Aston Villa vs West Bromwich Albion
SkyBet Championship Play-Off Semi Final
1st Leg: Saturday 11th May, 2019- Villa Park, 12:30pm
2nd Leg: Tuesday 14th May, 2019- The Hawthorns, 8pm.
This weekend see’s the return of the EFL Championship Play-Offs. The prize of the Premier League and all its riches on offer, for one club only. In one tie, its Leeds United taking on Derby County whilst in the West Midlands, Aston Villa face up to local rivals, West Bromwich Albion. It’s a tasty play-off line up for the neutrals whilst die-hard supporters of each side will be nervously nail biting during the two games coming up in the next week.
West Bromwich Albion have had an indifferent season following relegation from the Premier League. Many predicted an automatic promotion spot for West Brom following a summer where they managed to keep key players and add the likes of Dwight Gayle, Harvey Barnes and ex Villan Sam Johnstone to their ranks. Darren Moore was given the job on a permanent basis.
West Brom’s season has been a pattern of inconsistency. Starting off slowly before getting into their rhythm, led by the impressive Leicester loanee, Harvey Barnes. Whenever an impressive victory came, just round the corner was a lacklustre defeat or draw. Losing Harvey Barnes in January as he went back to Leicester was a key turning point for Darren Moore. Barnes had scored 9 goals in 27 appearances prior to returning to Leicester, leaving a big void for Darren Moore to fill, something he struggled to do.
Albion brought in Jefferson Montero, Jacob Murphy, Stefan Johansen and Mason Holgate in January, however some have struggled for form. Following Albion’s 2-0 win at Villa Park in February, Albion only won 1 out of the next 4, resulting in Darren Moore being controversially sacked, despite the club sitting in 4th position. Rumours swirled around with who would replace Moore however after 3 wins on the bounce, James Shan was given the opportunity to manage until the end of the season.
Aston Villa’s season has been a very mixed bag aswell. Starting off strongly before embarking upon a run which saw only one win in 11 under Steve Bruce, which resulted in Bruce’s sacking in October. Dean Smith was the man to replace him and this brought around an immediate impact with victories over Swansea, Middlesbrough and Derby County. Following the controversial 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns, Villa’s form dramatically dipped.
This coincided with the loss to injury of Jack Grealish and Axel Tuanzebe. Villa struggled for form over January and February and only recorded 1 win in 11 going into the game at Stoke City. This game saw Villa equalise to claim a valuable point on the road and which rejuvenated Villa’s play-off push. A 10 game winning streak followed with impressive victories on the road at Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham along with home victories over Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Derby County amongst them.
The run coincided with the return from injury for Jack Grealish who has since been made captain. Notable mentions to Villa’s player of the season John McGinn along with the tightening up of the defence with the additions of Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause along with the return to form for Axel Tuanzebe, Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady. Jed Steer was placed in goal, becoming Villa’s 5th keeper of the season but has proved to be the reliable option.
Villa head into the play-offs in buoyant mood following a fantastic run which eventually ended at Villa Park last Sunday when a much changed Villa side narrowly went down by 2 goals to 1 against title winners, Norwich City.
For this match preview, The Villa Boys From Aston spoke with Calum Scriven, a West Bromwich Albion fan who answered some questions ahead of the tie. @CalScriven 1.
What have you made of WBA‘s season?
Frustrating yet the best as a fan in a while. After 8 years of being another club ‘trying to survive’ in the Premier League, it has been a breath of fresh air to score so many goals this season and have belief that we can get a positive result. We have two strikers that both have 20+ goals and when you score so many goals you have every right to believe you will get 3 points. Yet, how frustrating that 46 games have lapsed and we still don’t know our best formation or best midfield combination. Overplaying in defence has cost us in Moore’s tenure, yet he refused to change philosophy. We have threatened to hit the ground running on occasions yet what quickly follows is a poor performance. Overall, you have to be satisfied with 4th. Our fan base felt that we would be mid table at best given what went on during the 2017-2018 season.
2. Do you think sacking Darren Moore was the right thing to do and your thoughts on Jimmy Shan?
Darren Moore did a lot of things right. He took over from a 3 year period of Tony Pulis’ football divinding the fan base with his drab football. Pardew followed and led the fanbase to feel nothing but apathy towards every level of the club- I wouldn’t wish Pardew on anyone- poison. Darren Moore is one of us- he did all the right things and brought a sense of excitement back to the club. A real genuine man who you were proud to lead the club. However, in January things felt stale. The recall of Harvey Barnes and the injury to Matt Phillips robbed us of the spark we needed. Trying to replace Barnes proved difficult and the signing of Murphy didn’t work. Moore started running out of ideas. Sacking him was probably the right idea, however we haven’t adequately replaced him. You can’t knock Jimmy Shan, he didn’t expect to be in this position and yet the board’s failings have put him there. I like him as a man and his points per game ratio is promotion form, yet I would hope his appointment is short term.
3. What are your thoughts on Villa’s season and Dean Smith?
I imagine you are feeling positive yet frustrated. You have ended the season with a run of form not seen at Villa Park before and must wish there were 10 games of the season left. Seems you stuck with Bruce for too long and whilst Smith struggled defensively at the start, recalling Steer and finding a centre back pairing which works has transformed your results just as much as the return of Jack Grealish. Smith looks to have the balance spot on. I imagine you would be very confident of a great season next year with Smith at the helm, even if you don’t win promotion. Good manager and a Great Barr lad, same as me. (and me- Simon).
4. Who should Villa look out for in the tie?
Dwight Gayle. The guy is absolute mustard. He scores goals for fun, very rarely misses when given a chance and is a very good footballer. He drops deep, links up play and seems to have a knack of winning penalties (not always legally). With Gayle in your side you always have a chance and if he doesn’t get you a chance, there is every chance Jay Rodriguez will. Away from the obvious forward pairing, I think we could get at you out wide. Gibbs and Holgate are both strong, get forward, provide good balance and can deliver a killer pass whilst being defensively accomplished.
5. Who do you pick as Villa’s key men?
Grealish. I mentioned earlier about the impact Mings has had and he is quality. Abraham scores for fun, McGinn has had a phenomenal first season. Any midfielder who carries the ball and runs directly at us will cause us problems. When I look at the two sides I don’t think there is much in it and believe there are areas where we are stronger yet I think you will blow us away in central midfield and Grealish will naturally be key.
6. Any Albion injuries/suspensions?
Robson-Kanu stupidly got himself a 3 match ban. Its one less option for us and that’s a blow. No injury worries, Phillips is back fit but I don’t think he will start the first leg.
7. Score Predictions
How do you call this? Anything could happen. The only thing I think is certain is that only Villa can kill the tie on Saturday. If we can bring it back to our place then we are still in it and I’d be quietly confident. It will come down to whichever teams takes their chances. I just hope its not a poor refereeing decision that decides it. Albion to nick it over two legs in extra time with a set piece.
Huge thank-you to Calum for sending us his thoughts and feelings ahead of this huge tie.
Villa Probable XI: Steer, Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor, Adomah, McGinn, Whelan, El-Ghazi, Grealish, Abraham.
It’s going to be a wonderful occasion on Saturday and Tuesday. Two West Midlands clubs, with passionate supporters facing each other for a place at Wembley. From a Villa point of view, we have to feel confident with the form we have been in but as we all know, football is a funny old game and anything can happen. Villa Park will be rocking and I’d call on my fellow Villa fans to make it an atmosphere to remember. This season has been a rollercoaster but these last 2 months have been immense to be a Villa fan and we don’t want this to end. Shout loud and proud for Dean Smith and his players, they certainly deserve our huge backing as always at Villa Park and on the road. UTV!!!