LONDON (Reuters) - Mile Jedinak’s first-half goal gave Aston Villa the advantage in their Championship playoff semi-final against Middlesbrough as they clinched a 1-0 first-leg win at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
The Australian’s well-placed header from a corner gave Villa a deserved lead in the 15th minute, and the visitors came close to adding a second towards the end of the first half when Robert Snodgrass struck the post.
Middlesbrough applied plenty of pressure late in the game but could not create that clear-cut chance to get themselves back in the contest.
The pair meet again at Villa Park on Tuesday for the right to play Derby County or Fulham — Derby lead 1-0 after the first leg — in the playoff final at Wembley on May 26.
“We had to defend very well,” Villa manager Steve Bruce said. “We’ve kept a clean sheet and got an advantage. But it’s a small advantage.”
Bruce restored Jack Grealish to the starting lineup and the midfielder was instrumental in giving Villa the early lead.
His cross landed right on the head of the onrushing Jedinak, who guided the ball across Boro goalkeeper Darren Randolph and into the bottom corner.
Boro upped their game after falling behind, but Britt Assombalonga failed to find the target from two good shooting positions.
Villa possessed more quality in attack, and but for a fingertip on to the post from Randolph, Snodgrass’s brilliant curling effort would have found the net just before the break.
Villa continued to remain untroubled until the latter stages, when Middlesbrough started to commit more bodies forward.
Sam Johnstone, in the Villa goal, was finally called into action in the 84th minute, as he did well to race from his line to push substitute Fabio Da Silva’s cross away from danger.
Middlesbrough’s best chance came in stoppage time, with Fabio again the danger, but he sliced wide as Villa put themselves a step closer to a Premier League return after one season in the Championship.
Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond; Editing by Neville Dalton