Aston Villa fans have been on a rollercoaster ride throughout Steve Bruce’s reign as manager, and now, they’re on the verge of finally returning to the Premier League as their 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough secured their passage into the Championship playoff final. The Midlands side were carrying a 1-0 advantage over from the first leg, and as we’ve learned so often in the playoffs, sometimes just one moment of magic can carry you forward to Wembley – and that was the case yet again at Villa Park.
Mile Jedinak’s goal at the Riverside proved to be the difference maker, but in terms of the second leg, Middlesbrough offered very little to suggest that they’d be able to upset the status quo and progress into the final. Tony Pulis’ men were neutralised for large periods of the first half, and as a result, you could feel the energy start to drain away from the visitors.
With that being said, Villa weren’t exactly prolific in the first half either, and as the game went on, the nerves began to grow in front of a 40,000+ crowd. In one of the most notable talking points of the game, Sam Johnstone escaped what could easily have been a straight red card when he handled the ball outside of the box – which now gives Boro fans a source of contention as they prepare for yet another season of life in the second tier.
But as the minutes trickled by, it seemed like one final chance was imminent, and that proved to be the case as Stewart Downing’s free-kick cannoned off the crossbar in the 89th minute as Villa fans were able to breathe yet another big sigh of relief.
Now, it’s time to look ahead to the biggest game in Aston Villa’s recent history when they take on Fulham at Wembley next weekend. Both sides are strangers to this kind of stage with Villa not having too much experience in the playoffs, while Fulham often find themselves on the wrong side of the result at this stage of the season. Following their win over Derby in the second leg earlier this week, however, they’ll be considered the slight favourites as these two former Premier League regulars battle it out in football’s most expensive game.
Aston Villa: Johnstone (6.5), Bree (7), Chester (7), Terry (8), Hutton (7), Snodgrass (6), Hourihane (7), Jedinak (7.5), Adomah (7.5), Grealish (7.5), Grabban (5.5)
Subs: Whelan (N/A), Bjarnason (N/A), Kodjia (N/A)
Middlesbrough: Randolph (7), Shotton (6.5), Fry (7), Gibson (7), Friend (6), Clayton (6), Besic (6), Howson (6), Traore (5.5), Downing (5), Assombalonga (5.5)
Subs: Fabio (6), Bamford (6), Gestede (6)
Yellow Cards: Johnstone, Hutton, Snodgrass, Grealish, Friend, Besic
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Mike Dean
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