My column in Weds Birmingham Mail
It’s now Aston Villas turn to shine in the spotlight as they aim to reach the Premier League through the Championship playoffs. First hurdle is a two legged semi-final against Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough team and no one can be in any doubt how tough that will be.
In the two league meetings this season Villa took 4 points with a win at the Riverside in December and a draw at home. However that will have no bearing on the playoff games. Villa have a slight advantage being at home in the second leg, but only if they contain them on Saturday in the first leg up in Middlesbrough. Easier said than done because we all know how much of an expert Tony Pulis is at setting his team up to protect a lead no matter how slender that lead might be. I am sure Steve Bruce would love to turn it into a one legged tie by securing at least a draw at the Riverside. Both teams go into the game in decent form both only losing two of their last eight championship games. Goal threat is the key for Steve Bruce with only Assombalonga and Bamford reaching double figures for the Teesiders while Villa have the edge with Lewis Grabban, Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane and a fit again Jonathan Kodjia
Villa have a wonderful opportunity but will need everyone at full throttle over three games to reach the Cash cow that is the Premier League.
Promotion to the Premier League through the playoffs is without doubt the most exciting way to do it and is a fantastic exciting experience. However losing in the playoffs as I have witnessed with Baggies against Derby in the final and Blues on a few occasions at the semi-final stage is heart-breaking in the extreme and emotionally draining and damaging.