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Tight game expected when Villa welcome Boro

Sky Bet Championship playoff semi-final second leg
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 7.45pm Tuesday


Playoffs shouldn’t be easy affairs although Aston Villa’s 1-0 win at Middlesbrough on Saturday was pretty much a stroll in the park for Steve Bruce and his men – and that means that part two of their semi ought to be a far more fiery encounter.

The internet forums are full of Villa fans crowing over Alan Hutton’s performance in stifling Boro dangerman Adama Traore, heaping praise on Jack Grealish, and applauding Bruce for a tactical mission accomplished.

But one-match form doesn’t count for a great deal in the Sky Bet Championship and, even if it transpires that it is job done for Villa, they should brace themselves for some scares in the second leg.

Boro, after all, made the playoffs for a reason and, having seen his side mess up in front of their own fans, Tony Pulis will have been leaving no stone unturned in his quest to right the weekend wrongs.

And Middlesbrough need to think positively. Traore is still a massive threat who can turn a tie in an instant, Patrick Bamford, who will surely be recalled, is a slightly smarter frontman than Britt Assombalonga while Fabio looked a real threat off the bench and should get the full 90 minutes at Villa Park.

Pulis also knows a job needs to be done on Grealish, who was given a couple of early whacks at the Riverside but then allowed to dictate the game offensively.

Saturday’s setback was the first time Boro had failed to score in three months so it could arguably have been a one-off blip and it’s equally worth noting that none of the last 12 matches played between these two clubs – at either venue – have been won by the home side.

And given that Boro have already been to Villa Park twice this season without conceding a goal, they aren’t out of this tie yet.

Having said all that, the size of the task facing the visitors is a daunting one. Villa have suffered only one home defeat in the league in the past six months while Boro have failed to win seven of their last nine away.

In three regular-season and playoff encounters this season, Middlesbrough have not once managed to find a way past goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.

Boro are strong at set-plays – 40 per cent of their goals come via them – but Villa are brilliantly drilled at the back where John Terry has built a career heading crosses away from danger.

One goal was enough in part one and may well be good enough again.

Pulis isn’t the type of manager to take undue risks when the margins between success and failure are essentially on a knife-edge. And Bruce’s Villa are such a stubborn force that they are going to take all the breaking down, even when the visitors up the ante as they will inevitably have to.

These aren’t sides brimming with goalscorers and four previous matches between the teams this term (they also met in the League Cup) have produced a grand total of four goals.

Recommendation
Under 1.5 goals

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.