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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021


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It’s the Richest Game in Football, as Derby County and Aston Villa square off in the Championship play-off at Wembley for the glory of earning fantastical amounts of money…oh, and the actual sporting glory of playing in the Premier League.

It’s an intriguing tie, with the fabulous sub-plot of Frank Lampard (Derby County manager) versus John Terry (Aston Villa assistant) on the sideline.

There is plenty of Irish interest, too. Derby will have Richard Keogh as captain  and 18-year-old Irish prospect Jason Knight on the fringes of their squad, while Villa have Conour Hourihane, Glenn Whelan and Jack Greal- okay, sorry, that’s the last reference we’ll make to that.

But there are so many questions to answer: Who will go up, and who will be left to play Leeds next season?  The Championship has been largely bonkers all season, so will it finish with another wild flourish? And will John Terry go full, shinpads-and-all kit if Villa win out?

 Follow our live coverage of the game here on The42, and get involved: email, tweet @gcooney93 or get involved below the line.

Kick off is at 3pm, so team news is coming up….

Team News 

No surprises for Aston Villa, with Conor Hourihane preferred to Glenn Whelan in midfield. Jack Grealish is the captain. 


Richard Keogh captains Derby, with Ashley Cole (age 38!) starting at left-back in place of suspended Scott Malone. 


If you’re wondering why this game is taking place while you’re struggling to shake off your weekend at work – it’s the Spring Bank Holiday in the UK. 

So Ashley Cole starts today’s play-off at grand old age of 38. (Okay, we’re speaking in relative terms.) It’s his 34th game at Wembley, and previous club visits have yielded the FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield. 

Derby County v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship Play-off - Final - Wembley Stadium Source: Tim Goode

Aston Villa tasted this game only last year, but were beaten 1-0 by Fulham…who went on to disgrace themselves in the Premier League. 

Only four of Villa’s starting XI last year will kick-off today’s game: Ahmed Elmohamady, Albert Adomah, Jack Grealish and Conor Hourihane. 

Derby, meanwhile, are in the play-off final for the first time since 2014, a game they lost 1-0 to QPR. 

Only Richard Keogh survives from that game, and today could be a personal redemption story for him. Derby lost that game in the final minute to a Bobby Zamora goal…made possible by a horrible error by Keogh. 

Source: Queens Park Rangers FC/YouTube

So - How much is this game worth? 

Deloitte – who are, in football parlance, the Boffins of this enterprise – estimate that the game is worth £170 million (€192 million) to the winners. If they manage to stay up in their first season in the top flight, then it’s worth about £300 million. 

Villa are in this final thanks to a stunning, ten-game winning run under Dean Smith. The game that kicked off that streak? A 4-0 win over Derby. 

The side’s other meeting this season, at Pride Park wasn’t quite as emphatic – just the 3-0 win for Villa on that occasion. 

On top of that, Villa finished ahead of Derby in the final table this season – albeit by just two points. 

Given all of that, you may not be surprised that Villa are rated as favourites to win today. 

“Not only can this game define these club’s seasons, but also their futures” yammers Sky presenter Scott Minto. 

“…certainly in the short-to-medium term”, he adds a bit needlessly. 

Given that the Championship is a fundamentally berserk thing, play-off finals are often – and surprisingly – low-scoring. You have to go back to Norwich’s 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in 2015 for the last time a team scored more than once, and 2012 for the last one in which both teams scored – that was West Ham’s 2-1 win over Blackpool. 

Right, the teams are on their way out of the tunnel. 

Not long to go now…

Sides are out and lined up, as God Save The Queen kicks into gear. Camera pans to Prince William. No sign of David Cameron yet – although maybe understandable as he often forgets he is meant to a Villa fan. 

Early test for Ashley Cole at left-back: John McGinn knocks the ball around him and tries to beat him for pace…but ends up fouling him. A triumph of experience, there. 


Villa are dominating early on, and are already found pockets of space around the Derby midfield diamond. Now we’ve got a Hourihane free-kick…


…with everyone expecting a hoik into the box, Hourihane plays it down the wing, and wins a corner.


Scramble! The corner isn’t cleared at all by Derby, and it breaks kindly for Villa’s Tuanzebe…who swipes at fresh air! Derby eventually clear. Big early chance for Villa! 


Ooooof! Grealish goes close. Derby ‘keeper Roos hooks a dreadful clearance straight to Villa midfielder McGinn, who picks out Grealish. Having jinked inside to a central area, he can only slice hit shot over the crossbar. Disappointing end product from Grealish, but it’s all Villa. 


Derby get a bit of relief by winning a free-kick on the right hand side, just inside their own half. It pinballs around the area and Villa eventually win a free-kick with Tomori penalised for a high foot. 


Chance for Derby, as Bogle raids down the right wing and pulls the ball into the box for Mason Bennett, who plays a neat dummy to…nobody. Poor, but Derby have stabalised a bit after a rocky start. 


A minute of pure, distilled Keogh. He makes the most of a poor square pass by Tomori to dribble into midfield and lay off neatly to Harry Wilson, who loses the ball. El Ghazi then breaks down the left wing, leaves the Derby defence for dead..but for Keogh to materalise and execute an inch-perfect slide tackle in the penalty area. 

Derby deal – nervously – with the corner. 


Another Villa corner, this time cleared at the near-post. The ball breaks for John McGinn – who we know can hit one – but he screws his volley wide of the right post. 


“Now very much a valued member of the coaching staff at Aston Villa”, the Sky commentator assures us of John Terry. 


Grealish has been given allowance to drift and roam in search of the ball, and has popped up deep on the right in the last couple of minutes. He can’t hurt Derby from there…


Fantastic challenge by Hourihane denies Tom Lawrence a shot from the edge of the box. Nabbed it off his toe just as he the Derby attacked was about to hit it. 


Decent chance for Villa, as El Mohamedy pulls the ball back for McGinn on the edge of the box, but his touch is heavy and the ball disappears with Tom Huddlestone. Derby eventually win a free-kick just inside the Villa half.


Now they have a free-kick in a much more dangerous position. It’s wide on the right flank, as El Ghazi tugged down Bogle, for which he was booked. Harry Wilson standing over it…


…he floats it over everybody and out of play. Dreadful. 


Nervy, nervy Villa. Mings plays an almost square pass back to left-footed ‘keeper Jed Steer, who skews his right-footed clearance out of play. The throw-in comes to nowt. 


Mings – an impressive player at this level – cuts out a pull-back into the box from Mason Bennett. 


Derby are on top now. Villa have dropped slightly deeper, and Derby have had 65% of the ball in the last 10 minutes. Not much to show for it so far…


And that’s much better from Villa. Tammy Abraham slaloms into the penalty area, and curls his shot over the bar. That’s his first touch in the box all afternoon, but with Keogh and Tomori dropping off, direct running may be something Villa will repeat sooner rather than later. 


El Ghazi does so straight away! He picks the ball up on the half-way line and strolls through the challenge of one…two…three…four Derby defenders before Huddelstone finally wins the ball in the six-yard box.


A shot on target! Mason Mount from distance, right at Jed Steer. It was comfortable for the goalkeeper but hey, small mercies…


Derby win a corner! Buckle up…


Keogh heads over from said corner! He had wriggled himself a bit of space and was just in front of the penalty spot, he should have done a bit better. 


El Mohamedy slings one of those crossed from deep on the right wing for El Gahzi, who heads over himself. 



The El Mohamedy/El Ghazi combo works this time for Villa! Hourihane plays a smart, first-time pass down the right wing for Admoah, who holds the ball up and knocks it back for El Mohamedy.

He whips the ball into the box, and El-Ghazi steals in ahead of dawdling right-back Bogle to stoop and glance the ball into the corner off the very top of his shoulder. 

What a time to score! 


Villa lead, and while they look to be the more dangerous team, they haven’t done a whole lot in the game. Derby, however, have done less. The introduction of Jack Marriott tiled the semi-final in Derby’s favour, will Frank Lampard play the same card at half-time at Wembley? 

They need something more going forward. 


No changes for either side at half-time. 


Superb play by Abraham, who picks the ball up at one end of the centre-circle and is chopped down by Mason Bennett by the time he reaches the other end of it. Bennet is booked, and the free-kick comes to nothing. 


Now Hourihane is booked for clipping Wilson’s heels. 


Tempers flare. Grealish is fouled in midfield by Huddlestone, and he reacts angrily. There’s a bit of pushing and shoving, but it is defused by referee Paul Tierney. Nobody so much as booked. 


This game is very ragged now. Smart play buy Villa is brought to an emphatic end by Derby’s Tomori, who clatters into McGinn. Now he’s booked. 


Oh my word, nearly a nightmare for Derby ‘keeper Roos. Keogh rolls the ball back to him, but he dallies on the ball, and just as it looks as he is about to lose the ball to Abraham, he kicks the ball out for a throw-in. Awful stuff. 


El-Ghazi wins a free-kick on the left flank. Hourihane to take…


…Roos comes out to deal with it, flicking it beyond the onrushing Mings. Good delivery. 


Villa much the better team in the second-half so far. Derby have offered nothing, and don’t look like scoring. 


McGinn releases Abraham, but Tomori matches his run and – having lost his footing – does well to nick the ball from him in the box. 



It’s a horror show from the goalkeeper Roos. El-Ghazi cuts in from the left, and sees his shot blocked. It spins into the air and drops on the edge of the six-yard box. Roos comes out and waits for it to drop into his arms – he doesn’t even raise them! – and McGinn steals in to nudge the ball beyond him, and into the net. 

Credit McGinn’s perseverance, but it’s awful goalkeeping. 


The camera lingered on Richard Keogh’s dejected reaction to that second goal, it looks unlikely that he will get his play-off redemption story after all. 

Change for Derby – Huddlestone is off, Jack Marriott is on. 


Marriott was superb against Leeds – but that was a game in which Derby were creating chances and looking dangerous. They’ve done nothing so far, and Villa are looking very comfortable. 


Grealish finds space on the edge of the box, but pulls a tame shot wide. 


Better from Derby! Bennett scampers down the right, but his low cross is played behind Marriott. 


Another change for Derby – off goes Mason Bennett for Martyn Waghorn. 


Bogle – who has had a tough day – shoves over Neil Taylor. Villa free-kick, which they take quickly and keep the ball moving among themselves. McGinn then plays a lovely cross-field ball to El-Ghazi, in oceans of room. 

He oddly elects to shoot from distance, and tamely at Roos. Not even he can drop that one. 


Chance Derby! Bogle gets in behind the Villa right-back, and rifles a shot into the side-netting. Waghorn was unmarked on the penalty spot – why didn’t he pull the ball back!? 


Derby now beginning to pile on some pressure, and Mount shoots wide from the edge of the box. 

Villa respond with a substitute – Adomah (anonymous throughout) makes way for Andre Green. 


And a final change for Derby – Florian Jozefzoon on for Tom Lawrence. 


An image of the error that led to Villa’s second goal. 

Aston Villa v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play-off - Final - Wembley Stadium Source: Mike Egerton


Great goalkeeping by Jed Steer – rushing out to smother a long ball that might just have landed kindly for Waghorn. 


Derby have a corner! El Mohamedy blocks Jozefzoon’s cross. Wilson to take….


Close! The ball pinballs about from the corner, and Marriott swivels and volleys the ball inches wide of Steer’s left-hand post. Derby are (belatedly) beginning to look threatening…


Villa miss the chance to seal it! Hourihane cuts the ball out in midfield, and releases El-Ghazi. As he drives forward, Grealish pops up on his left, who takes the ball and chooses to try and cut the ball back for El-Ghazi rather than shooting. Derby cut it out, break and ultimately Wilson sends a shot wildly over the crossbar.


Jozefzoon forces a corner. Wilson’s ball isn’t dealt with, as Steer fumbles the ball. Eventually McGinn nods the ball behind for a corner. Derby go again…


Bogle shoots just wide from distance! 



Game on!

A long ball over the Villa defence picks out Waghorn, and one-on-one he is denied brilliantly by Mings. Jozefzoon keeps the ball alive, and whips the ball into the box. It’s nodded down by Bogle to Marriott, who calmly polks the ball into the corner.

What a finish in store at Wembley! 


Huge blow for Villa – Tyrone Mings, their outstanding defender – is limping off having injured himself in that challenge with Waghorn. He won’t be able to continue.  Villa briefly with 10 men as they prep a sub…


Villa back to 11 men – off goes Mings, and on comes Kortney Hause. 


Jozefzoon gets himself tangled with, er, himself down the right-wing and loses possession. El-Ghazi skims past Keogh on the left-wing for Villa, but his low cross comes to nothing. Derby desperately try to break but end up conceding  a free-kick on the half-way line…which they take their sweet time over. Much to Lampard’s annoyance. 


El-Ghazi gives up chasing a hopeless hoiked pass into the channels to try and tally the Villa fans. More effective is the Villa fan on the pitch – Grealish wins a free-kick on the edge of the box after Derby lost possession again. 


Time is Derby’s enemy now, that three-minute injury delay after their goal has sapped some of their momentum. 


Here come Derby! Waghorn slaloms into the box, and is blocked! the ball is back for Wilson, who jinks, shimmies…and has his shot blocked! Villa survive! 


SEVEN minutes of added time at Wembley! 


Harry Wilson is booked, meanwhile, for a foul. Another free-kick for Villa…which they give away! Marriott scampers down the right-wing…and his cross for Jozezfoon is too far ahead of him. 


Villa have fallen very deep now, and Bogle forces a corner off Hause. Here we go! 


Abraham heads a poor Wilson corner clear. Still Derby come forward… 


Close! Bogle hoists the ball into the penalty area, and aas the ball is headed back across goal, Steer gathers! 


Villa are clinging on. Grealish loses the ball on the edge of his own box, and ultimately Hause heads a cross clear in his own box. They are desperate for the whistle…


A breather for Villa – they catch Jozefzoon offside, and Steer takes his time in trotting over to the free-kick. Green takes that free-kick to the corner…but loses the ball immediately. Derby counter again! 


Instead of hoofing the ball, Derby run the ball through feet -and the move featured a Richard Keogh backheel! – but the resulting cross is too close to the goalkeeeper, and Steer clings onto the ball. 

Flag 90Mins



The whistle went with another offside flag, this time against Waghorn. Derby created almost nothing until they fell two behind, but once they gambled with Waghorn and Marriott up front, they caused Villa a world of trouble and, had the game lasted aonther five minutes or so, might well have forced a second goal. 

They’ve fallen short, and Villa are back in the big time. What a job Dean Smith (and, in fairness, John Terry) have done. 

Thanks for following everyone – it’s Up The Villa in a very real sense today. 


About the author:

Gavin Cooney


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