Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa Preview: Can Boro make home advantage count in play-off semi-final first leg?

Middlesbrough will be looking to make home advantage count in the Championship as they take on Aston Villa at the Riverside on Saturday evening in the first leg of their play-off semi-final.

Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa Preview: Can Boro make home advantage count in play-off semi-final first leg?
Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa Preview: Can Boro make home advantage count in play-off semi-final first leg? (picture: Getty Images / Neville Williams)

Middlesbrough will be looking to make home advantage count in the Championship as they take on Aston Villa at the Riverside on Saturday evening in the first leg of their play-off semi-final. 

Boro come into the play-offs in good form and picked up another positive result on the final day of the season as they drew 2-2 at Portman Road against Ipswich Town. Patrick Bamford scored a dramatic equaliser deep into injury time to secure his side a point.

In comparison, Villa suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Millwall at the New Den.

However, they will still very much fancy their chances of securing promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs. 

Boro want to bounce back

Before the season kicked off, Boro were considered the favourites for automatic promotion back to the top flight.

Expectation around the club was increased by comments from the club's owner, Steve Gibson, as he stated that they were looking to 'smash the league'. 

A significant amount of money was spent by previous manager Garry Monk bringing in players such as Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, Jonny Howson, Ashley Fletcher, Martin Braithwaite and most notably the capture of striker Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest for a whopping £15 million. 

With the quality of these players, it is fair to say that Boro may have underachieved by not making a challenge for automatic promotion. However, an inconsistent spell under Monk caused him to lose his job midway through the season and left new boss Tony Pulis with a lot of work to do to ensure that they secured a place in the play-offs. 

A run of only one defeat in their final seven league matches of the season suggests that Pulis' appointment has resulted in some consistent results at the Riverside, albeit if the performances have not always been easy on the eye. 

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Villa to utilise experienced heads

As for Villa, they did manage to make a challenge for automatic promotion this season, even if they did fall short with a couple of games to go.

They massively underachieved last season by not even securing a place in the play-offs but Steve Bruce has done a solid job this season and built a very astute Championship side. 

Similarly to Boro, the club has been blessed with parachute payments since their relegation, and have subsequently been able to spend a significant amount on proven players at this level.

The fact that they have the likes of Lewis Grabban, Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan and Ross Snodgrass at their disposal, shows that they are a threat to anyone in the division. 

They also have a lot of experience throughout the team.

The experience of 37-year-old centre-back John Terry could prove to be invaluable in the coming weeks if Villa are to be successful in the play-offs. 

Last time they met

Boro last played Villa in the Championship in a 1-0 defeat at the Riverside in December. A late stooping header from Snodgrass was enough to secure Villa their first win in six games in Pulis' first game in charge at Boro. 

In the reverse fixture in September, Boro were able to hold-out for a 0-0 draw at Villa Park. If these two games are anything to go by, it is going to be a very tight encounter between these two sides.

Snodgrass scored the winner the last time these two sides met. (picture: Getty Images / Neville Williams)
Snodgrass scored the winner the last time these two sides met. (picture: Getty Images / Neville Williams)

Team news

Boro manager Pulis has already confirmed that he will name exactly the same starting line-up as the one that drew 2-2 against Ipswich Town last time out. This means that Assombalonga will be preferred upfront and Bamford will have to settle for a place on the bench. 

In comparison, Bruce rested a number of his key players last time out against Millwall.

The likes of Terry, Grabban, Sam Johnstone and Jack Grealish are all likely to return for this vital encounter.