Aston Villa vs Derby CountyEnglish Championship, KO: 15:00 May 27, 2019, Wembley
TWELVE months on from suffering play-off final torment Aston Villa once again find themselves just 90 minutes away from returning to the most lucrative league in football.
The Villans fell at the final hurdle last season against Fulham and now face Frank Lampard's Derby County at Wembley where an estimated £150 million windfall awaits the winner.
Unlike last season, Aston Villa go into this play-off final as favourites with the bookies and are 5/4 (Bet365) for the win in normal time.
Derby on the other hand are an unfancied 13/5 (Bet365) to win in 90 minutes, however if you envisage an edgy encounter which may require extra time or penalties then the draw is on offer at 23/10 (Bet 365)
Aston Villa will feel well prepared should this go the distance after successfully negotiating a semi-final shoot-out against West Brom to secure another shot at promotion at Wembley.
Despite such drama against West Brom, Dean Smith will be confident his side can prevail in normal time having seen Villa do so in 11 of their last 15 matches – a run which saw the Claret and Blue collect 31 of the final 36 Championship points on offer to them.
Furthermore, Villa disposed of Derby with ease during the regular campaign by recording 4-0 and 3-0 wins respectively.
However, the Rams are a resilient side and demonstrated that in phenomenal fashion by making history against Leeds by becoming the first Championship team to progress to the the play-off final after losing the first leg of a semi-final at home.
Coincidentally, Frank Lampard's men hadn't beaten Leeds this season prior to that improbable comeback so the fact Derby haven't beaten Villa this season won't deter the Rams in their charge to reach the top flight.
Despite only securing a play-off spot on the final day of the league season, Derby have only suffered two defeats in their last 14 outings, so like Villa, they will head to Wembley high in confidence.
A noticeable sub-plot to this showdown is that Frank Lampard and John Terry will be in opposing dugouts and in adding to that Ashley Cole will more than likely fill in for the suspended Scott Malone at left-back in what could be the final game of Cole's illustrious career.
Whether or not this will be Cole's final run out remains to be been, but either way the 38 year old defender could have an awkward afternoon in trying to contain the pace and power of an energetic Aston Villa side.
Cole's appearances have been scarce since signing in January yet he still has a couple of cards to his name and I therefore like the look of the 7/2 (Bet365) on offer for the veteran full-back to be shown a card against vibrant Villa.
One man Cole and all of the Derby defence will struggle to tame is Aston Villa's top goalscorer Tammy Abraham who has banged in 25 goals in 37 games this term.
Such form will almost certainly see Abraham play Premier League football next season and the Chelsea loanee could well fire Villa back into the top-flight after a three year absence.
The talented 21 year old has scored five times in his last seven outings and with six of his overall tally for the season coming from the penalty spot, Abraham is attractively priced at 6/4 (Ladbrokes) to score anytime at Wembley.
Scoring goals is something both of these sides have done frequently this season, but recent history points towards the richest game in football being a low-scoring affair.
The Championship playoff final has not seen both teams score since 2012 and that can be attributed to the fact that no sporting event is more valuable to the winner.
Only two goals have been scored in the last three Championship playoff finals, however this particular encounter could prove to be a rare exception.
Free-scoring Villa have scored in all but one of their last 15 matches, yet seldom keep clean sheets, whereas County themselves are consistently involved in games that see them score as well as concede.
The short odds on offer for Both Teams To Score at 8/11 (Bet 365) would suggest that this bank holiday battle will buck the trend of recent low-scoring playoff finals.
Despite both teams possessing a lot of attacking talent, such a short a price for both teems to score is not very enticing given the tense nature of this spectacle.
However, I do believe that this final could generate more than the one goal that has become accustomed with this occasion and that Aston Villa can emerge victorious.
Therefore, with the aforementioned Abraham, as well as the gifted Jack Grealish, an alternative angle to consider is combining Aston Villa to Lift the Trophy and Over 1.5 Goals at 6/5 (Bet 365)
This English Championship match between Aston Villa and Derby County will be played on May 27, 2019 and kick off at 15:00