Aston Villa drew first blood in the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Middlesbrough thanks to a 1-0 win at The Riverside.
Before this clash, Bruce said that he’d be content if Villa were still in the tie come the end of the match, so he must be extremely happy with the fact that his side will be starting the second leg on Tuesday evening with a one goal advantage.
The home team started off brightly, but the Villa defence coped with everything that came their way. Villa took the lead in the 15th minute, when Jedinak got away from his marker and glanced Grealish’s corner into the bottom corner of the net.
Assombalonga had three chances to bring Middlesbrough level before half-time, but he couldn’t convert any of them. Things nearly got worse for the home side, but Randolph produced a fine save to prevent Snodgrass from doubling Villa’s advantage.
After the break, Villa decided to sit back and defend their lead, and they did such a good job that Johnstone barely had a save to make. They are now halfway to Wembley and they will look to finish the job quickly at home on Tuesday.
Here are our Villa player ratings for today’s match:
GK: Sam Johnstone - 7
Was comfortable and in control for most of the game. He did mishandle once, but he got away with it.
RB: Ahmed Elmohamady - 7
A solid display from the Egyptian. He barely made a mistake defensively and even covered for his centre-backs when needed.
CB: James Chester - 7.5
He was solid and reliable, just as he has been for the entire season. Pulis once said that Chester can’t play centre-back, but he has been proven wrong this season.
CB: John Terry - 7.5
Made a number of vital interceptions and blocks and marshaled his defense admirably.
LB: Alan Hutton - 8.5
Hutton was tasked with marking Traore and he did a wonderful job. He put his body on the line when needed, won a number of important headers, and showed everyone that he still has it a defender.
RM: Robert Snodgrass - 6.5
Had two fine chances to increase Villa’s advantage – the first he headed over the bar and the second forced a fine save out of Randolph. Was over zealous when defending and gave away a number of free-kicks in dangerous positions.
CM: Mile Jedinak - 8.5
Defended stoically and won a number of important headers – the most vital of them coming in the 14th minute when he guided the ball into the bottom corner.
CM: Conor Hourihane - 6
Got booked early on for a rash tackle, so had to watch himself for the rest of the game. Wasn’t involved as much as Bruce would have liked.
CM: Jack Grealish - 9
Middlesbrough’s players just couldn’t cope with Grealish’s pace and skill tonight. The highlight was one blinding run from the edge of Villa’s box to Middlesbrough’s box, dodging three rough challenges along the way.
LM: Albert Adomah - 6
Another very average showing from the Ghanaian today. Got into a decent position on a number of occasions, but the quality in his crosses was lacking.
ST: Lewis Grabban - 6
His hold up play was decent, but he never got a sight on goal during his time on the pitch.