League One and Two have already started their play-off party. Now it’s time for the Championship, as Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion clash in a titanic first-leg tussle at Villa Park.
The Baggies finished four points above their Midlands rivals in the regular season. That counts for nothing in the end-of-season lottery. Who will claim a crucial advantage to take to The Hawthorns?
We’ve previewed Saturday afternoon’s lunchtime kick-off in our Championship play-off tips.
Villa had won 10 matches in a row prior to a draw against Leeds United and defeat to Norwich City. West Brom are much more inconsistent and have tasted success just once on the road since mid-February.
No surprise then that the Villans are 20/23 favourites, against 16/5 for the visitors. Dean Smith’s men are also odds-on to reach the final at 4/6, with the Baggies price at 11/10. A Draw in 90 minutes is 12/5.
Indeed, the stalemate could be the way to go. First-leg matches can be cagey and two of the last three meetings between the sides have ended all square. A 2-2 scoreline is priced at 14/1.
Smith has revitalised Villa since taking over October. That has been largely down to the form of Jack Grealish, who’ll return along with John McGinn, Tammy Abraham, Tyrone Mings and Ahmed Elmohamady.
Youngster Jed Steer looks set to retain the gloves, while Andre Green and Albert Adomah are expected to get the nod on the wings as the hosts look to continue their expansive style in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
West Brom boast the deadly trio of Jay Rodriguez, Matt Phillips and Dwight Gayle up-front. They’ll be supported by flying full-backs Mason Holgate and Kieran Gibbs, who’ll look to whip crosses into the box.
Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore are both doubts, though. That means local lad Rakeem Harper should partner defensive midfield shield Stefan Johansen, although Chris Brunt may earn a recall.
There’s no shortage of potential goalscorers in this match. It’s why our traders have Both Teams to Score down as a 5/6 chance. 25-goal hotshot is Abraham is 5/4 favourite Anytime or 16/5 to Score First.
He’s followed by Jonathan Kodija at 7/5 and Keinan Davis at 9/5. Grealish makes the most outside appeal for the hosts. The floppy-haired maverick is a man for the big occasion and can be backed at 5/2.
The Baggies only have the division’s fifth and sixth top scorers among their ranks. Rodriguez has 23 this season, with Gayle back on 22. The former is in better nick at the moment, although they share a price of 11/5.
Fellow forward Phillips hasn’t been in such good form. He’s 10/3 to break his recent duck here, while Craig Dawson, who is a threat from set-pieces, has a quote of 14/1 Anytime.
Where: Villa Park.
When: 12:30pm, Saturday 11th May.
How to Watch: Sky Sports Main Event.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication