Thirdway to paradise

Villa won 1-0 at Middlesbrough in the Championship play-offs first leg. Dave Woodhall comments.

Villa have never been involved in the play-offs before, and after this year I hope we never are again. If nothing else, having to go to Middlesbrough more than once a season is beyond most human endurance, yet once more our ticket allocation sold out well in advance despite another awkward, TV-influenced, kick-off time.

Those who were there witnessed a classic Steve Bruce away performance. It wasn’t pretty, it maybe wasn’t as adventurous at times as it could have been, but it was effective. Villa bring a one-nil lead back for the second leg and I don’t suppose anyone wouldn’t have settled for that when the game started.

In fact, the game hardly seemed to have started when Villa got the opening goal. Mile Jedinak, in the team to help cope with Middlesbrough’s aerial bombardment, went up for a corner and scored with a well-placed header.

And after that we had 75 minutes plus (a lot of) stoppages of what’s expected from a Tony Pulis team. Long balls, long throws, long time since he and his ideas should have been pensioned off. Villa coped, as they’ve been coping all season. I read after the game that we’ve conceded less goals from set pieces than any other team in the four divisions, and also the fewest in the last fifteen minutes of a game. All the team deserve credit for that, but yet again the lions’s share should go to John Terry, who did well himself and got the best out of everyone around him in the final stages as Boro piled on the pressure.

Villa had chances to make the result look even more impressive but in reality had settled for the single-goal win long before the final whistle and can be well pleased with the afternoon/early evening’s work. The only downside was a late injury to Ahmed Elmohamady.

This one’s a long way from over. Something else I read was that it’s now twelve games between us and Boro without the home side winning, and I can remember a few European ties when we’ve done the hard work in the away leg only to undo it all at Villa Park. This time, though, there should be no slip-ups. We have a manager who could write the book on succeeding from this position, a host of experienced players in key areas and the strength in depth that means we can replace tired legs at any time with no drop in quality.

Tuesday promises to be another night to remember. No matter what other clubs might claim about their support, there’s nowhere that can touch Villa Park on a big occasion and with a full house and a one-goal lead to defend, the decibels will be cranked up from the off. When the game does get underway there will only be one team that can beat the Villa, and that’s themselves.