Seven points separated Aston Villa in 4th and Middlesbrough in 5th after the final game of the season on Sunday and the two sides face off in the playoffs, starting with the first leg at the Riverside Stadium later this evening (KO 17:15).
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With Derby taking a slim one goal advantage over Fulham in last night’s other playoff, attention turns to the north east as Villa travel to Middlesbrough.
With decades of experience between them Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce have seen it all as managers and there’s no surprise to see the bookies struggling to separate them in this one.
If you could hand pick two managers to get you promoted from the Championship then these two would be bang in the mix.
And it would be no surprise to see the winner of this tie mixing it with the big boys in the Premier League next season – both sides are currently 3/1 to be doing just that.
Boro ended the regular season unbeaten in four thanks to Patrick Bamford’s 97th minute equaliser against Ipswich on Sunday.
Since taking over at the Riverside Tony Pulis has, as you’d expect, turned Boro into a side that is hard to beat and they’ve enjoyed victories over Bristol City, Derby County and Millwall in the past month.
That said, compared to the other three teams in the playoffs their home form is patchy, losing six games at the Riverside this campaign, including a one nil defeat to Aston Villa back in December.
A repeat of the same scoreline on Saturday is 15/2.
Villa suffered their first defeat in five league games on the final day of the season, but Steve Bruce will be confident his side can get back to winning ways on Saturday.
The Villans secured their play-off spot some weeks ago and knew their chances of finishing in the top two were slim at best, giving Bruce chance to focus all his effort on three huge games!
On their day Villa can out score anyone in the division and at the back they are solid.
After a shaky start to life in the Championship John Terry has been solid, playing a pivotal role in keeping things tight, and the ex Chelsea man has played an influential part in the this season’s promotion run.
On the road they’re hard to beat and I expect them to come away from the Riverside with at least a draw, which is best priced 11/5 while a Villa win is 12/5.
Despite their iffy home form Boro are 5/4 favs to take an advantage to Villa Park.
It should be a cracker.
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