Aston Villa beat Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties to reach the Championship play-off final yesterday morning (Singapore time) after the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate.
Tammy Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, scored the decisive spot-kick to send Villa into a Wembley final on May 27, when they will face the winners of this morning’s clash between Derby County and Leeds United, with a lucrative spot in the English Premier League up for grabs.
Villa, relegated in 2016, will hope to avoid a repeat of last year when they lost to Fulham in the play-off final.
“The crowd made it tough tonight with the atmosphere but, in the end, I felt we ran out worthy winners,” Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, who converted his penalty, told Sky Sports.
“It’s no good getting to Wembley and falling at the final hurdle again, so fingers crossed. All of us are very hungry and have good legs in us.”
Villa manager Dean Smith said his side deserved to be in the final, but reminded them that they have achieved nothing yet.
“We deserved to win over the two legs, I believe,” Smith said.
“Everyone is elated to reach the play-off final. We’ve earned that moment, but we also know there’s one game to go as well. We’ve not done anything yet.”
Villa won the first leg 2-1 at home, but Craig Dawson’s first-half header levelled it up for West Brom who had finished four points above Villa in the regular season.
The hosts had Chris Brunt sent off with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, but goalkeeper Sam Johnstone made a stunning reflex save to deny Albert Adomah and take the tie into extra time.
Villa laid siege to the West Brom goal in the extra 30 minutes and could have had a late penalty for handball, but the 10-man Baggies held firm to take it to penalties.
Visiting goalkeeper Jed Steer put Villa in control with great saves from Mason Holgate and Ahmed Hegazi.
“There’s obviously a lot of luck involved but wow – we practise penalties, so I must’ve faced 100 a day the last few days,” Steer said.
After Grealish made it 3-1, Adomah could have sealed it for the Villans, but lifted his kick over the bar.
James Morrison beat Steer to pile the pressure on, but Abraham found the net via Johnstone’s leg to spark celebrations among the away fans.
The Championship play-off final is regarded as the most lucrative match in world football with last year’s clash between Fulham and Villa worth about £170 million (S$300m) even if, as in Fulham’s case, the winners are relegated after one season in the top flight.