West Bromwich Albion over two legs was always going to be the sternest play-off test Aston Villa could face. You’d fancy Villa against anyone in the final at Wembley, but a two-legged local derby was always going to be a close-call. While Villa didn’t pass the test with flying colours, the most important thing was getting through it.
If the team struggled and toiled to overcome a Baggies team that defensively was well organised and disciplined, Villa at least managed to get through the tie relatively unscathed. They were the only play-off team not to get a player sent off and the chance to go through a penalty shoot-out may prove a beneficial preparation for the final at Wembley.
Most supporters will know the high stakes involved for the clash against Derby County. Win and we’ll keep captain Jack Grealish and have a good chance of keeping the spine of the team – from the current gems like John McGinn to the loan stars like Tammy Abraham, Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe.
Lose…lets not even think about that, at this moment in time.
Before we set off for Wembley, here’s five reasons to be cheerful…
Lets be honest, Villa didn’t exactly play great over the two legs of the play-off semi-final. At times they were nervy in the final third and lacked the conviction needed to put the Albion to the sword . Add to that, a disciplined and well organised WBA team, and it was a 210 minute struggle for the Villa boys.
Yet, they toughed it out. There’s a determination and togetherness that pulled them through, in the same way they rallied in games against Sheffield United and Wednesday, Rotherham, and in the tussles with the Blues.
When you factor in the normal cliches about the commitment of loan players, which Villa have a handful of playing in key positions, then the resolve this team has shown is even more remarkable.
These players seem to enjoy playing together and the team spirit seems to go beyond the gluing of boots to locker doors variety of last season.
Not only have they the ability to win games, but they have the will to win too.
Villa were well-prepared for the prospect of a penalty shoot-out and it ultimately paid off. The team have been preparing for penalties in training ever since they qualified for the play-offs.
On the night, Smith’s game management in terms of getting a real depth of potential penalty takers on the pitch, when the time came, is to be applauded. West Brom meanwhile, struggled to put forward even five decent takers, due to suspensions and injuries to key players over the two-legs.
Villa have now won their last five penalty shoot outs (Tranmere Rovers, Inter Milan, Bolton and Sunderland), although MOMS is classing it as six. Surely you have to include Villa’s shoot out victory over Juventus in the Peace Cup, when they outgunned Buffon, Del Piero and the boys.
After the limp offering of the play-off final last year, where even against 10-men for the final 20 minutes, Villa failed to seriously threaten the Fulham goal or even force a single corner, they’ll be looking for vast improvement.
John Terry had called it unfinished business when he joined Villa’s coaching staff earlier this season, so now he probably won’t get a better opportunity to fulfil his objective.
The likes of Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane, Ahmed Elmohamady, Albert Adomah and Mile Jedinak, who all started last season’s final will feel the same way as Terry too.
Villa’s captain Jack Grealish will be making his fourth starting appearance for Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium, which is quite an achievement considering he’s only 23-years-old and…Villa haven’t exactly been hot stuff in recent seasons.
Grealish is the only surviver of the match day squad that beat Liverpool in the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win of 2015, the first of his trips to Wembley.
If Villa don’t get promoted on the 27th May 2019, they’ll have very few excuses. Another reason they will fancy their chances is with a fully fit squad (bar Orlan Nyland), they have cover and balance in pretty much all positions.
The match day squad that featured at the Hawthorns is likely to be the players that line-up at Wembley.
When you factor in the bench, there is cover in all positions. The best example of this is the defensive options, which have improved drastically in recent months. Elmohamady and Tuanzebe cover right-back, Taylor and Hause cover left-back, while Villa have four centre-back options in Mings, Tuanzebe, Hause and Jedinak.
While Villa may lack a genuine spark off the bench in terms of attacking options, when the likes of Hourihane and Green start, with Kodjia, Davis and Adomah, there are at least decent options at this level.
Considering our various injury woes earlier in the season, to have a full strength starting XI is a huge bonus going into the final.
Represent My Old Man Said at Wembley…
Show your support for My Old Man Said at Wembley by getting a MOMS T-shirt, which is based on the infamous Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet album cover. UK based readers, who order T-shirts before Monday are guaranteed delivery before the play-off final.