Villa reaches playoff final
Aston Villa is one win away from returning to the Premier League after beating local rivals West Bromwich Albion in the second leg of the Championship playoff semi-final.
It will be the second year in a row that Villa will take their chances at Wembley after last season’s playoff final disappointment at the hands of Fulham. Tammy Abraham was the match-winner for Dean Smith’s side, finding the net from the spot after Villa keeper Jed Steer had denied Albion by saving their first two penalties to give the visitors a 4-3 penalty win.
After a 2-1 victory in the first leg, Villa was the slight favourite to reach the playoff final according to sports betting companies, but it had to work hard throughout. Abraham’s strike concluded two hours of drama at the Hawthorns, during which Albion levelled the tie on aggregate at 2-2 through Craig Dawson. It then suffered its second red card of the playoffs when Chris Brunt was sent off with ten minutes to go after striker Dwight Gayle had been controversially sent off on Saturday.
Brunt had already been fortunate to get away with an incident when he trod on John McGinn’s arm in the first half, but he was then booked for a poor challenge on the same player early in the second half. When he fouled McGinn once again at 80 minutes, there was little surprise that the referee reached for a second yellow card, leaving Albion to hang on with ten men.
However, Albion will wonder about what might have been if it had kept a full complement, given the support they had from a raucous home crowd throughout the game.
The Baggies looked dangerous from the start, and when they took the lead, there was no surprise that it came from an aerial set-piece. Mason Holgate took a long throw from near the corner flag, and although there seemed little danger, Dawson was first to the ball, guiding it in at the far post with a flicked header. That levelled the tie and gave the home side hope of forcing a win. Jacob Murphy had a shot cleared off the line, Jay Rodriguez missed a good chance when he shot straight at Steer, and Matt Phillips fired a close-range header just over the bar.
However, Villa had the better of the second half, and with Brunt’s dismissal, they began to exert their dominance. Albert Adomah had two good chances to win the tie, and Conor Hourihane had a good shot deflected over the bar. Albion was hanging on at that stage, and it showed great resilience in fighting through extra-time to get to penalties, but in the end, Villa prevailed.
Words: Josh Dixon