Aston Villa can move a step closer to a return to the Premier League after a two-year absence by edging a tight Championship play-off clash against Middlesbrough.
The match brings together two wily old-school British managers – the 60-year-old Tony Pulis, whose Boro side have not been as agricultural as some of his former teams, and the 57-year-old Steve Bruce, who has enjoyed promotions to the Premier League with Birmingham City and Hull City in the past.
Bruce certainly had the measure of Pulis at the weekend when Villa deserved their 1-0 victory at the Riverside.
Mile Jedinak’s early header gave Villa something to hang on to and for all Boro’s probing they never really looked to have the quality to break down the visitors’ stubborn and well-marshalled defence.
Earlier in the season Bruce’s side beat Boro 1-0 at Villa Park while the game on Teesside finished goalless so odds on there being under 1.5 goals in Tuesday’s match should be taken up at 33/20.
A defence that includes the likes of John Terry, Alan Hutton and James Chester should be able to cope with the speedy but erratic Adama Traore and the slow but steady Stewart Downing.
Boro are a workmanlike team that look to the inconsistent Traore for their inspiration but if he is struggling it is difficult to see who else in Pulis’ side will be able to create any worthwhile openings.
With Fulham still recovering from the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion and Derby County enduring a difficult run-in which saw them win only four of their last 16 Championship fixtures, Villa appear to be in the best shape of the four teams involved in the play-offs.
If Bruce can guide Villa back to the top-flight it will cement his reputation as the best man to secure promotion to the top-flight as he has already managed it four times during his managerial career.
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