Aston Villa claimed an early advantage in their Championship play-off with Middlesbrough after Mile Jedinak’s first-half header secured a 1-0 win at the Riverside.
Steve Bruce’s side were forced to defend for large spells in the second half but will now take a slender lead into the second leg at Villa Park on Tuesday.
Despite dominating possession after the break, Tony Pulis’ men only managed four shots on target, with the best chances falling to top scorer Britt Assombalonga in the first half.
After watching his side win three of their last four Championship games, Pulis stuck to his word by naming an unchanged side following Boro's 2-2 draw away at Ipswich last time out.
That meant Patrick Bamford, who scored a stoppage-time equaliser at Portman Road, had to settle for a place on the bench.
In contrast, Bruce, who elected to rest several players for Villa’s trip to Millwall on the final day of the regular season, made six changes to the side which started at The Den.
Captain John Terry, Robert Snodgrass, Lewis Grabban, Ahmed Elmohamady and Jack Grealish all returned, as did goalkeeper Sam Johnstone despite the impending birth of his child.
The Villa shot-stopper didn’t have much to do in the early exchanges but was left rooted to the spot when Muhamed Besic’s dipping volley dropped onto the roof of the net.
Villa strike early
But, despite a bright start from the hosts, it was Villa who took the lead through the simplest of set-plays on 15 minutes.
Grealish’s in-swinging corner was met by the towering Jedinak, who muscled his way past Ryan Shotton before steering the ball home with a powerful header across goal.
That briefly knocked the stuffing out of Boro and for the next 15 minutes it was the visitors who controlled proceedings, dampening the mood of the home supporters.
Pulis’ men refound some confidence on the half-hour mark, though, when Stewart Downing’s corner was almost turned into the visitors’ net by Villa defender Alan Hutton.
Assombalonga can't convert
Minutes later Assombalonga blazed over from close range after being picked out by Jonny Howson inside the area.
The Boro striker then passed up his side’s best chance of the half after heading Traore’s cross from the left straight at Johnstone, who almost spilt the effort.
Even so, Villa would have doubled their advantage before half-time if it wasn’t for a crucial intervention from Randolph, who managed to tip Snodgrass’ curling effort onto the post after the Scottish international had cut inside from the right.
Boro continued to see more of the ball after the break but couldn’t find a way through a packed Villa defence.
Adama Traore, who left Villa for Boro in 2016, regularly found himself surrounded by black shirts whenever he received possession, as the men in red struggled to create chances in the final third.
Pulis’ men suffered another setback when Daniel Ayala was forced off with an injury on 64 minutes and replaced by full-back Fabio, meaning Shotton moved across to centre-half.
With 15 minutes to go, Villa made a rare burst forward but Grabban’s shot from inside the area was tame and straight at Randolph.
Even so, the majority of the game continued to be played out in the visitors half, as Johnstone repelled Fabio's header on 82 minutes.
That was the closest Boro came to equalising in the closing stages and they will now face an uphill task to turn the tie around in the second leg.