A 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough means Villa are off to Wembley, as Dave Woodhall watches.
I’ve spent most of the season saying I don’t like play-offs. I’ve spent most of the past two weeks saying the play-offs are no big deal and if we weren’t good enough to go up automatically we shouldn’t be making a fuss about getting a second chance.
And I spent about half an hour asleep last night, because no matter what the reason, what the competition and how horrible the place is, there’s little in football as exciting as the chance to see the Villa playing at Wembley.
It’s a bit difficult to write about a match like Tuesday night’s, because nothing much happened. Steve Bruce had a plan, which was to nullify whatever Tony Pulis came up with. Every player knew his job, and they all did it well for most of the time. There were a couple of heart-stopping moments along the way but they were down to the occasion rather than what was happening on the pitch. If you look back at a recording of the match you’ll see that Villa were never in any real danger.
It was a bit like an away tie – Boro had to attack and Villa’s first job was to contain them then exploit any gaps on the counter. It certainly seemed to work in the early stages as Villa had the best of the first twenty minutes, but then began to defend a bit too deep for my liking. No problem though, because the idea was to let the visitors have the ball until the final third, where they either ran out of ideas or found Villa’s defence as watertight as it’s ever been.
And that was the story of the game. Adama Trarore started on the right wing, moved into the centre, back to the right, over to the left and still couldn’t get out of Alan Hutton’s pocket. Without him, Boro’s attacking threat was non-existent. Meanwhile, Jack Grealish was double and treble-marked all night and the only slight negative of the team’s performance was that Villa failed to take advantage of the space the resulted.
But no real matter. It was Middlesbrough who had to score and for all their possession, the chances during the first 88 minutes fell to Villa – Hourihane, Grabban and Grealish could all have scored on another night. In contrast, the only action Sam Johnstone saw was when he was injured in the first half and booked in the second for handling the ball outside the area in an incident that led to Boro hitting the bar from a free kick eighteen yards and about three inches out.
John Terry was his usual self, James Chester alongside him was equally dominant and Mile Jedinak had a good shout to be named man of the match. As for the crowd, I’ve heard Villa Park louder, but I can’t remember the last time there was so much noise for so long. We certainly did our bit.
The job’s halfway done and now comes the hard part. I still don’t agree with the idea of the play-offs, but I know where I’ll be on May 26th.