Aston Villa come into the tie on a weird run of form but that could be down to the fact they’ve been in play off purgatory for some time (if they’d had a better March they really should’ve gone for a top 2 spot). But the regular season is now over and for all teams in the play offs it’s clean slates all round and everything to play for, so what should we be looking out for from Aston Villa?
Aston Villa probably boast the strongest squad in terms of depth in the Championship, there’s a lot of experience there with the likes of Whelan, Snodgrass, Jedinak, Terry and Hutton who have all played at a higher levels and are used to pressure cooker atmospheres.
Another one of Villa’s strength is their wide areas, the balance of two inverted wingers causes a lot of problems for fullbacks with Snodgrass and Adomah both possessing good delivery from the byline. Snodgrass is a little easier to read as you know he is more likely than not going to try and put an in swinger into Boro’s penalty area. Snodgrass is also going to be a potent weapon from set pieces so it’s essential Boro don’t give away too many needless fouls or corners.
Adomah on the other hand is a player Boro fans need no introduction too, after several successful years on Teeside we know what Albert is all about. This season Albert has enjoyed his best goalscoring season to date even though he is currently on somewhat of a drought by his standards. Adomah as opposed to Snodgrass is going to have to be shackled carefully, his delivery by either foot is very good, so Shotton is likely to have his hands full.
The other player Boro are going to have to keep a close eye on is Jack Grealish, who is finally beginning to show why he was so highly thought of a few years back. To be honest, Jack Grealish and Adama Traore are two players who somewhat mirror each other. Both have been frustrating match winners in the past, albeit two very different players style wise, but this season might just be the making of both of them. Grealish technically is a very dangerous player, twisting and turning while also clever with his movement around the box, marking him out of the game will be essential.
Villa are a very strong outfit, last season they lacked goals which has been somewhat addressed by Adomah, but I’d say Villa this season have lacked a focal point to the team. Their top scoring striker Grabban has plundered most of his goals for Sunderland while Scott Hogan has only scored 6 goals this season, most of their goals have come from midfield with Adomah and Hourihane bagging 25 between them.
The other question that has popped up several times is their mentally, again much like us, sometimes the expectancy and pressure to deliver an automatic spot has seemed to disable Villa at points. At their best, they can blow away Wolves but as their month of March proved they can be exposed for slow starts much like they were against QPR, Bruce after the game lambasted the performance at the time saying “We never got started. Mentally, we weren’t at it. We didn’t get anywhere near the heights of Saturday.”
If Boro can get out of the traps fast and put Villa under pressure in the wide areas we could get some joy, but this is a side full of experience and if we’re honest, no one quite handles the play-offs scenario quite as well as Steve Bruce. I’m going for tense 0-0 this weekend.