After nine gruelling months full of drama, sackings and controversy, the 2018-19 Sky Bet Championship draws to an epic close as Aston Villa meet Derby County at Wembley in the Play-Off final.
The winner will secure not only promotion to the Premier League but also earn themselves a £180m windfall, which could be key in shaping their fates next season against likes of Manchester City, Wolves and Southampton.
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Aston Villa have no fresh injury concerns coming into this tie with Manchester United loanee, Axel Tuanzebe available after recovering from an ankle knock.
James Chester is a doubt as he continues to battle a knee injury but Orjan Nyland (Achilles) is definitely ruled out.
Derby will be without Scott Malone after the left-back was sent off during the second leg of their comeback semi-final win over Leeds. Ashley Cole is therefore set to start what might be his final match as a player.
Martyn Waghorn could however return from an Achilles injury which has kept him out of the play-offs.
Aston Villa edged past West Bromwich Albion in their play-off semi-final via penalties after a 2-2 draw on aggregate, although they have lost two of their last 15 matches despite winning just once in their last four games.
Derby meanwhile came from two goals down to defeat Leeds 4-3 on aggregate to become the first team to reach the final after losing their first leg at home, having gone on a remarkable run since the international break of two losses in their last 11 matches.
- Aston Villa have lost one of their last nine meetings with Derby, suffering a 2-0 defeat at Pride Park in December 2017 (W6, D2, L1).
- Villa have scored seven goals against the Rams this season without reply across both league meetings.
- This is Derby’s third Midlands derby Play-Off Final at Wembley, having lost on two previous occasions against Leicester and West Brom respectively in 1994 and 2007.
- Aston Villa are the first team since West Ham (2004, 05) to reach consecutive Play-Off Finals and will be hoping to avoid becoming the first team since Leicester in 1992 & 93 to lose back to back Finals at Wembley.
- Derby boss – Frank Lampard won two of his last three trips to Wembley as a player with all three results being settled by one goal margins.
- Villa manager, Dean Smith has lost both of his previous trips to Wembley. Once as a player with Leyton Orient in 1998-99 Third Division Play-Off Final then as manager of Walsall in 2015 EFL Trophy Final, losing both finals without his teams scoring.
- Four of last six Championship Play-Off Finals have been settled by a single goal with three of those 1-0 wins coming after half-time, although Crystal Palace needed extra time to edge past Watford in the 2013 edition.
With promotion at stake and two in form teams, I am expecting a tight battle but Villa boast the stronger blend of youth and experience and that might just be key here.
Prediction: Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County
Result: Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County (Aston Villa are PROMOTED!!!)