CHAMPIONSHIP specialist Ross Casey (@RossCasey24) shares his verdict from Tuesday night’s second leg play-off between Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
Aston Villa v Middlesbrough | Tuesday 15th May 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
This Championship play-off is a meeting of two of the biggest spending sides in the Championship, meaning that one will suffer next season financially and miss out on the incredible £200 million on offer for promotion.
With Aston Villa 1-0 up from the first leg and now at home, they are certainly the favourites to reach Wembley.
Villa have been in the top six for a long, long time this season and will have been preparing for these play-off fixtures for a fair few months.
After spending big last summer on proven Championship quality, they were much more frugal this time around, instead focusing on signing experienced pros like Glenn Whelan and John Terry. Those wise heads could prove key in these big fixtures this week.
Getting the away fixture out the way with the tie still intact was the focus for Steve Bruce and after bringing in his most experienced players for the match, he will be delighted with the 1-0 lead they have despite having less possession and being on the ropes for much of the second half.
They will fancy their chances at home as they lost just two of their last 15 at Villa Park, although they are winless in two against Boro this season, losing 2-0 in the League Cup and drawing 0-0 in the league.
Middlesbrough were bullish at the start of the season, with chairman Steve Gibson being stated as saying “We will smash the league next year. We want to go back up as champions.”
Whilst that didn’t quite come to fruition, they did secure a fifth placed finish after a change of manager to Tony Pulis. Myself and plenty others assumed that this would bring a more pragmatic approach to Middlesbrough’s play, but if anything – it has made them more of an attacking threat.
Middlesbrough have scored 38 goals in their last 24 matches – netting in each of their last 14 before the play-off defeat last weekend – which is where 27 of those 38 goals have arrived. So they are in a very different place to when Tony Pulis took over – which made their failure to score last weekend even more concerning.
Boro now need to win this game to have any chance of reaching the Wembley final and Tony Pulis hardly sounded bullish when he said “Villa most probably have the strongest squad in the Championship, so it’s going to be tough. But let’s go there and give it everything we have got.”
The betting angle
Aston Villa played a very good tactical game last weekend with a deep defensive line to stop the dangerous Adama Traore and I would be amazed if that changes at Villa Park.
If they go too gung-ho on the front foot they open themselves up to the danger of counter attacks and I can’t see Bruce being too attacking here.
For me, I see another war of attrition here and Villa aren’t needing a win here with a goal advantage, so considering they have failed to score or win in two home games against Boro, I like the odds of 8/5 on Middlesbrough draw no bet.
Aston Villa v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough draw no bet (8/5 Unibet)