After 48 matches for Aston Villa and Derby this term, their seasons boil down to one remaining fixture.
On Bank Holiday Monday, the two teams meet today in the play-off final at Wembley. At stake? A place in the Premier League.
The financial implications make this one of the biggest games in football. The pressure couldn’t be higher as Dean Smith’s men take on Frank Lampard’s outfit in the capital.
Who will prevail is anyone’s guess.
Going into this tie most of the omens are on Aston Villa’s side. The Rams have only ever beaten them five times. In the process, they’ve rarely scored a goal either.
It’s a shambolic record for the Derbyshire club who will be hoping to erase those memories of times gone by.
The Villans have already put Derby to the sword on two occasions this term, defeating them 3-0 and 4-0 throughout 2018/19.
However, in terms of play-off finals, Lampard’s side may have the upper hand. They were victorious in the play-off final back in 2007 when a solitary goal from Matt Oakley was enough for them to see off West Brom.
Villa, on the other hand, tasted defeat at Wembley this time last year, losing to Fulham.
Jack Grealish and Mason Mount have been two of the most exciting players to watch in the Championship this season and will therefore hold the key on Monday.
This may well be his last appearance in a Villa shirt. If it is he’ll be looking for a fitting send-off after already being named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
As for Mount, he’s been exceptional since arriving on loan from Chelsea. The midfielder averages a very healthy 2.5 shots per game and his goal threat, as well as his ability to pick a pass, will be massive if Derby are to have any chance of breaking down Villa’s barricades.
Paul Tierney comes into the play-off final having only refereed one Championship clash all campaign, a 2-0 win for Bristol City over Stoke.
This will be the first major final he’s taken charge of, having only refereed an FA Youth Cup final in his career to date.
Tierney has only shown one red card all season so the omens are good in that regard. However, he does average quite a high percentage of bookings per game so that could be something to look out for, particularly with the play-off final likely to be a feisty affair.
Villa have two injury concerns going into the play-off final with Orjan Nylan definitely ruled out. James Chester is a doubt but it was highly unlikely he’d start anyway.
The main selection dilemma for Smith will come at right wing. In wide positions this term his players have been particularly inconsistent. Anwar El Ghazi has been the stand out performer so it’s assumed he’ll keep his place. On the right, however, Andre Green and Albert Adomah will be fighting for a starting place, but we expect the latter will replace the former in the XI today.
Conor Hourihane is likely to play over Glenn Whelan too. The latter made a horrendous error in the play-off semi-final first leg, gifting the ball to Dwight Gayle who then went onto score.
For Derby, their main issue will be at left back after Scott Malone was sent off against Leeds last time out.
That means that Ashley Cole will have a monumental task on his hands. At the age of 38, he’s been away from games of this magnitude for some time so will have to rely on all of his experience to keep Villa at bay.
Jack Marriott, scorer of two goals when Derby played Leeds, is set for his first start since March.