Mile Jedinak’s header gives Aston Villa narrow lead over Middlesbrough in Championship play-off semi-final

Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa: Jedinak headed home Jack Grealish’s pinpoint corner for the only goal of a tight game, where chances were at a premium

Martin Hardy
Riverside Stadium
Saturday 12 May 2018 19:18
Mile Jedinak gave his side a precious lead
Mile Jedinak gave his side a precious lead

The joy was unconfined; 2000 Aston Villa supporters celebrating wildly, as they had in the 15th minute, when Mile Jedinak rose higher than any Middlesbrough defender to head his side ahead and give Aston Villa a one-lead that their fans at least feel is hugely significant in the fight to return to the Premier League.

Steve Bruce cut a more considered figure when Bobby Madley signalled it was half-time in this Championship play-off semi-final, but delight had been his, when that goal came, and agony was hard to hide on the strike of half-time, when it was almost doubled through Robert Snodgrass.

The enormity of these games is lost on no-one, least of all Bruce, who led Hull to victory against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley two years ago, and then left before the promoted side.

That will not happen this time, if he can repeat the trick, but his reserved body language told you there is still a job to be done just to return to Wembley, but that his team were the better side, was not in doubt. It seems a simplification, but they just looked better, more composed, more authoritative, perhaps they just handled the occasion better.

Villa take a lead into the second leg

Their lead came early, in a frenzied start. The Riverside was raucous to begin with, and then Leo Percovich, the home side’s former goalkeeping coach, who tragically lost two daughters in a car crash in Brazil in December of last year, stepped onto the pitch, banged his chest and it went up a further level.

There was little created, despite the noise, and then, to the consternation of Tony Pulis, Jack Grealish sent over a left wing corner and Mile Jedinak lost his man, Ryan Shotton, and glanced a header into the far corner of Darren Randolph’s goal, with ben Gibson not on the post.

There was an explosion in the Villa end of the stadium, where 2000 fans had travelled north. Steve Bruce punched the air, and the wind out of Middlesbrough. Jedinak was denied a second with another glancing header and Bruce’s side was slicker and more refined and on the stroke of half-time came within a whisker of doubling their lead.

Robert Snodgrass was given time just outside the home penalty area, and he teed up a curling, left-footed effort that Randolph, strains every sinew of his body, managed to get the thinnest of touches with his outstretched hand to divert the ball onto the post.

Middlesbrough could point to a succession of opportunities for their centre forward, Brit Assombalonga, before then, as they chased a crucial equaliser.

In the 31st minute he took a clever pass from Muhamed Besic on his chest and blasted over the crossbar, two minutes later he shot into the side-netting of Sam Johnstone’s goal and a further five minutes on, following clever play by Adam Traore, he glanced a header goalwards that the Aston Villa goalkeeper could only stop with his legs, before collecting the rebound.

Middlesbrough have it all to do at Villa Park

Traore himself, marshalled by at least three players whenever he received the ball, managed to go past four players before shooting wide, in first half injury-time.

Surprisingly, the intensity dropped dramatically after the break. Randolph saved a tame effort from Lewis Grabban, in the 75th minute and 60 seconds later Johnstone comfortably collected a weak effort from Ben Gibson, from a Stewart Downing free-kick.

It remains delicately poised, with the considerable financial carrot of the Premier League in the sights and possibilities of both clubs, but Villa are in pole position. The noise of their support told you that.

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