Aston Villa v Middlesbrough: Championship play-off semi-final – as it happened

Jacob Steinberg on 15 May 2018

I’ll leave you with this expert take from Stuart James from Villa Park. Next stop: Wembley on 26 May for the Championship play-off final between Aston Villa and Fulham. It’s bound to be a good one. That’s all from me for now. Thanks for reading and emailing. Bye.

Steve Bruce speaks! “We’ve shaded it over the two games. They haven’t had a shot on target. That stood us in good stead. First half, we gave the ball away a bit. Second half, we controlled it. It was agony towards the end. But it means so much. Thankfully it seems we’ve turned the club round a bit. We have to beat a very good team in Fulham. We need a few days to rest.”

Paul Merson is tearing into that game on Sky. What a man.

Looking at the replay of Johnstone’s handball outside the box, it does look like Traore’s shot was going to go in. The Villa goalkeeper was lucky not to see red.

Tony Pulis, though. What was the plan there? Middlesbrough didn’t have a shot on target tonight.

A lot of Villa fans are still on the pitch. Hope they’re having fun.

Having listened to John Terry speak just now, it must be said that he deserves a lot of credit for his form and leadership this season. You hear a winner like that talk about getting ready for the final and realise that Villa will really benefit from his experience as they prepare for the challenge of playing Fulham. A lot of his peers haven’t bothered dropping into the Championship but Terry has embraced it.

Jack Grealish speaks about playing Fulham in the final. “It’s going to be a hard game. We’ve played them twice this season and won one and lost one. It’s a one-off game. We have a lot of talent in our team.”

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John Terry’s praising Jack Grealish. Jack Grealish responds by praising John Terry.

Jack Grealish speaks! “It means the world. It was always going to be a hard game and now we’ll look forward to the final.”

John Terry speaks! “Two very good performances. The boys were different class. It was important in the first half we didn’t concede. It was quite tense. Our plan worked perfectly so the manager deserves credit. We have great team spirit. One more step and it will be the dream. Traore was a big threat for them. We’ve been the best side over two legs.”

The Villa fans have invaded the pitch. That game did not merit a pitch invasion.

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa is seen at the full time whistle as fans invade the pitch.
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa is seen at the full time whistle as fans invade the pitch. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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Full-time: Aston Villa 0-0 Middlesbrough (1-0 agg)

Aston Villa will play Fulham at Wembley! They’re into the play-off final at Middlesbrough’s final. Although don’t feel too bad for the losing team. Tony Pulis will be delighted with a clean sheet!

90 min+6: Traore’s shot from 20 yards is blocked. And..

90 min+5: The ball has disappeared into the Holte End.

90 min+4: Villa have surely done enough.

90 min+2: Middlesbrough whack a long ball into the area. Gestede’s height causes bother but Fabio can’t make clean contact with his shot and Villa clear their lines.

90 min+1: Villa make their final change, Birkir Bjarnason replacing Albert Adomah. There will be four added minutes.

90 min: “This is pathetic,” says Luke Nicholas. “Can we please sack Pulis after this debacle. Two legs, no courage, no ideas, no actual football.”

89 min: A long buildup to the free-kick. Downing, against his former side, can save his current one. It’s made for his left foot and he whips a fine effort over the wall - and against the top of the bar! That’s agonising for Middlesbrough.

Close but no cigar for Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing.
Close but no cigar for Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

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87 min: A long ball over the top. Villa don’t deal with it. Bamford makes a nuisance of himself, Chester unsettled and Johnstone out of his area, and the ball breaks to Traore. He tries to lob Johnstone, who handles the winger’s effort. Mike Dean awards a free-kick and books the Villa goalkeeper. He’s lucky not to be sent off.

86 min: Johnstone claims Traore’s cross. No Middlesbrough player was in the area. Traore has had a poor night.

85 min: Glenn Whelan replaces Conor Hourihane. Middlesbrough probe down the right but Fabio’s cross drifts over Bamford and Gestede.

83 min: Hourihane sweeps a shot straight at Randolph from 20 yards.

82 min: Fabio replaces Shotton. Middlesbrough have no more changes to make.

80 min: Besic picks up a yellow card for one foul too many. Middlesbrough are 10 minutes away from earning the 0-0 draw they came here for. This would be a decent point for the visitors.

79 min: Jonathan Kodjia replaces Lewis Grabban.

75 min: Grealish drops a shoulder and tries to bend one into the far corner from 25 yards. Randolph flies to his left to palm it away.

Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph makes a save.
Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph makes a save. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Action Images via Reuters

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73 min: Chester’s shirt is torn. There’s been a fair bit of jostling at set-pieces tonight. Good old Tony Pulis.

73 min: Rudy Gestede replaces Jonny Howson. Middlesbrough now have two strikers up front.

72 min: Middlesbrough attack for the first time in a while but Howson’s inviting cross eludes Bamford.

71 min: Adomah cuts inside and sees his deflected shot spin just over. Randolph was beaten.

70 min: Grabban lets fly from distance. Randolph tips it over. Snodgrass will need treatment before the corner is taken. Especially as he’s the one taking it. He recovers soon enough but his inswinger’s headed away by Traore.

68 min: Patrick Bamford replaces Britt Assombalonga.

67 min: Grabban bursts through and sees his shot brilliantly turned wide by Randolph. Offside, though.

Once again Aston Villa’s Lewis Grabban is thwarted by Boro keeper Darren Randolph.
Once again Aston Villa’s Lewis Grabban is thwarted by Boro keeper Darren Randolph. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

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65 min: Middlesbrough haven’t had a shot on target yet. Bamford will be on soon.

63 min: The cameraman picks out Patrick Bamford warming up. When will Pulis turn to the forward? Middlesbrough aren’t doing much at all.

61 min: Grealish has been booked for something or other.

60 min: Villa are pressing here. Middlesbrough are struggling. Grealish slips a pass through to Adomah, who sends a first-time cross into the six-yard box. Grabban prods it goalwards but Randolph saves with his legs!

Aston Villa’s Lewis Grabban is denied by the legs of Boro keeper Darren Randolph.
Aston Villa’s Lewis Grabban is denied by the legs of Boro keeper Darren Randolph. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

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58 min: Hourihane sends a free-kick straight into the wall.

55 min: Both sides try counterattacks. Both fizzle out because of poor final balls.

53 min: Besic ignores Downing to his left and drags a slow shot just wide from 20 yards.

50 min: “Didn’t Middlesbrough sub Rudy Gestede play for Aston Villa a few seasons ago?” says Peter Oh. He sure did!

49 min: Downing takes the corner. Mike Dean immediately blows for a Villa free-kick after spotting some pushing.

48 min: Assombalonga, looking to give Middlesbrough some urgency, wins a corner on the left.

Middlesbrough’s Britt Assombalonga surges forward.
Middlesbrough’s Britt Assombalonga surges forward. Photograph: Craig Brough/Action Images via Reuters

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46 min: Middlesbrough get the second half underway.

Half-time: Aston Villa 0-0 Middlesbrough (1-0 agg)

That was like a game of chess.

45 min+1: There will be three added minutes.

45 min: Traore skips past Hutton, who pulls him back. It’s an obvious yellow card.

Alan Hutton of Aston Villa pulls the shirt of Boro’s Adama Traore and earns himself a place in the ref’s book.
Alan Hutton of Aston Villa pulls the shirt of Boro’s Adama Traore and earns himself a place in the ref’s book. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

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43 min: Assombalonga, who has done nothing, suddenly wakes up, surging past Terry and powering into the Villa area. It takes two Villa defenders to stop the striker before he can shoot.

40 min: Bree heads Traore’s dangerous cross behind at the far post, with Howson on his back. Can Middlesbrough make one of these set-pieces count? Downing sends the corner to the far post but Shotton’s header comes to nothing.

38 min: A corner to Middlesbrough on the left. It’s headed away but Villa keep the ball alive. Grabban nods the ball down to Chester, who swivels and shoots wide. He should have scored.

James Chester of Aston Villa turns a shot the wrong side of the Boro upright.
James Chester of Aston Villa turns a shot the wrong side of the Boro upright. Photograph: Philip Oldham/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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37 min: Downing, who isn’t exactly popular round these parts, crosses to no one in particular. The Holte End jeers their former player.

34 min: Adomah dribbles down the left, cuts outside and pulls the ball back into the middle. Hourihane runs on to it and looks certain to score, only for Friend to read the danger and hack clear at the crucial moment! Moments later Snodgrass scythes Clayton down and picks up a booking.

30 min: It’s time we accept the facts: this is a terrible game.

Even Aston Villa mascot Bella doesn’t seem to be enjoying the match.
Even Aston Villa mascot Bella doesn’t seem to be enjoying the match. Photograph: James Williamson/AMA/Getty Images

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29 min: Aston Villa and Middlesbrough seem to trade players a lot. I’ll start with Paul Merson, Gareth Southgate, George Boateng, Ugo Ehiogu, Albert Adomah, Stewart Downing and Albert Adomah. What an interesting fact. Any more?

25 min: Middlesbrough are seeing quite a lot of the ball in Villa’s half. The home team are defending well, although they’ll want to see John Terry recover quickly after jarring his knee. He’s down for a moment or two, but eventually he’s back on his feet. So, so brave.

22 min: Traore gets his first chance to run at Hutton. “Take him on!” Pulis bellows. And that’s what Traore does, bursting past the Scot and sending a deep cross to the far post. It’s too high for Downing, though.

19 min: This is tense.

Alan Hutton of Aston Villa attempts to skip past the challenge of Boro’s Ryan Shotton
Alan Hutton of Aston Villa attempts to skip past the challenge of Boro’s Ryan Shotton Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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16 min: Downing swings in a corner from the left. Howson’s corner is hoofed clear by Terry, who has so cruelly been left out of England’s World Cup squad.

15 min: Adomah heads down the left but his cross is easy for Randolph. This is very tight.

12 min: Friend, persistent and tenacious, bustles down the left, beats Bree and bursts into the area. He darts along the byline, towards goal and looks for someone to pick out in the middle. With nobody making a run, the left-back overruns the ball and clatters into Johnstone. Villa are furious with him. He’s booked and Johnstone gingerly gets back to his feet.

10 min: Randolph takes too long to boot the ball away and his clearance is charged down by Hourihane. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper is very lucky the ball heads away from goal.

9 min: A bit of a scrappy start. There’s no real flow. A lot of misplaced passes, though.

George Friend of Middlesbrough battles for possession with Villa’s Robert Snodgrass.
George Friend of Middlesbrough battles for possession with Villa’s Robert Snodgrass. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

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6 min: Grealish’s shot takes a deflection and runs to Grabban. He combines with Adomah, who cleverly backheels the ball back to the striker on the left. Grabban’s shot is deflected wide. Villa take the corner shot. Grealish dribbles inside and finds Bree, who swipes wide from 25 yards.

4 min: Snodgrass is back on his feet. David Sullivan’s sons will be relieved.

3 min: Snodgrass is down feeling his left foot. He will require some treatment.

Peep! Villa, kicking from left to right in the first half, get the game underway.

There will be a minute’s applause to remember Jlloyd Samuel. It’s impeccably observed. The Villa fans chant their former defender’s name. A poignant moment.

Everyone pays their respect during the minute’s applause in memory of Jlloyd Samuel.
Everyone pays their respect during the minute’s applause in memory of Jlloyd Samuel. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Action Images via Reuters

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Here come the teams. Villa Park, a classic old ground, is a pit of noise. Villa are in claret and blue. Middlesbrough are in their white away strip.

The teams take to the pitch.
The teams take to the pitch. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Reuters

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A problem for Middlesbrough: no team has reached the play-off final after losing the first leg at home. They need to defy history tonight.

Tony Pulis speaks! “The players have been positive [since the first leg]. The performance was better than the result. Every game is different. It will be a fantastic atmosphere but they have to go out and give it everything they’ve got. In the final third they need to be more clinical. We need a break. A bit of luck. We didn’t have that in the first game.”

Steve Bruce speaks! “I wouldn’t say we’re in charge. We have an advantage. A slight advantage. That’s all it is. We have to have the mindset to win the match. If you just try to defend and play for the draw, it doesn’t work.”

The teams will wear black armbands tonight in memory of Jlloyd Samuel. The former Aston Villa and Bolton full-back died in a car crash earlier today.

Aston Villa only make one change from the first leg. James Bree replaces the injured Ahmed Elmohamdy at right-back.

Middlesbrough also make one change. Out goes Daniel Ayala, who has a knee injury, and in comes Dael Fry.

Team news

Aston Villa: Johnstone; Bree, Terry, Chester, Hutton; Hourihane, Jedinak, Grealish; Snodgrass, Grabban, Adomah. Subs: Bunn, Samba, Whelan, Onomah, Hogan, Kodjiah, Bjarnason.

Middlesbrough: Randolph; Shotton, Fry, Gibson, Friend; Howson, Clayton, Besic; Traoré, Assombalonga, Downing. Subs: Dimi, Cranie, Fabio, Leadbitter, Harrison, Bamford, Gestede.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Preamble

Hello. Aston Villa and Middlesbrough could both be forgiven for throwing in the towel after watching Fulham overwhelm Derby County in the other play-off semi-final last night. Fulham really were excellent, thriving thanks to the teenage brilliance of Ryan Sessegnon and the brute strength of Aleksandar Mitrovic up front, and it is going to take something special to stop Slavisa Jokanovic from joining Cardiff City and Wolves in the Premier League next season. The neutrals’ favourites are looking strong.

Yet there’s no point in Villa and Middlesbrough feeling glum when there’s still so much to play for before this season’s done and dusted. The Championship play-offs are nothing if not gloriously unpredictable and even the most optimistic Fulham fan won’t be getting too giddy just yet. Mind you, Villa will be hoping for no funny business this evening. They’re in the driving seat here, having won the first leg of this semi thanks to a solitary strike from Mile Jedinak, and they’ve got play-off specialist Steve Bruce in their corner. Middlesbrough, however, could still make it an uncomfortable occasion for the locals at Villa Park. Tony Pulis sides specialise in being awkward (apart from when he hangs around too long and everyone gets bored). Villa should win but don’t be surprised if we’re in for a long evening.

Kick-off: 7.45pm BST.

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