Kieran Gibbs

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Aston Villa beat West Brom in shootout to reach Wembley final

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Aston Villa moved one giant step closer to a return to the Premier League by topping local rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties in the EFL Championship promotion playoffs on Tuesday.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

West Brom erased what was a 2-1 deficit to begin the semifinal second leg. Away goals are not used as a tiebreaker in the Football League’s promotion playoffs, thus the two Birmingham sides were forced into a penalty shootout, where Jed Steer would atone for a nearly calamitous error early in the game and season full of similar blunders.

Villa were in England’s top tier from 1975 until suffering relegation in 2016; they fell to Fulham in last season’s promotion final at Wembley Stadium. West Brom, on the other hand, saw their eight-year run in the PL end this time last year.

Leeds United hold a 1-0 advantage over Derby County, heading home for Wednesday’s other semifinal second leg.

Craig Dawson scored the second leg’s only goal, a towering header from Mason Holgate‘s long throw-in, in the 29th minute.

Villa’s Tyrone Mings made a goal- and potentially season-saving block in the 53rd minute, after Steer gave the ball directly to West Brom’s Jacob Murphy, who took a touch toward goal and fired for the bottom corner, the ball destined for the inside netting. Mings recovered from out of nowhere — wide left, where he was an option for Steer to play the ball out — to get a foot in front of the ball and boot it away.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Steer started the shootout by denying Holgate with ease, diving to his left and getting both hands behind the ball to keep it out. Conor Hourihane took the opportunity to put Villa ahead seconds later. Steer came up big once again, denying Ahmed Hegazi on West Brom’s second effort. Mile Jedinak‘s first touch after coming on late in extra time came at the penalty spot, and the Australian dispatched his effort as coolly as could be done.

Tosin Adarabioyo got West Brom on the board in round 3, but Jack Grealish restored the two-make advantage by sending Sam Johnstone the wrong way for the third straight penalty attempt. Kieran Gibbs nicked the inside Steer’s right-hand post in round 4, but by the grace of luck the ball found its way into the corner. Albert Adomah put Villa’s fourth attempt over the bar.

James Morrison hammered West Brom’s fifth past Steer, setting up on-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham for the decisive penalty. It wasn’t the best penalty ever hit, as Johnstone got a trailing foot on the ball, but it had enough power behind it to sneak over the line and send Villa to Wembley.

Aston Villa comeback stuns West Brom in playoffs

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Aston Villa beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 in their Championship playoff semifinal first leg on Saturday, as the home side launched a stunning late comeback at Villa Park.

The local derby swung in West Brom’s favor early on, as Dwight Gayle finished clinically but then a stunner from substitute Conor Hourihane was followed by a Tammy Abraham penalty kick moments later to send Villa Park wild.

To make matters worse for West Brom, their top goalscorer Gayle was sent off in the closing stages after a late challenge on Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer.

Villa or West Brom will play the winner of Leeds United or Derby County in the playoff final at Wembley on May 27 for a place in the Premier League.

After a fast start, West Brom went so close to opening the scoring, as Jay Rodriguez’s superb curling shot was tipped onto the crossbar by Steer.

At the other end Abraham sent an acrobatic effort just over, then Villa made a huge mistake and they were punished.

Glenn Whelan gave the ball away in a key area and Gayle pounced to smash home the opener at the Holte End to put West Brom 1-0 up. Villa struggled to get going again in the first half after that error, with West Brom dangerous on the break.

Abraham went close twice at the start of the second half as Villa pushed hard to get level with Jack Grealish leading the charge.

Villa eventually levelled 15 minutes from time as Hourihane smashed home a stunning strike with his left foot after Grealish found him unmarked 25 yards out.

It got even better for Villa moments later as Kieran Gibbs caught Grealish in the box and the home side were awarded a penalty kick.

Abraham stepped up to slot home the spot kick to give Villa a precious 2-1 lead ahead of the second leg at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

However, Abraham did push over Mason Holgate in the box late on and was lucky to not concede a penalty kick.

And West Brom then made their task even tougher as their top goalscorer Gayle was shown a second yellow card for fouling Steer and will now miss the second leg.

Analyzing Benitez’s risk in reported Mitrovic out, Rondon in moves

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As Newcastle cut ties with Aleksandar Mitrovic ahead of the Serbian striker Fulham move and Salomon Rondon seemingly moves into his old squad spot, it’s worth asking, at least in theory, whether the Magpies can defy the age math of the move.

There’s a load of well-earned respect amongst the Geordies for manager Rafa Benitez, who has rarely had time or patience for the productive but combustible Mitrovic.

[ MORE: Pochettino hopeful for signings as injuries pile up, deadline looms ]

Still just 23, the powerful forward had an amazing half-season on loan at Fulham and was a handful for defenses at the World Cup.

But Benitez has kept a short leash on Mitrovic since he took the reigns at St. James Park. Mitrovic scored 12 goals in 17 Championship matches for Fulham after scoring just five times in 31 appearances between the Championship and Premier League for Newcastle from 2015-17 (His first year at Newcastle was a nine-goal, four-assist, two red card campaign under Steve McClaren and then Benitez).

Given Mitrovic’s young age and success rate at Craven Cottage, there’s no reason for Fulham not to spend the reported $28 million.

The Magpies are expected to use a lot of that money to sign big West Bromwich Albion forward Rondon, who has scored 24 goals in three seasons as the focal point of one of the Premier League’s most conservative attacks.

Newcastle’s bet has to be that Benitez believes that feeding pieces around Rondon — Ayoze Perez, Yoshimori Muti, Matt Ritchie, Jonjo Shelvey, DeAndre Yedlin and Kenedy — are going to produce more feast-able material for the big man than the Baggies’ recent pieces (Chris Brunt, Matty Phillips, Kieran Gibbs, Jay Rodriguez, Jake Livermore, and James McClean).

Mitrovic played with such fury that cards were never too far away. Rondon is no shrinking violet, but has only taken one red in his career (going head-first into Bournemouth opposition, who was doing the same).

This is a pretty big risk for Benitez, who is one even marginally-big Mitrovic season away from having a $40-plus million striker on his hands. But Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s stingy nature has forced Benitez to find creative solutions to his squad needs.

Rondon is a short-term fix and the striker market is never going to be low cost, but the Magpies do have plenty of crossers and playmakers should they stay healthy. Might Rondon be the tonic for an attack dreadfully shy of finishers last season? He’s no doubt an upgrade on Joselu and Dwight Gayle, but that’s not saying a ton.

It’s not a big gamble, but admittedly it’s a gamble. Rondon can be a 10-goal man with terrific hold-up play for teammates, but a behaved Mitrovic has 15-20 in his locker. That’s asking a lot though.

Bournemouth 2-1 West Brom: Cherries fight back

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  • Late goals from Ibe, Stanislas seal comeback
  • West Brom 1 win in last 28 games
  • Baggies 10 points from safety

Bournemouth launched a late comeback to beat West Brom 2-1 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

West Brom led through Jay Rodriguez but two spectacular goals late on from Jordon Ibe and Junior Stanislas sparked a dramatic comeback.

With the win Bournemouth move into 11th on 36 points, while West Brom stay bottom on 20 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

West Brom started well and Salomon Rondon’s header was saved by Asmir Begovic after good work down the right from Allan Nyom.

Rodriguez then forced Begovic into another save and Bournemouth were forced into a defensive change as Simon Francis was replaced by Charlie Daniels.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Some hefty challenges flew in as both sets of players were fired up and ready for battle, with Josh King going down in the box at one end and Rondon at the other end as the Venezuelan also forced Begovic into another save.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Early in the second half West Brom went ahead as Kieran Gibbs‘ cross found Rondon who nodded down and Rodriguez finished to breath new life into the Baggies’ survival hopes. Or so they thought…

Junior Stanislas put a free kick just over as Bournemouth started to turn the key and soon they were level. Ibe spanked a shot in from distance which skipped into the far corner to make it 1-1, then came Stanislas’ heroics.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The winger curled home a sumptuous free kick to make it 2-1 and send the home fans wild as Bournemouth’s Premier League status was all but secured for another season.

Wenger furious with late penalty kick, festive schedule

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Arsenal were heading towards a deserved three points on New Year’s Eve at West Bromwich Albion, then Mike Dean awarded a penalty kick and it cost the Gunners two points.

Arsene Wenger — setting the record for the most PL games managed in history (811) on Sunday — fumed on the sidelines and Dean came over to talk to the Arsenal manager during and after the game as Arsenal’s players were furious and Petr Cech was booked after the final whistle for his remonstrating.

Calum Chambers was the guilty party, in Dean’s eyes, as Kieran Gibbs knocked the ball onto his arm from close range inside the box and Jay Rodriguez scored the spot kick to make it 1-1 in the 89th minute at the Hawthorns.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game Wenger was fuming with the referees, saying “it was not a penalty at all” and also hit out at the scheduling of games over the festive period.

“What can you do – talk and talk and talk but it doesn’t change anything. The Premier League does face a problem with the scheduling and referees,” Wenger said. “I tried hard with referees to help them become professional. The level of the referees unfortunately doesn’t go up. It’s not the first time it happened but it’s best we don’t talk about it.

“I believe West Brom had five days to prepare and we had three. The Premier League has to look at when the schedule is fair and unfair, on our side it’s unfair. Since the start of the season you have to look at it.”

Asked if VAR would have made a difference, this was Wenger’s response to Sky Sports.

“It is time. I don’t know why we want to be the best league in the world and wait this time and other leagues use it already,” Wenger added.

Wenger isn’t the first manager to hit out at the scheduling of the festive games, with his Arsenal side having just three days rest compared to five for West Brom for this game, while Chelsea will also have an extra days rest before their game against Arsenal on Wednesday.

All in all, Wenger was not a happy man on the day he surpassed Sir Alex Ferguson as the man who has managed the most games in PL history.

Arsenal are only three points off the top four but Wenger will be fuming into 2018 after his side were undoubtedly dealt a bad dose of luck to see out 2017.

There was no way that was a handball against Chambers.