AT the venue where Middlesbrough’s Premier League dreams were shattered in the play-offs at the end of last season, getting their faltering promotion drive back on the straight and narrow is the order of business today.
After suffering back-to-back league losses for the first time this season, Villa Park is probably one of the last places where fifth-placed Boro would chose to call in at – both for contemporary and historical reasons.
They face a Villa side who are showing signs of getting their mojo back after an inconsistent season, with the Midlanders having won their past three matches.
It has been greatly aided by the return from injury of talismanic midfielder and Villa captain Jack Grealish, who has proved a major thorn for Boro in the club’s recent meetings.
Victory would move eighth-placed Villa within a point of the Teessiders, who have not beaten their rivals in their past six games at league or play-off level.
After losing out in midweek to another side who have aspirations in earning a place in the end-of-season lottery in Preston, the pressure on Tony Pulis’s side to secure a positive result to ward off the chasing pack is strong.
We need to give everything, Villa are on a great run. They have got an exceptional squad when everyone is fit. Grealish would be a top player in the Premier League.Tony Pulis
But despite his side being up against it, the Welshman, typically, is somewhat defiant and entitled to be mindful that his Boro side have previously delivered strong performances at the likes of Elland Road, Hillsborough, Pride Park and The Hawthorns this season.
Pulis, whose side drew 0-0 in the second-leg of their play-off semi-final at Villa last May – after losing the first leg by a single goal – said: “Villa Park is a fantastic ground.
“It is a traditional ground in lots of ways and they have got hordes of supporters, they are talking about 40,000 again there and it will be a tough game
“The more the merrier for me – it should inspire the players.
“I enjoy going to football grounds when they are jammed where the atmosphere is good and that is what we are in this game to be a part of.
“We need to give everything, Villa are on a great run. They have got an exceptional squad when everyone is fit. Grealish would be a top player in the Premier League.”