There was an air of inevitability that Aston Villa and Middlesbrough would end up facing each other in the play-offs although ultimately only a stoppage time goal from Patrick Bamford at Ipswich last weekend set this tie up. As two of the pre-season promotion favourites, the stakes are huge here with both sides desperate to avoid another season in the Championship.
The teams have already clashed three times this term and there have been plenty of transfers between these clubs in recent years which only adds to the spice. Villa and Boro fans have long wondered who got the better out of the Albert Adomah-Adama Traore swap deal in 2016 and this tie might just finally prove the answer.
On the surface Adomah has produced the goods on a much more consistent basis with 14 league goals this term for Villa but he is out of form heading into the play-offs while Adama Traore is finally starting to show signs that he is developing into more of a complete package. He adds a touch of unpredictability to an organised side and he’s not the only Boro man coming into form.
Bamford has also rediscovered his goal touch over the past few months but may still miss out to Britt Assombalonga here. The striker has scored in 2 of his last 3 games to move onto 15 for the season and is likely to be Boro’s biggest threat in this game and backing Assombalonga to score anytime could be worth a punt.
It does feel as though Boro carry a bit more momentum into this game than Villa. While the Teessiders won some key games and took 10 points from their final 4 games to secure their play-off place, Villa have laboured a little towards the end of the campaign, never truly looking like they would make automatic promotion without ever being in danger of dropping out of the top six.
Their form isn’t terrible but there will be a few things that concern Steve Bruce. Robert Snodgrass has also gone off the boil a bit, Jonathan Kodjia has yet to really look like his old self following injury and Villa have only scored more than once in 1 of their last 6 matches. They also lost 4 of their 5 away games against fellow top six sides during the regular season, with the exception being a win at the Riverside.
That may be a good omen but that came very early in Tony Pulis’ reign and Boro have certainly picked up since. While their record at home to top sides is poor too, they’ve won crunch home games against fellow play-off hopefuls Millwall and Bristol City in recent weeks. With 7 wins from their last 8 at the Riverside overall, backing Middlesbrough to Win looks the most appealing bet here but it’s likely to be a very even tie overall.