The headline act of the Sky Bet EFL play-off weekend sees Aston Villa take on Derby. Tom Carnduff picks out his two best bets.
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Aston Villa v Derby (Wembley Stadium, 1500 BST, Sky Sports Main Event)
Often labelled the ‘richest game in football’, the Sky Bet Championship play-off final sees two teams who are looking for a return to the Premier League.
Aston Villa take on Derby at the national stadium with both having recent top-flight experience. Villa came agonisingly close last season, but return a stronger team this time around.
Under Dean Smith’s guidance, they have shot up the table and broken records along the way. This squad hasn’t been cheap to build, and promotion is everything at this point.
In Derby, they face a side who have excelled under Frank Lampard’s guidance. He’s been linked with a return to Chelsea this summer, and given the loan quality they have, this Rams side could look a lot different next season.
Villa are the favourites here and rightly so. They’ve comfortably beaten Derby 7-0 on aggregate, although you can’t examine the regular season meetings too much.
Derby were also 7-1 down on aggregate to Leeds prior to that second leg clash at Elland Road, and as we know, that counted for nothing in the end.
What happened in the final minutes of that game was the sending off of Scott Malone. That means that Ashley Cole will be lining up in the left-back role, in what will be his eighth league start for the Rams.
A best price of 7/2 is available on Cole being shown a card in this game, which looks terrific value given the pace and quality that Villa possess going forward.
The full-back already has two cards to his name, despite limited appearances, and the fact he hasn’t started in their last six games plays a part.
He’s an experienced player, there’s no doubt about that, but you can see the Villa forwards getting the better of him on a couple of occasions.
In a final, where you imagine that both sides will have a ‘safety first’ type approach, taking a card is likely to be the sensible option if it prevents a dangerous attack prevailing.
When it comes to finding a goalscorer, the general price of 5/1 for Conor Hourihane netting anytime is appealing, especially when you consider that he has had direct involvement in 21 goals across all competitions.
The midfielder has the ability to strike from set-piece situations, which may come in handy as it could be a low-scoring affair.
Hourihane probably doesn’t get the wider credit he deserves for the role he plays in this Villa side. He has the ability to play a significant part though, and that could be finding the net.
This does look like a game which is decided in 90 minutes. Villa’s experience on the big stage will give them an edge, particularly against a young Derby team.
The Championship final often also sees both teams not scoring, despite many having an emphasis on attack.
While it doesn’t strike you as a final where one team will look to go 1-0 and protect what they have, there might not be too much in it.
Score prediction: Aston Villa 2-0 Derby (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
Best bet: Ashley Cole to be shown a card at 7/2
Best bet: Conor Hourihane to score anytime at 5/1
- Derby lost both of their Championship meetings with Aston Villa this season by an aggregate score of 0-7 (0-3 home, 0-4 away).
- Aston Villa have won six of their last nine matches against Derby (all in league competition), losing just once in this run, a 0-2 defeat in December 2017.
- The last Championship playoff final to see both sides score was West Ham’s 2-1 win over Blackpool back in 2012 – each of the last six has seen at least one side fail to find the back of the net.
- This is only the sixth second-tier play-off final between the teams finishing 5th and 6th in the division that season and the first since 2005, when West Ham won 1-0 against Preston.
- Aston Villa are the first side to reach back-to-back playoff finals in the second tier since West Ham in 2004 (runners up) and 2005 (winners). The last side to lose consecutive playoff finals at this level was Leicester City in 1992 and 1993.
- Aston Villa have lost five of their last six in all competitions in matches played at Wembley Stadium, with their only victory in this run coming back in April 2015 versus Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final, with goals from Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph securing a 2-1 win.
- Derby are participating in their fourth second-tier play-off final, losing two (1994 and 2014) and winning one (2007) of their previous three.
- Only Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Sunderland and Swindon Town have ever lost three straight games at Wembley without scoring – Aston Villa have lost 0-4 to Arsenal and 0-1 to Fulham in their last two games there.
- The team finishing sixth in the Championship have been promoted via the play-offs in just one of the last 13 seasons, with Blackpool beating Cardiff City in the 2010 final.
- Aston Villa striker Tammy Abraham has scored four Championship goals (including play-offs) against Derby County – he has only netted more against Nottingham Forest (5).
- Aston Villa boss Dean Smith will be taking charge of his first playoff final as a manager – he appeared in two such matches as a player, ending on the losing side for Leyton Orient in both 1999 (v Scunthorpe) and 2001 (v Blackpool) in fourth tier matches.
- Harry Wilson has been involved in eight goals in his last 10 Championship matches for Derby (6 goals, 2 assists – including play-offs), and has scored 16 Championship goals this season – seven more than any other Rams player.
- Should Derby win promotion, their tally of 74 points in the regular season would be the fewest by a side promoted to the Premier League since Crystal Palace in 2012-13 (72 points).
- Excluding the goalless 2017 final between Huddersfield and Reading, 14 of the last 15 occasions a team has scored first in a second-tier play-off final has seen them go on to win promotion, with the exception being Cardiff City against Blackpool in 2010 (lost 2-3).
- The two players to win the most fouls in the Championship this season (including play-offs) are Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish (158) and Derby’s Harry Wilson (113).
Odds correct at 1540 BST (24/05/19)