so powerful. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
It's not just about the team that wins the World Cup. Every nation can create their own heroes
As an international manager, you normally feel like you are borrowing the players, that they don't actually belong to you. You have them for perhaps two or three days before a qualifying game and then you lose them again immediately afterwards. That is something I knew I had to reckon with when I first became Republic of Ireland manager. But when you are building up to and are in a major tournament, for those of us who have done both, it feels like club management. You feel more in control of the players even to the extent of their fitness because you have a much longer preparation period. And of course the results have an immediate effect based on the here and now rather than the prolonged quest for qualification. Ahead of that first game, you want to be stood on the touchline watching them warm up, thinking we have prepared as well as we could have from a coaching point of view. The preparation period is to make them feel: 1. That they are psychologically prepared for it; 2. That they are physically ready for it; and 3. That they are emotionally prepared, which can be overlooked. When you are representing your country there is a lot of excitement, but also pressure, and you need to make sure the players are comfortable with all of that. Then of course there is the tactical side of things. Because you’ve had the players for much longer than in the qualifying games consequently you have more time to work on tactics and formations. Indeed you have a better understanding of the players individually and collectively. At the Euros in 2016, I really enjoyed that feeling of a club atmosphere within the national set-up. Martin O'Neill enjoyed a club set-up feel at Euro 2016 with the Republic of Ireland Credit: Reuters You have to face up to the fact that you are going to have to make some difficult decisions ahead of the first game, with who might start the match and who might miss out. Those decisions will inevitably cause disappointment to some players, but you have to be able to manage that. It's a key component of managing in a tournament, keeping everyone together. The World Cup has this unique power to turn players into deities. Your own life can be changed forever, in such a short period of time in a way that no other competition can match. It can turn footballers into national heroes, no matter which country you are from, regardless of how big or small. Some players can unexpectedly rise to the occasion and implant themselves so vividly in the world’s consciousness that they could never be forgotten. The images of those who are successful at a World Cup will be replayed over and over again. It is a chance to make history. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Toto Schillaci, the Juventus forward, springs immediately to mind. He was the last member of the Italian squad to be pencilled in for the 1990 World Cup yet ended up being the leading scorer in the competition and one of the most talked about figures thereafter. Indeed whether it was Diego Maradona in 1986, Pele in 1958 and 1970, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Roger Milla or Paul Gascoigne in 1990, they are immortalised by what they did at a World Cup. There are so many others, all special to the countries they performed for. It's not just about the team that wins the tournament. Every nation can create their own heroes, success is relative. It isn't just about the big boys with a track record of doing well. The fact the competition only comes around every four years means you are very lucky to participate in one either as player or manager. Even the great George Best missed out on this experience. Behind the scenes: England's World Cup squad get suited and booted for their official shoot Playing in the World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1982 was an unforgettable experience for me, and those players from that team are still revered today. The victory over the host nation Spain to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament is still fresh in my memory and ranks alongside my club achievements with Nottingham Forest. It is something you will remember for the rest of your life so make the most of it. Be prepared to sacrifice everything. As an individual be at your best and the collective success will hopefully follow. As a manager, that would be my message to the players on the eve of the tournament. This is their time to make history. It's an opportunity not to be missed, to do it for your country, that is very, very important. Sometimes you hear rumours about players being bored at tournaments or missing their families because of a prolonged period of time away. I don’t get that at all, in fact I’ve never got it. My view is the same as a manager as when I was captain of Northern Ireland – you can be bored or homesick another time, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so during the rest of your life. World Cup whatsapp promo This is a wonderful moment in your life that you will, perhaps, never have again. Everything else can be pushed to one side. It's so infrequent, so special, you've got to make some sort of sacrifice and if you don't, I'm telling you, you will regret it later in life. The camaraderie you have as a team, the bond you create with your supporters, it is an incredible thing to be a part of. I may well be only re-enforcing to the players something they have thought about themselves. I'm sure they are aware of that, but you want to make sure they realise the full scale of things, particularly when you are preparing for that first game. I will watch with intrigue how Denmark fare in their group, we having been pipped at the post by them in the playoffs. All of those emotions we went through during the Euros in France two years ago we wanted to relive again. The players’ rapport with the fans may be what I will miss most. That’s why these major competitions are so powerful. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Aitor Karanka is smashing Nottingham Forest's transfer record with the £13.2 million capture of Benfica midfielder Joao Carvalho. Karanka will be backed this summer with significant funds and Carvalho, a Portugal U21 international, is set to have a medical on Thursday. Carvalho's Benfica team-mate, winger Diogo Goncalves, is also flying into England on Wednesday night and will join Forest on loan for the rest of the season. With Forest's board mindful of Financial Fair Play regulations following the regime of former owner Fawaz Al Hasawi, it is understood that both players are considered an even bigger coup due to their relatively low wages. Forest will pay Benfica up to €15m for Carvalho, 21. The deal also breaks their previous transfer record of £5.5m for Britt Assombalonga in 2014. Karanka is targeting up to eight new signings this summer as he attempts to build a squad capable of a promotion challenge, following a disappointing 17th-place finish last season. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Forest are in talks with Aston Villa defender Alan Hutton over a move, with the former Scotland international close to agreeing a two-year contract. Hutton will be a free agent next month and is considering leaving crisis-club Villa to become part of Karanka's revolution. Forest are also hopeful of signing Watford goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon on a permanent deal, after his loan spell last season, while Karanka is also targeting at least one more forward. The Championship club are also determined to shift fringe players out to lower their wage bill with the likes of Eric Lichaj, Jamie Ward, Michael Mancienne and Barrie McKay all expected to leave. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Nottingham Forest to smash their transfer record with £13.2m signing of Benfica star Joao Carvalho
Aitor Karanka is smashing Nottingham Forest's transfer record with the £13.2 million capture of Benfica midfielder Joao Carvalho. Karanka will be backed this summer with significant funds and Carvalho, a Portugal U21 international, is set to have a medical on Thursday. Carvalho's Benfica team-mate, winger Diogo Goncalves, is also flying into England on Wednesday night and will join Forest on loan for the rest of the season. With Forest's board mindful of Financial Fair Play regulations following the regime of former owner Fawaz Al Hasawi, it is understood that both players are considered an even bigger coup due to their relatively low wages. Forest will pay Benfica up to €15m for Carvalho, 21. The deal also breaks their previous transfer record of £5.5m for Britt Assombalonga in 2014. Karanka is targeting up to eight new signings this summer as he attempts to build a squad capable of a promotion challenge, following a disappointing 17th-place finish last season. World Cup rankings: Who looks good ahead of kick-off in Russia? Forest are in talks with Aston Villa defender Alan Hutton over a move, with the former Scotland international close to agreeing a two-year contract. Hutton will be a free agent next month and is considering leaving crisis-club Villa to become part of Karanka's revolution. Forest are also hopeful of signing Watford goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon on a permanent deal, after his loan spell last season, while Karanka is also targeting at least one more forward. The Championship club are also determined to shift fringe players out to lower their wage bill with the likes of Eric Lichaj, Jamie Ward, Michael Mancienne and Barrie McKay all expected to leave. WorldCup - newsletter promo - end of article
Nottingham Forest to smash their transfer record with £13.2m signing of Benfica star Joao Carvalho
Nottingham Forest to smash their transfer record with £13.2m signing of Benfica star Joao Carvalho
Nottingham Forest to smash their transfer record with £13.2m signing of Benfica star Joao Carvalho
Aston Villa are set for talks with the Football League next week as fears grow over the Championship club's finances. Shaun Harvey, the EFL’s chief executive, is scheduled to meet with Villa officials in a bid to discover the club’s future plans following failure to win promotion to the Premier League. Villa have been struggling with financial difficulties due to the cash-flow issues of Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia, with the club also being sued for constructive dismissal by former chief executive Keith Wyness. Last month Xia was late paying a tax bill and with the club already under huge pressure to fall in line with Financial Fair Play rules, the EFL has contacted Villa to set up a meeting. It is understood Harvey will request a broad business plan for next season and proof the club can fulfil its financial obligations. Villa are aiming to slash their wage bill and bring it down to around £30m and held a board meeting on Tuesday as they mapped out their summer strategy. Chairman Dr Tony Xia (right) and Aston Villa are in worrying times Credit: Getty Images Steve Bruce, the manager, was not present at the meeting, but it is understood the financial ramifications for staying in the Championship were relayed to technical director Steve Round. Xia remains reluctant to sell up, yet there are fears he will have to cash in on at least two top players, such as Jack Grealish and James Chester. Villa have confirmed the departure of Wyness, who has launched legal action against the club. Wyness is suing for constructive dismissal in a claim which could cost Villa up to £6m, as revealed by Telegraph Sport. Villa’s statement read: “Aston Villa Football Club can confirm that Keith Wyness has now left the club. The club notes the media speculation relating to Keith’s departure and prospective legal proceedings. “The club will be happy to defend legal proceedings if called on to do so and does not propose to comment further at this time.” Meanwhile, Villa defender Alan Hutton is in talks with Nottingham Forest. Hutton, the former Scotland international, will be a free agent next month and has been offered a two-year deal by Forest manager Aitor Karanka.
Exclusive: Aston Villa to meet with Football League as fears grow over club's finances
Aston Villa are set for talks with the Football League next week as fears grow over the Championship club's finances. Shaun Harvey, the EFL’s chief executive, is scheduled to meet with Villa officials in a bid to discover the club’s future plans following failure to win promotion to the Premier League. Villa have been struggling with financial difficulties due to the cash-flow issues of Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia, with the club also being sued for constructive dismissal by former chief executive Keith Wyness. Last month Xia was late paying a tax bill and with the club already under huge pressure to fall in line with Financial Fair Play rules, the EFL has contacted Villa to set up a meeting. It is understood Harvey will request a broad business plan for next season and proof the club can fulfil its financial obligations. Villa are aiming to slash their wage bill and bring it down to around £30m and held a board meeting on Tuesday as they mapped out their summer strategy. Chairman Dr Tony Xia (right) and Aston Villa are in worrying times Credit: Getty Images Steve Bruce, the manager, was not present at the meeting, but it is understood the financial ramifications for staying in the Championship were relayed to technical director Steve Round. Xia remains reluctant to sell up, yet there are fears he will have to cash in on at least two top players, such as Jack Grealish and James Chester. Villa have confirmed the departure of Wyness, who has launched legal action against the club. Wyness is suing for constructive dismissal in a claim which could cost Villa up to £6m, as revealed by Telegraph Sport. Villa’s statement read: “Aston Villa Football Club can confirm that Keith Wyness has now left the club. The club notes the media speculation relating to Keith’s departure and prospective legal proceedings. “The club will be happy to defend legal proceedings if called on to do so and does not propose to comment further at this time.” Meanwhile, Villa defender Alan Hutton is in talks with Nottingham Forest. Hutton, the former Scotland international, will be a free agent next month and has been offered a two-year deal by Forest manager Aitor Karanka.
The loan deal that saw Charly Musonda move from Chelsea to Celtic on an 18-month contract has been cut short because Brendan Rodgers has been unable to guarantee the Belgian midfielder sufficient game time. Telegraph Sport has reported previously that Chelsea were unhappy about the 21-year-old’s lack of action, but Rodgers said that his connection with Stamford Bridge remained amicable. “Chelsea actually came to me and to us about the possibility of taking Charly,” he said. “Since I became a manager I’ve taken six players from them on loan. Young Liam Bridcutt, a player who is at Nottingham Forest now, and Jack Cork came in and did very well. “Ryan Bertrand, I took when he was 18 to Reading and he played 44 games. Victor Moses came and played 19 games for me in the season we nearly won the title at Liverpool. He was unfortunate he couldn’t get in front of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho but he still had a good grounding. “The next year he went out to Stoke and played 19 games, so he got the experience. Josh McEachran didn’t quite work out for a number of reasons and also Charly. So, I’ve got great relations there with the people but, of course, it’s a business for them as well and Charly needs to be playing. “On Monday I flew to London and had a meeting with Chelsea about the football and business sides. My relations there are very strong. Charly signed an 18-month loan deal with a break at the end of the season to discuss where it’s at and we both felt that, probably for what he needs at this stage of his career – and what I’d hope to give him – I can’t guarantee. Celtic are preparing for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday Credit: getty images “Charly’s not 17 or 18, like Pat Roberts was when he came in. He’s older and he’s at a stage where he needs to play and play week in, week out and unfortunately, I couldn’t guarantee him that. We had a look at it and it was best for him to go back and probably pick up a loan somewhere else. “You can only play 11 players and in the position that’s probably Charly’s best, Callum McGregor’s playing brilliantly. “I won’t just bring players in on loan and think I have to play them. I bring them in because I think they can play and help us but if that spurs on other players to really jump and play, then unfortunately that’s why his game time was limited. And, of course, if I can’t then guarantee it for next year then I have to be honest as well.” Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, is at the other end of the playing scale from Musonda, with 59 appearances for Celtic and Scotland this season. He was replaced seven minutes into the second half in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat by Aberdeen because of the toll taken on him by so many outings. Nevertheless, he will start against Motherwell in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday, to be watched by scouts from Atletico Madrid, the Europa League winners and runners-up in La Liga. Kieran Tierney has received interest from a number of clubs Credit: pa “There is a dearth of good left-backs and, with Kieran’s qualities and huge potential still as a young player, that is always going to draw the eyes of top teams,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t bother him. He is developing very well and is loving every minute. He has a really good temperament and that is getting better in big games. That’s important. Tactically, he understands the game much better. “Physically, he can cope with any league in the world. He has got stronger and faster. He’s a really exceptional young guy. He’s very stable, his home life and family are Celtic mad.” Asked if it was not inevitable that Tierney would hit a ceiling in the Scottish game, Rodgers said: “Maybe at some point, but I don’t think it’s now. At the moment he’s jumping from the youth team into the level of players we have here and he’s developing and improving. “He could move to a number of clubs if he wanted but it’s about it being the right club. An opportunity might come for him that he will have to look at and the club will look at but at the moment it’s not even a conversation. We chat and talk and he’s living the dream, really. He’s not ready to end it now.”
Charly Musonda cuts Celtic loan short with Brendan Rodgers unable to guarantee him game time
The loan deal that saw Charly Musonda move from Chelsea to Celtic on an 18-month contract has been cut short because Brendan Rodgers has been unable to guarantee the Belgian midfielder sufficient game time. Telegraph Sport has reported previously that Chelsea were unhappy about the 21-year-old’s lack of action, but Rodgers said that his connection with Stamford Bridge remained amicable. “Chelsea actually came to me and to us about the possibility of taking Charly,” he said. “Since I became a manager I’ve taken six players from them on loan. Young Liam Bridcutt, a player who is at Nottingham Forest now, and Jack Cork came in and did very well. “Ryan Bertrand, I took when he was 18 to Reading and he played 44 games. Victor Moses came and played 19 games for me in the season we nearly won the title at Liverpool. He was unfortunate he couldn’t get in front of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho but he still had a good grounding. “The next year he went out to Stoke and played 19 games, so he got the experience. Josh McEachran didn’t quite work out for a number of reasons and also Charly. So, I’ve got great relations there with the people but, of course, it’s a business for them as well and Charly needs to be playing. “On Monday I flew to London and had a meeting with Chelsea about the football and business sides. My relations there are very strong. Charly signed an 18-month loan deal with a break at the end of the season to discuss where it’s at and we both felt that, probably for what he needs at this stage of his career – and what I’d hope to give him – I can’t guarantee. Celtic are preparing for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday Credit: getty images “Charly’s not 17 or 18, like Pat Roberts was when he came in. He’s older and he’s at a stage where he needs to play and play week in, week out and unfortunately, I couldn’t guarantee him that. We had a look at it and it was best for him to go back and probably pick up a loan somewhere else. “You can only play 11 players and in the position that’s probably Charly’s best, Callum McGregor’s playing brilliantly. “I won’t just bring players in on loan and think I have to play them. I bring them in because I think they can play and help us but if that spurs on other players to really jump and play, then unfortunately that’s why his game time was limited. And, of course, if I can’t then guarantee it for next year then I have to be honest as well.” Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, is at the other end of the playing scale from Musonda, with 59 appearances for Celtic and Scotland this season. He was replaced seven minutes into the second half in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat by Aberdeen because of the toll taken on him by so many outings. Nevertheless, he will start against Motherwell in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday, to be watched by scouts from Atletico Madrid, the Europa League winners and runners-up in La Liga. Kieran Tierney has received interest from a number of clubs Credit: pa “There is a dearth of good left-backs and, with Kieran’s qualities and huge potential still as a young player, that is always going to draw the eyes of top teams,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t bother him. He is developing very well and is loving every minute. He has a really good temperament and that is getting better in big games. That’s important. Tactically, he understands the game much better. “Physically, he can cope with any league in the world. He has got stronger and faster. He’s a really exceptional young guy. He’s very stable, his home life and family are Celtic mad.” Asked if it was not inevitable that Tierney would hit a ceiling in the Scottish game, Rodgers said: “Maybe at some point, but I don’t think it’s now. At the moment he’s jumping from the youth team into the level of players we have here and he’s developing and improving. “He could move to a number of clubs if he wanted but it’s about it being the right club. An opportunity might come for him that he will have to look at and the club will look at but at the moment it’s not even a conversation. We chat and talk and he’s living the dream, really. He’s not ready to end it now.”
The loan deal that saw Charly Musonda move from Chelsea to Celtic on an 18-month contract has been cut short because Brendan Rodgers has been unable to guarantee the Belgian midfielder sufficient game time. Telegraph Sport has reported previously that Chelsea were unhappy about the 21-year-old’s lack of action, but Rodgers said that his connection with Stamford Bridge remained amicable. “Chelsea actually came to me and to us about the possibility of taking Charly,” he said. “Since I became a manager I’ve taken six players from them on loan. Young Liam Bridcutt, a player who is at Nottingham Forest now, and Jack Cork came in and did very well. “Ryan Bertrand, I took when he was 18 to Reading and he played 44 games. Victor Moses came and played 19 games for me in the season we nearly won the title at Liverpool. He was unfortunate he couldn’t get in front of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho but he still had a good grounding. “The next year he went out to Stoke and played 19 games, so he got the experience. Josh McEachran didn’t quite work out for a number of reasons and also Charly. So, I’ve got great relations there with the people but, of course, it’s a business for them as well and Charly needs to be playing. “On Monday I flew to London and had a meeting with Chelsea about the football and business sides. My relations there are very strong. Charly signed an 18-month loan deal with a break at the end of the season to discuss where it’s at and we both felt that, probably for what he needs at this stage of his career – and what I’d hope to give him – I can’t guarantee. Celtic are preparing for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday Credit: getty images “Charly’s not 17 or 18, like Pat Roberts was when he came in. He’s older and he’s at a stage where he needs to play and play week in, week out and unfortunately, I couldn’t guarantee him that. We had a look at it and it was best for him to go back and probably pick up a loan somewhere else. “You can only play 11 players and in the position that’s probably Charly’s best, Callum McGregor’s playing brilliantly. “I won’t just bring players in on loan and think I have to play them. I bring them in because I think they can play and help us but if that spurs on other players to really jump and play, then unfortunately that’s why his game time was limited. And, of course, if I can’t then guarantee it for next year then I have to be honest as well.” Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, is at the other end of the playing scale from Musonda, with 59 appearances for Celtic and Scotland this season. He was replaced seven minutes into the second half in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat by Aberdeen because of the toll taken on him by so many outings. Nevertheless, he will start against Motherwell in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday, to be watched by scouts from Atletico Madrid, the Europa League winners and runners-up in La Liga. Kieran Tierney has received interest from a number of clubs Credit: pa “There is a dearth of good left-backs and, with Kieran’s qualities and huge potential still as a young player, that is always going to draw the eyes of top teams,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t bother him. He is developing very well and is loving every minute. He has a really good temperament and that is getting better in big games. That’s important. Tactically, he understands the game much better. “Physically, he can cope with any league in the world. He has got stronger and faster. He’s a really exceptional young guy. He’s very stable, his home life and family are Celtic mad.” Asked if it was not inevitable that Tierney would hit a ceiling in the Scottish game, Rodgers said: “Maybe at some point, but I don’t think it’s now. At the moment he’s jumping from the youth team into the level of players we have here and he’s developing and improving. “He could move to a number of clubs if he wanted but it’s about it being the right club. An opportunity might come for him that he will have to look at and the club will look at but at the moment it’s not even a conversation. We chat and talk and he’s living the dream, really. He’s not ready to end it now.”
Charly Musonda cuts Celtic loan short with Brendan Rodgers unable to guarantee him game time
The loan deal that saw Charly Musonda move from Chelsea to Celtic on an 18-month contract has been cut short because Brendan Rodgers has been unable to guarantee the Belgian midfielder sufficient game time. Telegraph Sport has reported previously that Chelsea were unhappy about the 21-year-old’s lack of action, but Rodgers said that his connection with Stamford Bridge remained amicable. “Chelsea actually came to me and to us about the possibility of taking Charly,” he said. “Since I became a manager I’ve taken six players from them on loan. Young Liam Bridcutt, a player who is at Nottingham Forest now, and Jack Cork came in and did very well. “Ryan Bertrand, I took when he was 18 to Reading and he played 44 games. Victor Moses came and played 19 games for me in the season we nearly won the title at Liverpool. He was unfortunate he couldn’t get in front of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho but he still had a good grounding. “The next year he went out to Stoke and played 19 games, so he got the experience. Josh McEachran didn’t quite work out for a number of reasons and also Charly. So, I’ve got great relations there with the people but, of course, it’s a business for them as well and Charly needs to be playing. “On Monday I flew to London and had a meeting with Chelsea about the football and business sides. My relations there are very strong. Charly signed an 18-month loan deal with a break at the end of the season to discuss where it’s at and we both felt that, probably for what he needs at this stage of his career – and what I’d hope to give him – I can’t guarantee. Celtic are preparing for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday Credit: getty images “Charly’s not 17 or 18, like Pat Roberts was when he came in. He’s older and he’s at a stage where he needs to play and play week in, week out and unfortunately, I couldn’t guarantee him that. We had a look at it and it was best for him to go back and probably pick up a loan somewhere else. “You can only play 11 players and in the position that’s probably Charly’s best, Callum McGregor’s playing brilliantly. “I won’t just bring players in on loan and think I have to play them. I bring them in because I think they can play and help us but if that spurs on other players to really jump and play, then unfortunately that’s why his game time was limited. And, of course, if I can’t then guarantee it for next year then I have to be honest as well.” Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, is at the other end of the playing scale from Musonda, with 59 appearances for Celtic and Scotland this season. He was replaced seven minutes into the second half in Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat by Aberdeen because of the toll taken on him by so many outings. Nevertheless, he will start against Motherwell in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday, to be watched by scouts from Atletico Madrid, the Europa League winners and runners-up in La Liga. Kieran Tierney has received interest from a number of clubs Credit: pa “There is a dearth of good left-backs and, with Kieran’s qualities and huge potential still as a young player, that is always going to draw the eyes of top teams,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t bother him. He is developing very well and is loving every minute. He has a really good temperament and that is getting better in big games. That’s important. Tactically, he understands the game much better. “Physically, he can cope with any league in the world. He has got stronger and faster. He’s a really exceptional young guy. He’s very stable, his home life and family are Celtic mad.” Asked if it was not inevitable that Tierney would hit a ceiling in the Scottish game, Rodgers said: “Maybe at some point, but I don’t think it’s now. At the moment he’s jumping from the youth team into the level of players we have here and he’s developing and improving. “He could move to a number of clubs if he wanted but it’s about it being the right club. An opportunity might come for him that he will have to look at and the club will look at but at the moment it’s not even a conversation. We chat and talk and he’s living the dream, really. He’s not ready to end it now.”
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Mile Jedinak's header gives Aston Villa slender play-off advantage over Middlesbrough
It says everything about the anguish in Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce’s life that the tension and the pressure of a Championship play-off semi-final was a welcome break from the pain caused by the death of both his parents. Of course, there are more important things in life than football, but perhaps no better distraction from its trials and tribulations. It has been a traumatic year for Bruce, whose mother Sheenagh died last week, just 88 days after his father Joe passed away, but he was adamant he had not lost any of his focus in the build-up to this season defining encounter against Middlesbrough. Not everyone was convinced given the obvious emotional toll it has taken on him, yet his players, in and out of form all season, delivered when he needed it most, securing a slender, but crucial advantage heading into the home leg on Tuesday night thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header. Villa were neither expansive nor particularly exciting, but they neutralised Middlesbrough, suffocating their main offensive threat, Adama Traore, with Alan Hutton following him from left flank to right, mimicking his shadow rather than his marker. No manager has been promoted to the Premier League more times than Bruce Credit: Getty images He was not alone. The 34-year-old former Scotland international was just one of the vastly experienced players assembled by Bruce who stood up and made sure they were counted. “Too many people couldn’t handle the expectation when I arrived,” said Bruce. “Overall to come here, keep a clean sheet and win, I thought we were excellent. We know the Championship is riddled with strange things, but we’ve given ourselves a small lead. “I wanted to get experienced players through the door, people who had played at the top level because when you are in a play-off semi-final, you want players who are used to the big occasions. “The experienced players handle playing for a big club under pressure. I thought they were terrific. But it’s only half time and Boro will be dangerous, we know that. It’s not over by a long way.” These teams had looked evenly matched on paper, but it was in the mind where Villa showed greater strength. Middlesbrough, in front of their own supporters, were tense and frenetic. The occasion got the better of them. Everything was rushed and hurried, their decision-making scrambled throughout. They played with emotion rather than thought. Adama Traore was Middlesbrough's greatest threat but Villa dealt with him well Credit: Reuters Villa were different, far more composed and therefore clinical in everything they did. There was something about the way the visitors held themselves, striding around the pitch, confident; assured. The partisan atmosphere focused their minds rather than unnerved them. They exuded experience. Boro may have had the first chance, a long range shot from Muhamed Besic which had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, looking nervously over his shoulder as it dipped narrowly over the bar. But Villa were slick, streetwise and tough, taking the lead with a brilliantly worked set piece and then holding on to it with a degree of ease that should concern Boro manager Tony Pulis Lewis Grabban was the decoy, pulling Ben Gibson away from the back post when Jack Grealish’s swung in the corner to the near one. Gibson fell for it, following Grabban so when Jedinak sent a glancing header goalwards there was nobody on the line to clear it. Villa could well have doubled their lead before the break, only a magnificent save from Darren Randolph, tipping the ball on to the post, kept out Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort. Boro had only won one game against a top six team this season and although they began to offer a threat of their own going forward, they wasted the half chances that came their way. The best of them fell to Britt Assombalonga, whose header, from six yards out from a Traore cross, was straight at Johnstone. Jedinak's first-half header was the difference Credit: Getty images The former Nottingham Forest striker also blazed high and wide after taking an excellent pass from Jonny Howson down on his chest. It summed up his team’s first 45 minutes, with a little more composure, he would have at least hit the target. The only other cause for excitement for the home supporters was when Villa’s Alan Hutton almost headed a corner into his own net. The problem for Pulis was that he did not want to chase too hard. Whatever the result after 90 minutes, it was only half time in the contest. He will be well aware of the fact that Villa’s players have sometimes struggled with the weight of expectation in front of their own fans. If anything, Boro were more methodical after half time, more patient, but they struggled to break Villa’s well-drilled backline. At the age of 37, John Terry no longer moves like he once did, but he can still organise a rearguard action and Johnstone did not have a save to make, until eight minutes to go, when he tipped away a header from his own player, substitute Birkir Bjarnason. “It is advantage Villa, you cannot deny that,” said Pulis. “But we are still in this game and it will be a wonderful game on Tuesday. They will be favourites, but we have played well away from home and we will give it everything.” 7:10PM Steve Bruce's post-match thoughts. "The second half was very difficult but we've got a clean sheet and an advantage. We'll take that. "It's a small advantage. We all know how unpredictable the Championship can be." 7:09PM Full time! Aston Villa get a just-about-deserved and invaluable 1-0 win at Middlesbrough to take back home for Tuesday's second leg. 7:07PM 90 mins +5 Terry is up on his feet. There isn't long left now. 7:06PM 90 mins +3 Bamford lays off well for Fabio in the box but his shot is charged down and deflected wide. Terry goes down holding his head from the resulting corner. The clock ticks... 7:04PM 90 mins +2 Downing shoot with his right foot from 25 yards. It flies well over the bar. 7:03PM 90 mins Five minutes added on. A huge roar goes up around the Riverside. 7:02PM 89 mins Downing and Fabio combine well on the right, the former dinking a nice cross in towards Bamford, but he can only flick the ball on. It just will not fall for Friend at the back post, but he volleys at goal anyway, with the ball up at waist height and, what a surprise it goes waaaaay over the bar. 7:01PM 87 mins Elmohamady looks like he has pulled his hamstring, signalling quickly to the bench after a race with Fabio. He falls to the floor and needs treatment... replaced shortly afterwards by Glenn Whelan. Bjanarson goes to left-back. 6:57PM 84 mins Good ball from Downing out to Friend on the left, and he crosses to the back stick, where Fabio chests and volleys at goal, forcing a save from Johnstone. Besic follows up with a shot from the edge of the box but it flies well wide. 6:55PM 82 mins Traore lofts a corner into the box, which is nodded down and Fabio forces a decent save from Johnstone. The keeper then punches the resulting corner clear. 6:53PM 80 mins 10 minutes to go. Middlesbrough need a goal to take to Villa Park. Birkir Bjarnason, the Iceland midefielder, replaces Grabban for Aston Villa. Grealish will move out to the left. Grabban had a quiet afternoon Credit: PA 6:49PM 77 mins Downing's free-kick drops and hits Gibson on the knee, ricocheting into Johnstone's arms. 6:48PM 75 mins Snodgrass is booked after he takes Friend down on the left. Free-kick in a dangerous position for Boro, who do indeed bring Bamford on for Assombalonga. 6:47PM 74 mins Assombalonga's touch lets him down as Boro build on the left, and Pulis turns to call Patrick Bamford back from his warm-up. Villa go up the other end and Grabban wastes a decent chance. 6:43PM 70 mins Jack Grealish has been the best player on the pitch so far. Brilliant performance from such a young player. Plenty of time for that to change, though... Credit: Getty images Villa make their first sub of the game. Jonathan Kodjia replaces Albert Adomah who, having formerly played for Boro, gets a great reception. I'm not entirely sure what Lewis Grabban has done today to deserve to stay on, but I suppose that's why Steve Bruce is a manager and I'm writing about him. 6:40PM 66 mins Huge, huge opportunity for Boro as Besic and Howson play a little one-two in midfield, before Besic slides Fabio in on the right. He has time to set himself and roll a cross into Assombalonga's path, but he plays it behind the striker and the chance goes. What a waste. 6:37PM 64 mins Ayala has lasted just a matter of minutes before he is forced off. Former Man Utd full-back Fabio replaces him. Shotton goes to centre-back, Fabio right-back. 6:34PM 60 mins Traore is let off the hook as he loses the ball trying to dribble his way out of defence, as his team-mates slow the attack down and Traore is able to charge down a Grabban effort. The problem is it looks as though Ayala has picked up a knock in stopping the initial attack by tackling Grealish. He gets to his feet gingerly and looks very uncomfortable indeed, but should be okay to come back on. 6:29PM 56 mins Nobody wants to sit next to Roy Keane today. The Republic of Ireland assistant manager is at the Riverside Stadium 6:28PM 54 mins Downing wins a corner and his cross isn't dealt with too convincingly by Johnstone, whose punch drops on the edge of the area. Play is spread back out to the right where Besic overlaps and whips a low ball in, but Shotton can't turn it goalwards. 6:25PM 52 mins This game is opening up a little but both teams are just lacking quality in their final ball at the moment. Assombalonga loses patience and tries shooting from distance, but scuffs his shot horribly and it trickles wide. 6:21PM 49 mins Ben Gibson lunges in late on Jedinak and deservedly gets a yellow card. Slow start to this half. 6:18PM Second half Boro get the second period started. 6:09PM The Traore vs Grealish show Successful dribbles: Traore 9 Grealish 6 Everyone else 6 6:06PM Half time Mile Jedinak's brilliant header is the difference at the break and Villa deserve their lead. Tony Pulis will be absolutely fuming about how his team have conceded but it is now up to him to change the path of this game. Jedinak's goal is the difference at the break Credit: Getty images Boro have relied heavily on the individuality of Adama Traore, and the fact he occupies two Villa players every time he gets the ball has a huge effect, but Boro's best chances have come when Howson and Assombalonga combine. That is the route back into this game if you ask me. 6:02PM 45 mins +1 George Friend earns a yellow card for jumping into Jedinak under a high ball. 6:01PM 45 mins Traore dances past a few (more) challenges and shoots at goal but he's off balance and can't get it on target. 6:01PM 44 mins Off the post! Snodgrass bends one from an inside-right position and it looks for all the world like it's going in. Randolph scrambles across and gets a fingertip to it, though, and touches it onto the post. What a save that was. 5:56PM 39 mins What a run from Grealish, who goes the length of the pitch, riding two or three challenges where another player might well have gone down. He makes it all the way into the Boro box but his shot is charged down by Ayala. Ayala then has a header fairly easily saved from a corner at the other end. 5:54PM 37 mins What a chance for Assombalonga, as he flicks Traore's inswnging cross towards goal but it isn't far enough away from Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal, and he gets down low to save well. Three chances in quick succession for Assombalonga. I wonder how many more he'll get. 5:51PM 36 mins Clayton blazes over from 25 yards. A tad over-ambitious. 5:49PM 33 mins A second chance in quick succession for Assombalonga. Howson again finds his run after he pulls out to the left, and the forward stands Chester up, pulls the ball out onto his left and strikes at goal but he can only fire into the side netting. That was a better chance, but Boro will be pleased he is getting into good positions. 5:48PM 32 mins Villa go up the other end with Snodgrass meeting Adomah's cross but he can't keep his header down. 5:47PM 31 mins Assombalonga gets his first chance of the game, as Howson spots his run between Elmohamady and Chester and dinks a ball perfectly onto his chest. The striker takes it down well but half-volleys over the bar from close range. Tough chance but he arguably should score. 5:45PM 29 mins A Boro corner is dug out from under his own crossbar by Hutton and he only narrowly avoids scoring an own goal. The next Boro corner comes to nothing. 5:44PM 27 mins Uh oh. John Terry is limping. 5:44PM 25 mins Traore is very much the main man for Boro. They need to get him into some space. So far he has had very little. Traore is being shut down very quickly at the moment Credit: PA 5:40PM 22 mins Terry sells Grealish short with a bit of a hospital pass and Traore is just too slow to the ball, catching the Villa man. The free-kick is lofted into the box and flicked towards goal. It looks like a routine catch for Randolph but he collides with his post and then lands over the byline, conceding a corner out of nothing. Jedinak wins the header again, nodding down for Adomah, but he can't direct his shot on target. 5:36PM 20 mins Tony Pulis is not a happy man on the touchline. Credit: PA 5:35PM 18 mins Boro respond with a George Friend long throw into the box, but that comes to nothing. 5:33PM Jedinak puts Villa ahead Tony Pulis won't be happy at all - Boro have conceded from the first corner they have faced, after Mile Jedinak gets across his man at the front post to meet Grealish's inviting cross and glance a perfectly-placed header into the bottom corner at the far post. Unstoppable, that. Game on. Jedinak heads home 5:31PM GOOOOOOALL! Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa (Jedinak) 5:30PM 13 mins Besic is involved in everything at the moment. He tries to wriggle away from a challenge but is tackled, and when Grealish tries to break he is stopped in his tracks by Howson. Grealish isn't happy and wants a card. But it is Hourihane that is booked for an earlier stray arm in an aerial battle with Howson, after which an advantage had been played. 5:27PM 10 mins Big tackles are flying in all over the shop and this game is being played at breakneck speed. We're only 10 minutes in so I can't see it lasting much longer. Shotton launches his first long throw of the game into the box, which is headed clear only as far as Mo Besic, who chests and volleys high and wide of the target. 5:23PM 7 mins Some of the calmest defending you'll ever see from the very unglamourous Ryan Shotton, who passes back to Randolph under pressure from a cross inside his own six-yard box. Lovely stuff. 5:21PM 6 mins Chants of "John Terry, he's won more than you" ring out from the away fans. Not sure Villa can really gloat about Chelsea's triumphs, but they're doing it anyway. Talking of a fiery start, Howson catches Grealish late. That won't be the last time he's fouled today. 5:18PM 3 mins It's a fiery start at the Riverside, where Conor Hourihane has already but in a strong tackle and Adama Traore has been shut down quickly by two Villa players. Traore then skips away from a challenge and feeds Howson who wins a corner, but that comes to nothing. 5:16PM Aston Villa get us started Dressed to impress in all black, Villa get things under way. 5:14PM T-minus one minute And the Riverside Stadium is bouncing. 5:06PM The managers talk Steve Bruce: "People hit form and drop out of form. The last couple of weeks have allowed me to pick a fresh team today. The players playing today are predominantly those who got us here so it's only fair they play. "Tony [Pulis] has sprinkled a little bit of his magic. They are the in-form team in the league but we know what to expect." Tony Pulis is confident Credit: Getty images Tony Pulis: "We've got to approach this in the right manner and play our game. "Does our record against the top teams matter? [Boro have won only once against a top six side all season] We've played Derby, Bristol City and Millwall recently and beaten them all. They're all up there." 4:54PM Predicting the play-off winner Earlier this week I did a bit of research into past play-off winners, to try and ascertain how much league position, form going into the play-offs and managerial pedigree makes a difference to the outcome. You can see what I found out here. 4:41PM How will this play out? Well, Fulham had unquestionably gone into their play-off against Derby as favourites last night, but they went and lost 1-0 at Pride Park, and given how much of a lottery the play-offs always seem to be, today is anybody's guess. I'd predict that Tony Pulis' Boro will go into the game desperate to keep a clean sheet at home and that could make for a cagey game. But that said, there is plenty of attacking quality in both teams - no more so than in Adam Traore and Jack Grealish - and they will want to impress on the big stage. Jack Grealish will be key over these two legs Credit: Getty images Here's to hoping those two are allowed to express themselves and we get an exciting game as a result! 4:32PM Club legends getting involved on Twitter I just wonna say.... COME ON THE VILLA! @AVFCOfficial Let’s get back to where you belong!! Good luck chaps! Good luck Brucie!#UTVpic.twitter.com/FGyRDAYTqk— Dion Dublin (@DionDublinsDube) May 12, 2018 All the best to @Boro this afternoon ��be nice to see u in the premier league again— Julio Arca (@julioarcaOK) May 12, 2018 4:20PM The teams are in Hello and welcome as we build up to the second of the two Championship play-off semi-finals. After Fulham were felled by Derby against the odds last night, who knows what to expect today. Aston Villa finished higher in the league but Boro manager Tony Pulis is a master of not losing important matches, and he will not make this easy for his opponents. Here are the teams, with kick off an hour away: Middlesbrough Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Besic, Howson; Traore, Downing, Assombalonga Aston Villa Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish; Grabban
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Year of the underdog: Every single promoted team in English football's top four divisions avoids relegation
Huddersfield's battling draw with Chelsea completed a remarkable season in which every team that won promotion to English football's top leagues remain in the division. David Wagner's side earned a vital point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to guarantee their Premier League safety for another season. The result meant that Huddersfield joined fellow promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle in safely avoiding a return the Championship as Stoke, West Brom and - barring a miracle - Swansea all dropped out of the top flight. For the first time since the 2001-02 season, when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton defied the odds, every single team that earned promotion to one of English football's top four leagues avoided relegation. Alan Alger, PR manager at bookmakers Betway, said the odds on such an outcome would have been bigger than Leicester City's Premier League title triumph in 2016. Stoke City lost to Crystal Palace last weekend to end their 10-year stay in the Premier League Credit: Getty Images In the Championship, Burton Albion and Barnsley were relegated on a dramatic final day after Sunderland's fate had been sealed a week earlier. Below the top-flight, Championship new-boys Sheffield United and Millwall both enjoyed top-half finishes while Bolton Wanderers escaped the drop on the final day. In League One, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool all stayed well clear of the bottom four as Bury, MK Dons, Northampton Town, and Oldham Athletic were relegated to the fourth tier. League Two's Forest Green narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Vanarama National League while fellow promoted side Lincoln enjoyed a seventh-place finish, booking their place in the play-offs. Bolton Wanderers came from behind to beat Nottingham Forest on the final day and avoid an instant return to League One Credit: Getty Images In fact, the trend extends beyond the Football League, with Maidenhead United, Ebbsfleet United, Halifax Town and Fylde all securing safety after earning promotion to National League One last season. Huddersfield manager David Wagner was last night quick to praise his players for the "incredible achievement" of defying Premier League relegation. “This is an absolute over-achievement,” said Wagner. Huddersfield came up via the Championship play-offs Credit: PA “It's a bigger achievement than the promotion last season. Last year we were predicted to be relegated and we got promoted. This season we were predicted to be a team relegated by miles and I understand it. “We work under circumstances which are not even Championship circumstances. But part of our DNA, the Huddersfield Town DNA, is to try it. "To have passion, desire... how big you are doesn't count. It's about trying everything. We are humble. We are ambitious, too. We search a chance in every game. Today we were chance-less, more or less. It's an incredible achievement for us. It feels like another trophy.” Promoted teams avoid relegation | English football's top five leagues
Carlos Carvalhal is set to leave Swansea after failing in his Premier League survival mission. With Swansea's relegation to the Championship all but confirmed, Carvalhal is heading for the exit after a dreadful run of form and huge question marks over his tactics and mindset. The former Sheffield Wednesday manager provided an initial impact following his appointment in December - taking 17 points from his first nine games - yet a poor run of nine games without a win will force his departure after Sunday's match against Stoke City. Swansea initially appointed Carvalhal with one eye on his experience of the Championship but the club's board have now decided he is not the man to take them forward. His contract expires at the end of the season and an option to extend that deal will now not be triggered. Swansea's drop into the Championship is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea Credit: Getty Images Swansea's drop into the second tier is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea on Wednesday night. The Welsh club require a huge victory over Stoke and for Southampton to be heavily beaten by Manchester City on the final day, but it appears nigh on impossibe for Swansea to survive. It means Swansea will now be looking for their fifth manager in under 20 months - after sacking Paul Clement late last year they interviewed Aitor Karanka (now at Nottingham Forest) and Ostersunds' Graham Potter, but the club are expected to look at other options as they prepare for next season. There is also growing pressure on Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins, after a disastrous period defined by abysmal player recruitment. There could even be protests during Sunday's game against Stoke at the Liberty Stadium.
Carlos Carvalhal to leave Swansea after failing to save club from relegation
Carlos Carvalhal is set to leave Swansea after failing in his Premier League survival mission. With Swansea's relegation to the Championship all but confirmed, Carvalhal is heading for the exit after a dreadful run of form and huge question marks over his tactics and mindset. The former Sheffield Wednesday manager provided an initial impact following his appointment in December - taking 17 points from his first nine games - yet a poor run of nine games without a win will force his departure after Sunday's match against Stoke City. Swansea initially appointed Carvalhal with one eye on his experience of the Championship but the club's board have now decided he is not the man to take them forward. His contract expires at the end of the season and an option to extend that deal will now not be triggered. Swansea's drop into the Championship is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea Credit: Getty Images Swansea's drop into the second tier is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea on Wednesday night. The Welsh club require a huge victory over Stoke and for Southampton to be heavily beaten by Manchester City on the final day, but it appears nigh on impossibe for Swansea to survive. It means Swansea will now be looking for their fifth manager in under 20 months - after sacking Paul Clement late last year they interviewed Aitor Karanka (now at Nottingham Forest) and Ostersunds' Graham Potter, but the club are expected to look at other options as they prepare for next season. There is also growing pressure on Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins, after a disastrous period defined by abysmal player recruitment. There could even be protests during Sunday's game against Stoke at the Liberty Stadium.
Carlos Carvalhal is set to leave Swansea after failing in his Premier League survival mission. With Swansea's relegation to the Championship all but confirmed, Carvalhal is heading for the exit after a dreadful run of form and huge question marks over his tactics and mindset. The former Sheffield Wednesday manager provided an initial impact following his appointment in December - taking 17 points from his first nine games - yet a poor run of nine games without a win will force his departure after Sunday's match against Stoke City. Swansea initially appointed Carvalhal with one eye on his experience of the Championship but the club's board have now decided he is not the man to take them forward. His contract expires at the end of the season and an option to extend that deal will now not be triggered. Swansea's drop into the Championship is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea Credit: Getty Images Swansea's drop into the second tier is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea on Wednesday night. The Welsh club require a huge victory over Stoke and for Southampton to be heavily beaten by Manchester City on the final day, but it appears nigh on impossibe for Swansea to survive. It means Swansea will now be looking for their fifth manager in under 20 months - after sacking Paul Clement late last year they interviewed Aitor Karanka (now at Nottingham Forest) and Ostersunds' Graham Potter, but the club are expected to look at other options as they prepare for next season. There is also growing pressure on Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins, after a disastrous period defined by abysmal player recruitment. There could even be protests during Sunday's game against Stoke at the Liberty Stadium.
Carlos Carvalhal to leave Swansea after failing to save club from relegation
Carlos Carvalhal is set to leave Swansea after failing in his Premier League survival mission. With Swansea's relegation to the Championship all but confirmed, Carvalhal is heading for the exit after a dreadful run of form and huge question marks over his tactics and mindset. The former Sheffield Wednesday manager provided an initial impact following his appointment in December - taking 17 points from his first nine games - yet a poor run of nine games without a win will force his departure after Sunday's match against Stoke City. Swansea initially appointed Carvalhal with one eye on his experience of the Championship but the club's board have now decided he is not the man to take them forward. His contract expires at the end of the season and an option to extend that deal will now not be triggered. Swansea's drop into the Championship is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea Credit: Getty Images Swansea's drop into the second tier is virtually guaranteed after Huddersfield's draw at Chelsea on Wednesday night. The Welsh club require a huge victory over Stoke and for Southampton to be heavily beaten by Manchester City on the final day, but it appears nigh on impossibe for Swansea to survive. It means Swansea will now be looking for their fifth manager in under 20 months - after sacking Paul Clement late last year they interviewed Aitor Karanka (now at Nottingham Forest) and Ostersunds' Graham Potter, but the club are expected to look at other options as they prepare for next season. There is also growing pressure on Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins, after a disastrous period defined by abysmal player recruitment. There could even be protests during Sunday's game against Stoke at the Liberty Stadium.