Aston Villa see off Middlesbrough to reach play-off final
Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa survived a nerve-jangling night to set-up a play-off final clash with Fulham.
But they will have to play better than this at Wembley to return to the Premier League after Boro pushed them all the way.
The hosts were protecting a 1-0 lead from the first leg courtesy of Mile Jedinak’s goal.
But Boro bossed the first half as they tried to even up the contest.
Yet Tony Pulis’ side were unable to make their dominance count as they failed to test keeper Sam Johnstone enough.
Villa held out to give boss Bruce a real shot at a fifth promotion to the top-flight.
After the cruel loss of both his parents this year, few fans will begrudge Bruce it too.
He has taken up both Birmingham and Hull twice previously but Bruce reckons this will be his greatest feat of the lot.
He may boast the calming presence of skipper John Terry but he has had to rely largely on loans amid cut-backs.
Yet when Villa Park is packed like last night, it has once again become a tough ground to visit for opponents.
Villa wore black armbands and held a minute’s applause before kick-off to show their respects to former defender Jlloyd Samuel.
Bruce was forced into a change from the first leg as Ahmed Elmohamady, who hobbled off at Boro, was ruled out.
While Pulis turned to youngster Dael Fry to replace the injured Daniel Ayala.
The game was a cagey affair with both clubs struggling to create clear cut chances early on.
Britt Assombalonga had a brief sight of goal in the 19th minute from Ryan Shotton’s long throw which wasn’t cleared.
But the chance surprised him and he ballooned over.
Middlesbrough had the best of the first half but Villa might have taken the lead in the 34th minute when Albert Adomah played a clever low ball across the box only for George Friend to clear as Hourihane prepared to pounce.
James Chester then missed a great chance to open the scoring on the night and make it 2-0 overall.
The defender did well in the 39th minute to turn in the box but dragged his right-foot shot wide from Jack Grealish’s corner which was knocked back by Lewis Grabban.
Middlesbrough striker Assombalonga gave the hosts a major scare before the break with a electric run from his own half which the hosts belatedly scrambled clear through the impressive Chester.
After the re-start Middlesbrough continued to dominate possession and put Villa under pressure.
But Villa began to look the more dangerous side after weathering the visitors’ offensive.
Boro keeper Darren Randolph had to make a smart save in the 60th minute from Grabban after good play by Adomah and Grealish.
Randolph was called into action again in the 70th minute to palm over Grabban’s rising drive from distance.
Five minutes later the Boro shot-stopper made another good save from Grealish’s right-foot curler from outside the area.
Pulis threw on all his subs to try and change the tide but Stewart Downing’s free-kick hit the bar in the 89th minute after Johnstone handled on the edge of the box.
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