5 days to go until the big one. The SkyBet Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley. Aston Villa vs Derby County. The season finishes with the most valuable football game in English Football. Villa will look to exercise their ghosts from 12 months ago when they were defeated 1-0 by Fulham. This season has been a rollercoaster. Since losing in the play-off final last season, so much has happened. There was the very real risk of the club going under due to financial concerns under previous owner, Dr Tony Xia. There was the summer long transfer saga regarding Jack Grealish and Spurs. Followed by the much needed takeover by Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens in July. Steve Bruce was given the new owners backing, until 2 wins in 11 saw Bruce sacked following the 3-3 draw at home against Preston North End, the infamous cabbage night.
Dean Smith was appointed alongside his assistants, Richard O’Kelly, John Terry and Neil Cutler and instantly brought around a change in results, performances and playing styles, giving Villa fans hope for a promotion push. There was terrific victories over Derby and Middlesbrough away, along with others. The season took a turn for the worst in early December when Villa lost Jack Grealish to injury. He missed 12 matches in which Villa only won once. The home defeat to West Brom in February was the point the majority of Villa supporters felt the season was over and had some even question Dean Smith. What happened after that was incredible. Jack Grealish returned and Villa went on a 12 game unbeaten run which included 10 victories in a row and granted us a spot in the play-offs. Since then, Villa defeated West Brom on penalties over two legs and head into the Wembley play-off final for the second successive season.
This week, we spoke with Max Stokes from Villa On Tour ahead of the match at Wembley. Max posts videos of him following Villa home and away on his YouTube account.
1. What are your thoughts heading into the Play-Off final? Will it be 2nd time lucky for the claret and blues?
Overall, I’m more confident this year than last year. Fulham were the form side back then but now I believe we are. Derby have been inconsistent this season but we can’t be complacent. I do believe it’ll be second time lucky for us.
2. Who do you see as the key men in this game for Villa?
It has to be the two men in midfield. Jack Grealish and John McGinn. McGinn has easily been player of the season and what can you say about Grealish? It will be his last game for Villa for sure if we don’t make it but I trust he’ll run the show on the big Wembley pitch.
3. Who do you see as the main threats for Derby County?
Again, the two men in midfield in the form of Mason Mount and Harry Wilson. Especially Mount in my opinion who hasn’t played against Villa this season so I certainly don’t know what to expect. Both played pivotal roles in the semi-final against Leeds United and will be well up for this.
4. Your score predictions
Tough one but I fancy there to be goals, goals, goals. I reckon if Villa get an early goal we will be fine but on the other hand I won’t worry too much if Derby get an early goal. We’ve seen this season that Villa can score from any situation at any time so that fills me with confidence. I’m torn between 2-1 and 3-1 but I’m going to go with the latter. UTV.
Big thank-you to Max for taking the time to give us his opinions on the match on Monday. It’s going to be a nervy affair, one we are all praying Villa come out of it on top.
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