Playoff finals are old hat for Steve Bruce, but a new event for Aston Villa.
The Birmingham club beat Middlesbrough 1-0 over two legs, the second a 0-0 draw at Villa Park on Tuesday, to advance to meet Fulham in the Championship Playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 26.
Stewart Downing‘s 89th minute free kick off the cross bar was Boro’s only sniff of the goal.
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Villa is in just its third season outside of the English top flight since 1975, though Bruce managed Hull City and Birmingham City to the Premier League through the playoffs.
Boro scored plenty under Tony Pulis in the season, but it was a case of traditional Pulis stats in the playoffs. The notoriously stingy manager saw his side manage just two shots on target over two legs, with both coming in the home leg.
Lewis Grabban of Villa had the two best scoring chances of the match, but Darren Randolph made a pair of saves.
Villa won the first leg on a Jack Grealish to Mile Jedinak goal.
On Monday, Fulham flipped a first leg deficit to Derby County on its ear to clinch its space at Wembley.
Ireland held firm in the face of Danish pressure and chances, ultimately securing precisely the result they were after — a 0-0 draw away to Denmark — in Saturday’s first of two legs with a place at the 2018 World Cup on the line.
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Every measurable statistical category drastically favored the home side — 72 to 28 in possession; 14 shots (5 on goal) to 8 shots (2 on goal); 81 percent to 53 percent passing; and on and on — but Martin O’Neill’s side managed to keep the clean sheet anyway, courtesy of Darren Randolph‘s five saves, and a semi-spectacular miss.
It was, by a mile, the game’s best scoring chance, and it came and went in the 32nd minute. Christian Eriksen fired a shot on target from nearly 30 yards out, and while Randolph made the save while falling to his right, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper couldn’t hold the ball and it fell to Denmark’s Pione Sisto eight yards from goal. The Celta Vigo winger took his chance with his first touch, on his preferred right foot, and fired inches wide of the far post.
Randolph made a key save in the 90th minute (above photo), denying Yussuf Poulsen’s goal-bound header from the top of the six-yard box. Jens Stryger Larsen got down the left wing, cut back inside onto his right foot and served up a tantalizing ball for Poulsen, but Randolph was quick to react, rising to tip the ball over the crossbar and complete his man-of-the-match performance.
The decisive second leg will be played on Tuesday (2:45 p.m. ET), at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Neymar and Alexis Sanchez to Paris? Brazil and Chile’s finest living as one? Reunited and it feels so French?
The latter’s talents will see Arsenal’s resolve tested by a $46 million bid, according to Sky Sports, though Gunners manager Arsene Wenger has been adamant that Sanchez will not be sold this summer.
Reports circled last year that Arsenal was prepared to offer Sanchez and Mesut Ozil record deals to stay at the club, though PSG has reportedly met with Sanchez and his agent with ideas of incredible $650,000 per week wages at the Parc des Princes.
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A source also told Sky Sports that it would take “a miracle” for Neymar to remain at Barcelona, so that Sanchez/Edinson Cavani/Neymar trident could be coming to a theater near you.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino is hopeful of convincing Virgil Van Dijk to stay at St. Mary’s, but for now he’s been forced to ask the defender to take time away from the club.
Van Dijk, hopeful to engineer a move to a UEFA Champions League club, has not been in the preferred mental state for Pellegrino.
“When I was talking with him, the boy said that he is not available to play because he wants to leave. I need to work with a player that works at 100 percent to defend Southampton. This is the decision. I had to say: ‘OK, if you don’t want to be involved because you don’t feel OK, you have to train alone until this period of time.'”
Liverpool publicly ended their interest in Van Dijk following Southampton complaints, and the club maintains it will not sell the influential center back.
West Ham’s loan move for Joe Hart could see both of its 2016-17 goalkeepers leaving the London Stadium. Multiple reports say Darren Randolph could be off to Middlesbrough, with Adrian also heading to the Northeast to play for countryman Rafa Benitez at Newcastle.
Mark Noble‘s second bite at the apple gave West Ham a bit of breathing room from its relegation fight, as the Irons beat Burnley 1-0 at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
The home win was West Ham’s third in eight tries, and gives them 16 points. The Hammers are now three points clear of the drop zone.
Burnley is a point ahead, in 14th.
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A fairly non-descript first half was buoyed by a late development, as Ben Mee took down Winston Reid in the box for a West Ham penalty.
Standout goalkeeper Tom Heaton made the first save for Burnley, but Mark Noble deposited his own rebound in the cage to make it 1-0.
Darren Randolph was called up to make several stops for the Irons, including a fine stop on Canadian international Scott Arfield‘s 72nd minute free kick.
Andy Carroll had a strong night up top for West Ham, and will give the hosts hope beyond their current striker struggles.
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Liverpool’s chase at the top of the table as one of the Premier League’s elite took a hit on Sunday following Sunday’s 2-2 draw against West Ham United at Anfield.
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The Reds didn’t waste any time in applying pressure in the second stanza, and the hosts got back on level terms in the 48th minute when Divock Origi was in the right place to hit home a spilled cross from goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
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The West Ham keeper failed to clear his lines after Sadio Mane put in a cross from the left wing and Origi was in front of goal to tap home.
The Hammers grabbed the lead before halftime when Michail Antonio tapped home a simple finish past Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. The goal came after a routine long ball wasn’t handled by the Red backline and Karius was hesitant coming off his line, allowing Antonio to flick his shot around the shot-stopper.
Despite suffering an early deficit, West Ham responded in a big way in the 27th minute when Dimitri Payet curled a free kick brilliantly in the Liverpool net to notch the score at 1-1.
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Adam Lallana gave the hosts the lead after five minutes when the Englishman controlled a Mane cross and blasted his ensuing effort past West Ham keeper Darren Randolph for the early lead.
Liverpool remains third in England’s top flight on 31 points, six points off the pace set my league leaders Chelsea. Meanwhile, West Ham jumps above Swansea into 17th place, moving out of the drop zone.
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