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Aston Villa can book spot at Wembley playoff final

Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 8pm Tuesday

Aston Villa have grabbed the initiative in their Sky Bet Championship playoff semi-final first leg against West Brom and they can run the Hawthorns gauntlet to book a spot at Wembley.

Baggies boss Jimmy Shan is whipping up a storm, asking the Hawthorns regulars to recreate an atmosphere not heard at the ground since a 1993 playoff semi-final against Swansea.

On that occasion West Brom lost the first leg 2-1 but were roared on to produce a comeback 2-0 success. It's a 2-1 deficit facing Albion once more, but Wembley may prove a step too far on this occasion.

West Brom will be kicking themselves at how events unfolded at Villa Park on Saturday as they let slip Dwight Gayle's early opener to trail 2-1 before their goalscorer was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Gayle's subsequent suspension robs West Brom of their main penalty-box threat and piles even more pressure on Jay Rodriguez to shoot the Baggies back into the tie.

Rodriguez was on target in the February success at Villa Park when Gayle was unavailable, but that was a different Villa.

Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic was substituted at half-time and has not started since, while Villa's star man Jack Grealish was injured at the time.

Villa have played 14 matches since that West Brom defeat, winning 11, drawing twice and losing just the once when Dean Smith rested players against Norwich in preparation for the playoffs.

Since the start of March Villa have gone to Birmingham, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham and Bolton and won, as well as picking up a point in a controversial 1-1 draw at Leeds.

Central to the upturn in fortunes has been Grealish's return from injury.

Villa have not lost a match with Grealish starting since October 26 away to QPR and if that statistic is unchanged then it will be Villa off to Wembley.

Grealish, arguably the best player in the Championship, was kept relatively quiet for 60 minutes on Saturday and yet still proved to be the key difference.

His perfectly weighted pass enabled Conor Hourihane to equalise before winning the penalty converted coolly by Tammy Abraham.

With Abraham, Albert Adomah and Anwar El Ghazi offering a counter-attacking threat and Grealish capable of controlling the game alongside John McGinn there will be opportunities to land a first Hawthorns triumph since 2008.

That drought should have ended in December - Rodriguez's last-gasp equaliser was scored with his hand - but Villa can get the job done when it matters most.

Recommendation
Aston Villa draw no bet

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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.