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Championship Final preview: Aston Villa v. Derby County

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Nineteen spots in the 2019-20 Premier League season have been clinched, and Monday will see the final berth awarded to either Derby County or Aston Villa.

It’s the richest game in football, and two historic English clubs will see it as their way back to a rightful place in the top flight.

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Aston Villa was a mainstay of the PL for the first 24 years of the league’s existence, but has spent three seasons in the Championship.

Derby County has spent seven years in the top flight across two separate spells, and twice won the top flight in the 1970s.

Separated by just two points on the table this season, fifth place Villa beat Derby decisively in both league matches.

Three different scorers marked their names in the 3-0 decision at Pride Park in November before Villa bettered the score line with a 4-0 triumph at home on March 2.

Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson has been the scoring star for Frank Lampard‘s Rams, bagging 15 goals. Fellow loanee Mason Mount of Chelsea has also been key with eight goals and five assists, while Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn have chipped in plenty.

Another Chelsea loanee, Tammy Abraham, is the clear threat for Villa, having potted 26 goals this season. Transfer market mainstay Jack Grealish has been in focus, too, for Dean Smith’s men. Smith is becoming just as big a star, having charged Villa up the table since taking over in October.

Monday morning’s match will change the fortunes and legacies of many players and both managers. And Lampard is already being tipped as a possible Chelsea boss.

Why Aston Villa deserve Premier League promotion

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With the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 27, the richest game in soccer will see one of Aston Villa or Derby County promoted to the Premier League.

[ MORE: Latest Championship news ]

Which club deserves a spot in the English top-flight, and the estimated minimum $120 million it will generate, more?

You can use metrics such as fanbase, stadiums, players, historical success and quality of coaches to try and sort this out, but the fact of the matter is, the playoffs are always a complete, and utterly brilliant, lottery.

The path Villa and Derby took to get to the final this season proves that.

Here’s a look at why Villa deserve to return to the PL after a three-year absence, while tomorrow we will focus on Derby…


Everything about Villa is a Premier League club.

Their incredible home at Villa Park is among the most historic and boisterous in England when it gets going and the Holte End is the jewel in its crown.

European champions in 1982, Villa are the biggest club from England’s second-city, Birmingham, and their fanbase is loyal, if not overly pessimistic as most Brummies are. The fact that there are no PL teams from Birmingham is astonishing. It is like having no top level sports teams in LA.

For three years they’ve now fought to get back into the top-flight after several seasons of struggle as former American owner Randy Lerner cut costs wherever he could. Under manager Dean Smith, a lifelong Villa fan who took charge midseason, they now play wonderfully attractive soccer and have youngsters like Jack Grealish, Andre Green and Tammy Abraham leading the way.

Previous manager Steve Bruce was known for his pragmatism and trusting veterans to be steady in pressure situations. All of that is out of the window at Villa Park, assistant coach John Terry alongside Smith to provide some steel to their flamboyant possession-based style.

Villa would be fun to watch if they were promoted to the Premier League. That much is sure. They’ll concede a lot of goals, but they would score a ton too.

There is also the potential for Villa to emulate Wolverhampton Wanderers. Seriously.

Their ownership group has strengthened in recent months with Chinese businessman Tony Xi selling 55 percent of his stake in the club to Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and American billionaire Wes Edens.

If Villa come up the financial fair play shackles which restricted them in the Championship in recent years will come off. The potential for them to spend big is there, but they have a team full of players on loan from PL clubs who have formed a bond and could likely be kept together and bought permanently this summer.

Quite simply, Villa are a top 10 team in the Premier League. They have suffered due to Lerner’s decision to pull out his investment but they have now rebuilt themselves with a strong core of young talent and have a manager in place who is progressive and ambitious both with his style of play and where Villa can get to in the PL.

Under Bruce, Villa lost to Fulham in the playoff final last season at Wembley. But with local lad Grealish leading their charge there is a sense that failure last year was a blessing in disguise. This Villa side are young and hungry and they are exciting to watch.

That is why Villa deserve to be promoted to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season.

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.

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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.

Championship playoff preview: Derby, Leeds, Aston Villa, West Brom

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The Championship playoffs get going this weekend with Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, and Derby County going at it with a spot in the Premier League on the line.

[ PREVIEW: Brighton v. Man City | Liverpool v. Wolves ]

Last year, Fulham finished third just two points behind a guaranteed promotion spot, but managed to earn a place in the top flight via the playoffs. The year before that, Huddersfield Town tasted playoff glory after finishing fifth in the Championship table to earn its first-ever trip to the Premier League.

Aston Villa v. West Bromwich Albion

Villa Park is begging for a return to the Premier League. After the storied club was stunningly relegated three seasons ago for the first time since 1987, it’s been a long, hard road to this point. They finished a disappointing 13th the first time around as hopes of going straight back up vanished, and a fourth place finish last season saw them reach the playoffs but Fulham was last year’s team of destiny and won a slim 1-0 victory over Villa in the final, so the fans have been through this ringer before.

West Brom, meanwhile, is another recent Premier League mainstay looking to get back to the promised land where they’d been for eight straight seasons before last year’s relegation. West Brom has been promoted three since the turn of the millennium, but all came via automatic promotion – both of which defender Chris Brunt were with the club for – while both playoff journeys over that span ended in disappointment.

Aston Villa will have leading scorer Tammy Abraham back from a hamstring injury, a major boost as they look for a trip back to the top flight. The hosts are in great form – an important feature for any playoff team – as they were seven points off the playoff spots in 10th back in mid-February, but rattled off 10 straight wins beginning in early March, and while they’ve slipped in the last two league matches, there is far more riding on this weekend’s tilt.

Derby County v. Leeds United

The top seed in the playoffs gets going first as Leeds United looks for its way back to the top flight for the first time since relegation in 2004. Derby County, meanwhile, hasn’t been back since its disastrous 2007/08 campaign that set the record low for a point haul in a Premier League season.

Still, this matchup has more teeth than just a chance to reach Wembley – it’s the first time these two teams will meet since the Spygate mayhem that marred their January matchup. Frank Lampard will now look for revenge over Marcelo Bielsa who admitted to spying on Derby training before the weekend match, with the former Chelsea midfielder also hoping to turn around the results of the regular season, where Derby was beaten by Leeds twice during the regular season.

Leeds, meanwhile, had aspirations of automatic promotion, but a poor finish to the season saw them fall out of a top-two position with just three wins in their last nine league matches, and more specifically no wins in the final four, with three losses in that span. Bielsa will need to pick the team up, known for his high-intensity managerial style that could be wearing the team out, as the playoff takes no prisoners and bad recent form can be deadly.

Derby County will have plenty of experience at this level, although to this point with nothing to show for it. The club has earned a playoff spot in four of the last six seasons, but have only made it to Wembley once, falling to Queens Park Rangers in the in the 2014 playoff final.