Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa: Mile Jedinak heads winner in first leg of play-off semi-final
By Simeon Gholam
Last Updated: 13/05/18 7:09am
Mile Jedinak's header handed Aston Villa the advantage in their play-off tie with Middlesbrough as they edged a 1-0 win at the Riverside Stadium.
The Australian international nodded home from a corner in the first half to give Steve Bruce's side the lead in their Sky Bet Championship semi-final against a surprisingly flat Boro side on Saturday.
It had been nearly three months since Middlesbrough last failed to score, but they rarely threatened Sam Johnstone's goal throughout 90 minutes, leaving Villa with the edge heading into the second leg on Tuesday night.
Tony Pulis announced in his pre-match press conference that he'd name an unchanged line-up and he was true to his word, while Steve Bruce made six changes as his big-hitters all returned. Sam Johnstone, Ahmed Elmohamady, John Terry, Robert Snodgrass, Jack Grealish and Lewis Grabban all started.
Middlesbrough have been set-piece specialists since Tony Pulis arrived in December, and he would have been dismayed to see his side come undone from a corner after 15 minutes. It didn't even require a particularly spectacular corner from Jack Grealish to find Jedinak at the near post, although the Australian did impressively leap to flick home his first goal away from home since November 2014.
Were it not for Darren Randolph then Villa would have doubled their lead just before half-time. Robert Snodgrass' curling effort looked destined for the bottom corner, but the Boro stopper somehow got across to tip the strike onto the post.
Boro continued to push for an equaliser but suffered a blow midway through the second half as Daniel Ayala was forced off with a leg injury, rendering him doubtful for the second leg.
Fabio was his replacement and he presented his side with a glorious opportunity to level with his first touch after coming on, but his inviting ball across the six-yard line was behind the run of Britt Assombalonga, who would have had a simple tap-in if the full-back had found him.
The home side continued to huff and puff in search of an equaliser with Pulis throwing on Patrick Bamford for the ineffective Assombalonga, but the Villa defence, led by John Terry, resisted anything that was thrown at them to take them one step closer to Wembley.
The only blow for Villa was the late injury to full-back Ahmed Elmohamady, who appeared to aggravate his hamstring and now looks doubtful for their mission to finish the job back at Villa Park in three days.
Middlesbrough: Randolph (7), Shotton (6), Ayala (5), Gibson (6), Friend (6), Clayton (6), Besic (6), Howson (6), Traore (5), Downing (5), Assombalonga (4)
Subs: Konstantopoulos (), Cranie (), Fabio (n/a), Fry (), Leadbitter (), Harrison (), Bamford (n/a)
Aston Villa: Johnstone (7), Elmohamady (7), Chester (7), Terry (8), Hutton (7), Snodgrass (7), Hourihane (6), Jedinak (8), Adomah (6), Grealish (8), Grabban (5)
Subs: Whelan (n/a), Bjarnason (n/a), Kodjia (n/a)
Man of the match: Jack Grealish
Man of the match - Jack Grealish
His corner created the only goal of the game for Jedinak to convert, but Grealish also ran the show for Villa in his attacking midfield role and there were occasions when the Boro players couldn't get near him.
Tony Pulis: "We're disappointed because the goal has come from a set-play. We've worked on small details this week and for them to score like that was disappointing, but you can't fault the players because they really worked hard today.
Obviously it now favours Villa, it's a big task for us to go to Villa Park so we've just got to dust ourselves down and clear our heads for Tuesday."
Steve Bruce: "We had to defend very well. We went too deep in the second half but you saw the resilience of the team. It was very difficult but we kept a clean sheet and we've got an advantage. It's never easy but we'll take that and we'll look forward to Tuesday.
"It's only half-time, they've got to come to our place but we all know the Championship and how ridiculous it is. We clung on a bit in the second half but we've got an advantage to take home."
When's the second leg?
Aston Villa host Middlesbrough on Tuesday night at Villa Park, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.