Aston Villa take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their Championship play-off semi-final and the onus will be on Middlesbrough to turn the tables.
The pair meet on Tuesday at what is likely to be a rocking Villa Park but, with proceedings expected to be cagey on the field, it looks set to be a real chess match in the battle for a place at Wembley.
It was a predictably tense affair at the Riverside and Mile Jedinak’s early header was enough to see the Villans win in their first ever play-off match. Boss Steve Bruce has earned promotion from the Championship four times and knows his stuff when it comes to securing a place in the Premier League.
Opposite number Tony Pulis is known as a solid customer but is not be as well versed in the play-offs as you might think. Despite adding his famed steel and consistency to Boro since taking over on Boxing Day, his only previous play-off experience saw him dramatically lose the League One final while in charge of Gillingham in 1999.
For all the Welshman’s experience, Bruce’s knowhow could prove crucial, as was demonstrated on Saturday.
Bruce was famous as part of the Manchester United defence of the 1980s and 90s and the mixture of determination and subtle skill he demonstrated during his playing days is evident in his own back four.
In a league like the Championship where experience is key, Villa have it all. Ahmed El Mohamady and Alan Hutton are the type of grizzled full-backs ready to die for the cause, while in the middle John Terry’s leadership is well complimented by James Chester’s composure.
Boro have attacking threats in Adama Traore and Britt Assombalonga as well as fine delivery from Stewart Downing, but they struggled to create chances in the opening game and, with Jedinak patrolling in front of the home back four, another clean sheet is likely having kept the Teessiders scoreless in the last three league meetings between the pair.
Big nights often bring out the best in big players and Jack Grealish has clearly improved having been given more freedom in the middle of the park. Arguably the highlight of his campaign came as he struck a stunning winner in April’s 1-0 win over Cardiff.
The 22-year-old seems destined to return to the Premier League and with Bruce’s experience and the class of those around him, he could well shine on Tuesday.
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