‘It will be a meeting of the two teams that were the bookies favourites at the start of the season for the two automatic promotion spots.’
After Aston Villa’s 1-1 draw with Derby and Middlesbrough’s 2-0 home win against Millwall, it became almost certain that the two teams will meet for a 4th and 5th time this season in the Championship play-offs.
While Middlesbrough triumphed 2-0 at Villa Park in the League Cup, Villa got the better overall of the two league clashes. Drawing 0-0 at home and winning 1-0 away.
Villa’s away win at the Riverside was Tony Pulis’s first game in charge after becoming Boro boss on Boxing Day.
With Villa confirmed in 4th and Middlesbrough set to finish 5th – unless they lose at Ipswich and Derby beat Barnsley on the last day of the season and overturn the current three-goal goal difference they trail Boro by – the two teams will meet in the play-offs with the first of the two legs at the Riverside Stadium.
It will be a meeting of the two teams that were the bookies favourites at the start of the season for the two automatic promotion spots.
In terms of getting Villa fans to the away leg, the Championship play-off dates will have worked out well for Villa, with the away leg taking place on a Saturday at 5.15pm (12 May). The other play-off game between 3rd and 6th teams takes place on the Friday night before.
The Villa Park leg will take place on Tuesday night 15 May, kick-off 7.45pm.
Other Side of the Draw
In terms of the overall play-off picture, with Middlesbrough only needing a point to secure 5th spot, you’d also fancy Derby to finish 6th, and set up a tie more than likely against Fulham.
Derby just need a point at home to Barnsley to seal the deal, although if they lost against the relegation threatened team (possible), if Preston beat Burton at home, then it would be them playing Fulham instead.
Fulham have to better Cardiff City’s result on the final day of the season to earn automatic promotion, but the Bluebirds have home advantage against Reading, while Fulham travel to the Blues.
Boro vs Blues Legal Action
Speaking of the Blues, on an aside, Middlesbrough have a bit of a legal play-off against them over the employment of Gary Monk and his backroom staff.
Monk, sacked by Boro after just six-and-a-half months in charge on 23 December, was appointed by Blues on 4 March. But Boro say that a contract clause should have prevented him from working together with his four backroom staff, that also joined the Blues, again until 28 December.
The case is scheduled to go ahead in London’s High Court between 22 June and 5 July.
Back to the Championship play-off picture, if we assume the most likely clubs will be in the play-offs and then take the club’s previous league meetings this season as a guide to the potential aggregate outcome, then it’s promising news for Villa.
Play-off Match A
Fulham 1 Derby 1
Derby 1 Fulham 2
(Fulham win 3-2 on agg)
Play-off Match B
Aston Villa 0 Middlesbrough 0
Middlesbrough 0 Aston Villa 1
(Villa win 1-0 on agg)
Villa vs Fulham
Harder Than Automatic
To get through Middlesbrough over two games, a team with a strong squad primed for an instant return to the Premier League, and then beating Fulham, the league’s undoubted in-form team, will not be an easy task for Villa.
In fact, it’s arguably harder than what gaining automatic promotion could have been. If Villa had beaten both QPR (H) and Bolton (a), after the Wolves game, then they’d just need to at least match Cardiff’s result on the last day to go up automatically.
Typical Villa, deciding to do it the hard way!