One of the most important matches in the English football calendar rounds off the 2018-19 season at Wembley this Bank Holiday Monday as Aston Villa and fellow Midlands outfit Derby County clash for a place in the Premier League.
The Championship play-off final (Sky Sports, kick-off: 15:00 BST) is worth around £170,000,000 to the winners, while the losers must continue in the second tier next term.
This year’s edition us full of subplots. It’s John Terry versus Frank Lampard and Chelsea loanees representing oth teams in a battle for redemption.
Villa are managed by Birmingham local Dean Smith, who has kept predecessor Steve Bruce’s assistant Terry on the staff.
They came up short against Fulham 12 months ago losing to a captain’s goal from Tom Cairney on the hallowed turf.
Of those Villans just beaten in the last Championship play-off final, 13 of the squad remain on hand to make amends and end a three-year absence from the Premier League.
Six of Derby’s players who went down 1-0 to QPR in the 2014 edition are still at Pride Park and looking to right the wrongs from five years ago.
While there’s little to choose between these Midlands rivals on paper with Villa finishing the regular Championship campaign just two points and place above the Rams, bookmakers have them down as favourites.
Tammy Abraham, one of those Chelsea loanees, has proven himself a prolific goalscorer at this level and only Teemu Pukki for second tier champions Norwich has scored more this season.
That firepower, coupled with the guile of midfield trip Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn, means Villa look well worth backing at 21/20 with Bethard to win in 90 minutes.
Villa did double during regular season
Although this is a one-off game, Smith’s side did the double over Derby during the regular season in very convincing fashion.
After winning at Pride Park 3-0 back in November scoring all the goals in 10 second half minutes, Villa then cruised to a 4-0 home victory in which they had the match won before the interval.
Despite having one of the strongest and deepest midfields in the division this season including young Mason Mount on loan from Chelsea, County are rated considerable underdogs here.
The Rams’ play-off final record is only one win from three with that sole success coming in 2007 when they edged West Bromwich Albion and then went on to pick up a record low Premier League points tally the following season.
Derby boss Frank Lampard, who is linked with replacing Maurizio Sarri in the Stamford Bridge hotseat should he return to Italy, faces a big challenge in what is still his first year in management.
One key stat that gives Villa real hope is that nine of 11 previous beaten play-off finalists earned promotion in the following season.
Abraham and Hourihane scored and home away against County this season, so that suggests they have the beating of Derby’s defenders.
Only Norwich and West Brom – the team Villa beat in the semis – netted more goals during the regular season and they thus look capable of outscoring a Rams side that twice drew blanks against them in the Championship.
Plenty points to the Villans ending years of misery here, and it’s for that reason we suggest you side with them to atone for last year’s play-off pain.
Bet of the Day: 21/20 with Bethard, Aston Villa to win the Championship Play-off Final in 90 minutes.