Middlesbrough v Aston Villa preview: Tony Pulis confirms he will name same starting XI
Last Updated: 12/05/18 4:19pm
Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis has confirmed he will make no alternations to his side ahead of Saturday's Championship play-off semi-final clash with Aston Villa.
It means striker Patrick Bamford, who has scored 13 goals this season, will begin the game on the bench, allowing Britt Assombalonga to lead the line in the first leg of their play-off semi-final at the Riverside Stadium.
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Villa boss Steve Bruce has hinted that he will give recalls to a number of players, including captain John Terry, midfielder Jack Grealish and striker Lewis Grabban, though goalkeeper Sam Johnstone is likely to travel north alone, due to the impending birth of his child.
Neil Taylor (hamstring) and Axel Tuanzebe (ankle) are the only other injury concerns for the Bruce ahead of the game, with Birkir Bjarnason back in contention having shaken off a back injury this week.
Villa are playing in the play-offs for the first time in their history and aiming to return to the Premier League for the first time since relegation from the top flight in May 2016.
These two sides met three times in all competitions this season with each side winning once on the road (D1). Including both legs of this season's play-off tie, it will be the second time that both teams have faced each other five times in a single season - also 1949-50.
The home team has failed to win any of the last 11 clashes between Middlesbrough and Aston Villa in all competitions, with the Villans being the last side to secure a home victory, in March 2005 in the Premier League (2-0).
Aston Villa have lost just one of their last eight away games against Middlesbrough in all competitions and none of the last five (W4 D1).
The team to finish in fourth place has won the second tier play-offs in two of the last four seasons (QPR in 2013-14 and Hull City in 2015-16), as many as in the previous 22 campaigns combined (Leicester City in 1993-94 and Charlton in 1997-98).
Fifth-place Huddersfield won promotion last season, while the team in fifth hasn't won the play-offs (current format) in consecutive second tier campaigns since 2001-02 (Birmingham City) and 2002-03 (Wolves).
This will be Aston Villa's first ever play-off match in the Football League, while Middlesbrough are competing in their fourth play-off campaign and first since 2014-15 when they lost in the Championship play-off final to Norwich City.
Middlesbrough successfully gained promotion via the second tier play-offs in 1987-88, getting the better of top-flight Chelsea over two legs in the final. In 1990-91 they were eliminated by Neil Warnock's Notts County in the semi-final, who went on to win promotion.
Steve Bruce has won more promotions to the Premier League than any other manager (4). Indeed, two of those promotions have been via the play-offs - in 2001-02 with Birmingham City and 2015-16 with Hull City.
Tony Pulis has led two teams to promotion in his managerial career in the Football League - finishing second with Gillingham in the fourth tier in 1995-96 and taking Stoke into the Premier League in 2007-08. However, Pulis' only experience in the play-offs ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat for Gillingham against Man City in the third tier final in 1998-99.
Middlesbrough have just two of their last 14 league games (W8 D4), while Aston Villa have won once in their last five on the road in the Championship (D1 L3).
These two sides were arguably the favourites for promotion to the Premier League at the start of the season, but there is only one spot available at Wembley.
Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce are both more than familiar with the play-offs and it will great to see two old warriors going at it for promotion. Neither side will give anything up in the first leg and I can't split them at the Riverside. Score draw.
David Prutton predicts: 1-1 (9/2 with Sky Bet)