Big Match Breakdown: Aston Villa v Middlesbrough
Preview and odds for play-off second-leg
It’s crunch-time in the Championship play-offs tonight, where one of Aston Villa or Middlesbrough will see their season come to an end.
Villa hold a 1-0 lead following the first leg at the Riverside, as Steve Bruce’s side bid to end their two-year stint in the second tier.
Fulham await in the final, and it’s worth noting that all of the last 15 sides to win a Championship play-off first-leg away from home have gone on to reach Wembley. Can Tony Pulis inspire Boro to turn it around?
The sides have met four times this season, with Villa grabbing a pair of 1-0 away wins. Boro won 2-0 in the EFL Cup in September, a week after a 0-0 draw at Villa Park.
Historically, the Villans boast 66 wins in this fixture to the Reds’ 41.
The formbook shows Bruce’s side have lost just two of their last nine, and have been beaten at Villa Park only three times in their last 31 league games.
As for Boro, they’ve lost only three of their last 15, but have managed to win just two of their last nine away games.
There won’t be too many changes from the two XIs which appeared on Teesside last Saturday.
That means Lewis Grabban is likely to begin up front for Villa, with support on the flanks from Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah.
Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and Mile Jedinak will attempt to control the game from the middle.
For Middlesbrough, they could be forced to make one change after Daniel Ayala went off injured in the first leg. The Spaniard was replaced by Fabio, and that’s something Pulis will have to consider this evening.
Britt Assombalonga will be hoping for a better time of it up front after a quiet one on Saturday. Patrick Bamford is an alternative option. Johnny Howson, Adam Clayton and Muhamed Besic will bring the creativity.
Just like the first leg, this will be a tight one. But Villa have the advantage in that Middlesbrough must score tonight. They must come out and play.
If the home side can keep Assombalonga quiet again, then that could have a big say in who goes to Wembley.
Equally, Villa could take advantage of Ayala’s absence. The centre-half has worked well with Ben Gibson at the back, and Boro could be exposed if changes are needed.
The midfield battle will be fascinating. If Clayton, Besic and Howson can get the better of Hourihane and Grealish, then Boro could yet turn the tie around.
That might not be enough though. They’ll need to channel their inner-Fulham. It’s 16/1 for Pulis’ men to win 2-0 this evening.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing