Aston Villa Football Club had to sweat through a round of penalties in order to make it back to Wembley Stadium. Jed Steer’s heroics in net ensure a second consecutive Championship play-off final appearance.
West Bromwich Albion won the battle on Tuesday evening in a 1-0 victory after 120 minutes, but they were unable to win the war.
Tied 2-2 on aggregate, Dean Smith’s Aston Villa side were able to squeak past on penalty kicks as Jed Steer came up huge, saving Albion’s first two attempts. As such, Villa are back in the EFL Championship play-off final for a second year running.
Lineups & First-Half:
Smith went with the same 18 that battled back in the first leg for a 2-1 victory. However, he did make two changes to the starting XI as Conor Hourihane and André Green replaced Glenn Whelan and Albert Adomah, respectively.
Baggies’ manager James Shan had to make due without the services of star striker Dwight Gayle.
Things started kindly enough until Tyrone Mings received an early yellow card around the 16th-minute. Soon thereafter Albion capitalized from a long throw-in that resulted in the equalizer. Craig Dawson beat Axel Tuanzebe to the ball and leaped over Mings and Hourihane for a goal at the far post.
This is where it got crazy.
Albion dominated the opening twenty minutes of the second-half. So much so that a second goal seemed inevitable for the longest stretch. There was a Steer error, Matt Phillips header over the bar, Chris Brunt effort just wide, and several blocked shots. The Villa defense refused to concede and the game opened-up more for the visitors. Rekeem Harper and Albert Adomah entered the match on the 75th-minute. Soon after, Brunt received a second yellow for annihilating John McGinn near the box. It was a second yellow for the Baggies’ captain. He also inadvertently (intentionally?) stamped on McGinn earlier in the game, but was adjudged not to have fouled him in the act.
So, Villa held the advantage against a ten-man side with 10 minutes left in regulation + extra time. Remember, away goals did not count in these play-offs.
Ahmed Elmohamady, Grealish, Hourihane, and Anwar El Ghazi made a conscious effort to cycle the ball wide with endless crosses into the box. Most of were decent quality but Albion centre-back Ahmed Hegazi was seemingly everywhere at once.
The final whistle blew and Villa were headed to extra-time. Sam summed up the upcoming play very well:
Seriously, Villa, quit it with so many short and intermediate corner kicks.
Substitutes galore occurred in the closing stages as Albion took off all forwards for midfield depth, defenders, and speedster Jonathan Leko who could counter-attack. Dean Smith made the call to throw on Keinan Davis late for Elmohamady in hopes a 1-2 could be played inside the box. He also made the brilliant decision to bring on Mile Jedinak as the match entered penalty kicks.
The final, final whistle blew shortly after Davis and Abraham squandered a headed effort by colliding with each other. Villa had to do it the hard way: penalties. WBA went first with Mason Holgate and the aforementioned Hegazi having their sport kicks saved (!) by Jed Steer.
That was all that Villa needed. Hourihane, Jedinak, Grealish and Abraham converted their kicks to sent the club back to Wembley for the second year in a row. UTV!