“Villa have probably got the strongest squad in depth in the Championship. They will be favourites to beat us.” – Tony Pulis
Once upon a time when Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis was the manager of WBA, his mentions of Aston Villa were never confined to games between the local rivals. It got to such an extent that Villa supporters claimed him to be obsessed with the Villa.
Back in 2015, Pulis had a chance to deliver a swift one-two punch to Villa, when the Baggies had two games at Villa Park within the space of a week. Pulis could have potentially set up Villa’s relegation (a year earlier than it happened) and also knock Villa out of the FA Cup quarter-finals on their own patch.
He failed, as Villa chalked up two wins.
With Boro, he now gets the chance to banish Villa to the nightmare scenario of a third season in the Championship.
A quick recap before we see how Pulis sees the upcoming play-off clash between his team and Villa.
Recent Team Fortunes
Last season, Middlesbrough were in the Premier League, while Villa were a struggling Championship side. At the start of this season, Boro were the bookies favourites to win the Championship title and bounce straight back up.
This season, Boro did better at Villa Park, than Pulis did in 2015 with the Albion. They won 2-0 in the cup and got a 0-0 draw, despite being down to 10-men for almost all of the game. Villa won the return league game 1-0 at the Riverside.
Fast forward to Pulis’s post-match comments, after Boro drew 2-2 at Ipswich, with their late equaliser meaning Derby would play Fulham instead of Villa, and the former-Albion boss is painting Villa as firm favourites.
“Villa have probably got the strongest squad in depth in the Championship,” said Pulis. “They will be favourites to beat us”
“They have some top players, who fill their end on Saturday, and we have to make sure we turn up. If we do that and play as well as we can we are a force for anyone.”
Pulis’s other concern about the play-off game was the need for Boro fans to pack the Riverside en masse.
“We have to make sure we fill that ground next Saturday,” he added. “We need them to drive our lads forward.
“The big thing with the [Boro] supporters is that we have to turn up on Saturday. I mean turn up and turn that atmosphere up, make it a cauldron and get behind the lads.
“Then fingers crossed, if we get the run of the ball and decisions go for us, then at least we can say we have had a right go. We are the underdogs and we have to make a real fight of it.”
The Main Fear
Certainly, if Villa were going to play Derby in the play-offs, it would have made for a more open game, but Boro will be potentially a tighter and lower-scoring affair. There’s no doubt with their end of season form and focus, that Pulis’s men will be the dark horses to win the play-offs.
Villa won’t fear them though, nor Derby or Fulham.
Villa’s main concern and fear is themselves.
If the Villa team turn up in the play-offs that put Wolves, Blues and Bristol City to the sword at Villa Park in convincing fashion, then it’s ‘Premier League, here we come!’ If it’s the normal Villa team that turns up, then we might as well start flipping coins to decide our play-offs fate.