Middlesbrough suffered Play Off heartbreak as they failed to overcome a resilient and better Aston Villa side over two legs. The Villians won 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Mile Jedinak’s header in the first leg at the Riverside.
Aston Villa were triumphant over Middlesbrough, and booked their place at Wembley next weekend in the Play Off final against Fulham. But where did it go wrong for Middlesbrough?
1. Lack of chances
When Middlesbrough were in the Premier League, a big part of the reason they were relegated was their lack of firepower. It was a miracle that Alvaro Negredo managed to get near to double figures given the chances he got.
Over the past week, it has shown that Middlesbrough are still stuck in their ways, and need more creativity. In the two legs combined, Boro had just two shots on target.
The midfield three aren’t creative midfielders, although Besic and Howson can drive at defences and unlock defences with neat passes, they don’t do it frequently to create enough chances for the strikers.
2. Sloppy in possession
Middlesbrough never looked comfortable with the ball, and the more they chased the game the more risks they took. But nothing paid off.
The ball was given away regularly by the likes of Ryan Shotton, George Friend and Stewart Downing; all of whom have been reliable throughout the regular season.
Middlesbrough did have more possession over the two legs, but the majority was played across the midfield or across the back line with zero penetration. When the ball did go into the final third, the ball was lost consistently and gave Villa the chance to break.
3. Villa the better side
Aston Villa finished above Middlesbrough by seven points, and it showed on Saturday evening and on Tuesday night. They were better all over the pitch, in defence, midfield and attack.
The lack of Middlesbrough chances highlights the importance of the likes of John Terry and James Chester at the back, who nullified almost every Middlesbrough charge.
Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah caused countless problems for Boro, and they couldn’t deal with the directness of the two. Something which Villa stopped regularly when it came to Adama Traore. Which brings us to point four.
4. Stopping Traore
Adama Traore was the main man in Middlesbrough’s successes against the top sides in the final games of the season. Boro beat the likes of Derby County, Bristol City and Millwall back to back, and Traore was key.
Aston Villa had a game plan to stop Traore and it worked more times than not. Even when the Spaniard swapped wings in the first leg, Ahmed Elmohamady dealt with the winger just as well as his opposite wing-back Alan Hutton.
The plan was to double up on Adama, or even triple up. This didn’t allow him the space to run into, and was culpable of running down blind alleys when a simple pass would suffice.
It just didn’t seem like Middlesbrough’s tie. The goal came from one of two corners Aston Villa had in the entire first leg, and it could even be said that the header could’ve been aimed to be put across the box for a team mate, as opposed to trying to find the far corner.
Sam Johnson should have seen red for handling the ball outside the box in the game at Villa Park. But the on-loan Manchester United man was only given a yellow card. Even Steve Bruce said the goalkeeper should’ve been sent off.
But given that there was only a couple of minutes left on the clock, it might have been too little too late, but Boro only needed one goal to take the game to extra time.
Unfortunately for Middlesbrough, they will remain in the Championship for another season. But with Pulis having his first full season at the helm, they will be expected to be there or there abouts come May next year.