Aston Villa won the European Cup on May 26 in 1982… and 36 years on they will hope the date carries significance again.
Villa are heading for Wembley to face Fulham in the Championship play-off final after coming through a contest that drained legs and minds.
Holding a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, Villa were never going to be in for anything other than a thorough examination from Tony Pulis’s side. There were plenty of anxious moments for Steve Bruce as Boro kept the game goalless. But ultimately Villa thoroughly deserved to progress to the £170million match.
Jack Grealish is mobbed by Aston Villa fans after they reached the Championship play-off final
The goalless draw against Middlesbrough sparked wild celebrations at Villa Park
A Villa supporter hangs from the crossbar following a nail-biting 1-0 aggregate win on Tuesday
Grealish is led from the Villa Park pitch by security as fans celebrate with the forward
Jubilant Villa supporters invaded the pitch following the final whistle on Tuesday night
Home supporters taunt visiting fans after they reached the play-off final at Wembley
The overjoyed home players embrace as Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore lies heartbroken
John Terry is preparing for a 32nd Wembley appearance after the draw on Tuesday night
Thousands of fans came on the pitch, prompting police to form a cordon to protect away fans
A police officer intervenes as a Villa supporter celebrates their victory on the stadium pitch
ASTON VILLA (4-1-4-1):
Johnstone 6; Bree 7.5, Chester 8.5, Terry 7.5, Hutton 8; Jedinak 8; Snodgrass 8, Hourihane 7 (Whelan 85), Grealish 8, Adomah 7; Grabban 7.5 (Kodjia 79)
Subs not used: Samba, Hogan, Onomah, Bunn
Yellow cards: Hutton, Snodgrass, Grealish, Johnstone
Manager: Steve Bruce 8
Randolph 8; Shotton 7 (Fabio 82), Fry 7, Gibson 8, Friend 6.5; Clayton 6.5, Besic 7; Traore 7, Howson 6.5 (Gestede 73, 6), Downing 6.5; Assombalonga 7 (Bamford 68, 6)
Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Leadbitter, Cranie, Harrison
Yellow cards: Friend, Besic
Manager: Tony Pulis 7
Referee: Mike Dean
Their endeavour was exemplary, and if they could not break down Boro, they were determined not to concede. James Chester was immaculate against the manager who deemed him inadequate for West Bromwich Albion.
Villa were fortunate three minutes from time when referee Mike Dean only booked Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone for handling outside the area to stop what appeared a goalbound shot from Adama Traore. Stewart Downing then smacked the bar with his free-kick. Two of Bruce’s four promotions to the Premier League with Birmingham and Hull came via the play-offs and given the professionalism of his side in the semi-final you would not bet against him getting a hat-trick.
Villa Park began the evening with high expectations. The second tier of the Trinity Stand was open, so the stadium held a rare capacity crowd and the atmosphere went up a notch, too.
The minute’s applause in tribute to Jlloyd Samuel, who died in a car crash yesterday, fed into a roar as the match kicked off and Villa started with great intensity, snapping into tackles and pinning Boro back while failing to create a clear chance.
Then, as expected, home nerves began to jangle as the visitors grew into the contest. A 1-0 lead is never much of a cushion against a Pulis team.
Stewart Downing hit the bar as Middlesbrough were beaten by Aston Villa in the play-offs
Lewis Grabban missed a couple of good chances but Villa still reached the final on Tuesday
Middlesbrough forward Britt Assombalonga is put under pressure by Villa’s Conor Hourihane
Grealish dribbles as Ryan Shotton and Adam Traore look to close the winger down
The Villa starlet was later denied by a stunning Darren Randolph save during the second half
Jonny Howson wasted a free header and had Britt Assombalonga reacted faster to a long throw by Ryan Shotton, Boro would have scored. George Friend launched into a late challenge on Johnstone after losing the ball in the area and was fortunate to receive only a yellow card.
Ten minutes before the break Villa counter-attacked to effect when Albert Adomah sprang clear to cross. But Friend produced a goal-saving block as Conor Hourihane looked primed to tap in. Chester then went close with a neat touch and shot from a corner but the ball whistled wide.
Villa’s approach was characterised by tremendous work-rate, with Robert Snodgrass and Mile Jedinak in particular covering huge ground to stop Boro’s advances. Jack Grealish was also tracking back much more frequently than usual.
As ever with a Pulis team, Boro were enormously disciplined. Their manager was in constant motion on the touchline, marshaling his players.
But as they trailed on aggregate, they had to make their chances count, and Pulis wheeled away in frustration when Mo Besic fired wide.
Middlesbrough’s Adam Clayton slides into a challenge on Villa midfielder Robert Snodgrass
Villa boss Steve Bruce dishes out instructions to his side during Tuesday night’s second leg
Shotton gets in front of Snodgrass to win the ball back for the away side in the first half
Villa put together an excellent move on the hour as Grealish fed Adomah on the overlap and when the cross arrived it looked for all the world that Lewis Grabban would apply the killer touch.
But Darren Randolph managed to fend it away with his feet.
Ten minutes later Grabban tried from much further out, striking a shot from 30 yards that swerved and dipped and needed a palm over from Randolph.
The Boro goalkeeper was at it again 15 minutes from time, diving at full stretch to stop a long-range Grealish strike.
Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone looks to claim a cross into the box as Shotton challenges
Neither side gave an inch as they battled for a place in the play-off final against Fulham
Albert Adomah looks to work a cross in to the box as Villa tried to close out the contest
Before kick-off, the two teams paid their respects to Jlloyd Samuel, who died on Tuesday