A Mile Jedinak header at the Riverside Stadium secured a slim advantage in Aston Villa’s playoff clash with Middlesbrough on Saturday evening.
The Australian struck a looping header within the first 15 minutes to give Villa what could potentially be a crucial lead heading into the second-leg at Villa Park next week.
Villa get perfect start
The game started at a thunderous pace with both sides visibly keen to notch what could potentially be a vital opener. Muhamed Bešić had the first clear sight of goal from the edge of the penalty area but sent his thunderous effort sailing over the bar.
It was another midfielder though who went a step further within the opening 15 minutes. Jedinak leapt highest from Jack Grealish’s corner and nodded low into the far corner to claim the lead for Villa.
He almost repeated that feat mid-way through the first-period from a free-kick but Darren Randolph collected comfortably.
Assombalonga spurns numerous chances for an equaliser
Britt Assombalonga was presented with an excellent chance to equalise as he controlled a long ball from Max Clayton. The former Nottingham Forest striker could only lash the ball over the bar however. He also had an opportunity after being played through but could only send his low shot crashing into the side-netting.
Adama Traoré then sent a dangerous low ball into the area. Assombalonga attempted to head into the bottom corner but Sam Johnstone saved expertly and cleared for Villa.
Despite Middlesbrough’s dominance, Villa did have chances to double their lead. Robert Snodgrass forced the best out of Randolph with a curling effort from the edge of the area, that the Boro keeper tipped onto the post with a stunning diving save. The first-half though drew to a close with the visitors marginally ahead.
Injury problems hamper Boro
Tony Pulis had a distinct problem to ponder on the hour with Daniel Ayala having to be withdrawn through injury. His replacement, Fabio, almost played a key role in an equaliser as he produced an excellent low cross. However, the ball just evaded a touch and rolled harmlessly away.
Jonathan Kodjia was also introduced mid-way through the second period for Albert Adomah. Lewis Grabban had an excellent chance to double Villa’s lead only moments later but he could only send a tame effort straight into the arms of Randolph however.
Villa concentration vital in final throws
With Middlesbrough pushing an equaliser in the final stages, Steve Bruce’s men were forced to defend stoutly. First, John Terry did well to thwart Patrick Bamford, before Johnstone stopped a goal-bound header from Fabio.
As a result, the hosts were restricted to pot-shots from distance in the closing stages with Villa closing out a hard-fought victory.
Whilst Bruce’s troops head into the second-leg with an advantage, it is only a slight one that Middlesbrough will be more than capable of overturning. Chances flowed throughout the evening as both sides displayed wonderful attacking endeavour.
However, it was the hosts’ clinical nature that abandoned them on the night as they were not able to convert one of the numerous chances. They will surely have to rectify that ahead of the semi-final second-leg at Villa Park on Tuesday evening.
Middlesbrough: Randolph (7); Shotton (7), Ayala (6) (Fabio (7), 64′), Gibson (7), Friend (6); Clayton (6), Besic (7), Howson (6); Traore (6), Downing (6), Assombalonga (6) (Bamford (N/A), 76′).
Aston Villa: Johnstone (7); Elmohamady (7) (Whelan (N/A), 89′), Chester (6), Terry (7), Hutton (6); Snodgrass (7), Hourihane (7), Jedinak (8), Adomah (6) (Kodjia (6), 71′); Grealish (8), Grabban (7) (Bjarnason (N/A), 81′).
Goals: Jedinak (15′)
Referee: Robert Madley
Yellow Cards: Hourihane (14′), Friend (45+1′), Gibson (49′), Snodgrass (76′)
Red Cards: N/A
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