Aston Villa won the European Cup on May 26 in 1982 and 36 years on they will hope the date carries significance again.

Villa are heading for Wembley to face Fulham in the Championship play-off final after coming through a contest against Middlesbrough that drained legs and minds.

Holding a 1-0 advantage from the Riverside first leg, Villa were never going to be in for anything other than a thorough examination from Tony Pulis’s side.

Jubilant Villa supporters invaded the pitch following the final whistle on Tuesday night

Jubilant Villa supporters invaded the pitch following the final whistle on Tuesday night

Jubilant Villa supporters invaded the pitch following the final whistle on Tuesday night

Home supporters taunt visiting fans after they reached the play-off final at Wembley

Home supporters taunt visiting fans after they reached the play-off final at Wembley

Home supporters taunt visiting fans after they reached the play-off final at Wembley

Stewart Downing hit the bar as Middlesbrough were beaten by Aston Villa in the play-offs

Lewis Grabban missed a couple of good chances but Villa still reached the final on Tuesday

Lewis Grabban missed a couple of good chances but Villa still reached the final on Tuesday

Lewis Grabban missed a couple of good chances but Villa still reached the final on Tuesday

MATCH DETAILS 

ASTON VILLA (4-1-4-1)

Johnstone 6; Bree 7.5, Chester 8.5, Terry 7.5, Hutton 8; Jedinak 8; Snodgrass 8, Hourihane 7 (Whelan 85), Grealish 8, Adomah 7; Grabban 7.5 (Kodjia 79) 

Subs not used: Samba, Hogan, Onomah, Bunn

Yellow cards: Hutton, Snodgrass, Grealish, Johnstone

Manager: Steve Bruce 8

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-3-3)

Randolph 8; Shotton 7 (Fabio 82), Fry 7, Gibson 8, Friend 6.5; Clayton 6.5, Besic 7; Traore 7, Howson 6.5 (Gestede 73, 6), Downing 6.5; Assombalonga 7 (Bamford 68, 6) 

Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Leadbitter, Cranie, Harrison 

Yellow cards: Friend, Besic

Manager: Tony Pulis 7

Referee: Mike Dean 

Attendance: 40,505

There were plenty of anxious moments for Steve Bruce as Boro kept the game goalless. The case of the ex loomed large as three former players lined up in opposition.

And Villa were fortunate in the extreme three minutes from time when referee Mike Dean only booked Sam Johnstone for handling outside the area. The Villa goalkeeper stopped what appeared a goalbound shot from Adama Traore, the former Villa winger. Stewart Downing then smacked the crossbar with his free-kick.

But ultimately Villa deserved to progress to the £170million match. Their endeavour was exemplary, determined that if they could not break Boro down they were sure as damn not going to concede.

James Chester was immaculate against the manager who deemed him inadequate for West Bromwich Albion.

Failure to go up is not really an option for Bruce, who wants to stay on whatever but knows another season in the Championship will come at significant cost cutting. The club may not get a better chance than now. 

Middlesbrough forward Britt Assombalonga is put under pressure by Villa's Conor Hourihane

Middlesbrough forward Britt Assombalonga is put under pressure by Villa's Conor Hourihane

Middlesbrough forward Britt Assombalonga is put under pressure by Villa’s Conor Hourihane

Jack Grealish dribbles as Ryan Shotton and Adam Traore look to close the winger down

Jack Grealish dribbles as Ryan Shotton and Adam Traore look to close the winger down

Jack Grealish dribbles as Ryan Shotton and Adam Traore look to close the winger down

The Villa starlet was later denied by a stunning Darren Randolph save during the second half

The Villa starlet was later denied by a stunning Darren Randolph save during the second half

The Villa starlet was later denied by a stunning Darren Randolph save during the second half

The Villa manager has endured a terrible personal time recently, losing both his father and mother in the space of 88 days, but has carried on his duties with great dignity and drive.

Two of his four promotions to the Premier League with Birmingham and Hull came via the play-offs and given the professionalism of his side in this semi-final you would not bet against him getting a hat-trick, even against a fine Fulham side.

Villa fans certainly believe, invading the pitch at the end to spark claret and blue flares and carry Jack Grealish off on their shoulders.

The stadium had begun the evening expectant. The second tier of the Trinity Stand was open so the stadium held a rare capacity crowd and the atmosphere went up a notch too.

The minute’s applause at the terribly sad passing of Jlloyd Samuel fed into a roar as the match kicked off and Villa started with an intensity to get the tie decided. 

Middlesbrough's Adam Clayton slides into a challenge on Villa midfielder Robert Snodgrass

Middlesbrough's Adam Clayton slides into a challenge on Villa midfielder Robert Snodgrass

Middlesbrough’s Adam Clayton slides into a challenge on Villa midfielder Robert Snodgrass

Villa boss Steve Bruce dishes out instructions to his side during Tuesday night's second leg

Villa boss Steve Bruce dishes out instructions to his side during Tuesday night's second leg

Villa boss Steve Bruce dishes out instructions to his side during Tuesday night’s second leg

Shotton gets in front of Snodgrass to win the ball back for the away side in the first half

Shotton gets in front of Snodgrass to win the ball back for the away side in the first half

Shotton gets in front of Snodgrass to win the ball back for the away side in the first half

Bruce’s team snapped into tackles and pinned Boro back but failed to create a clear chance.

Then, as anticipated, home nerves began to jangle as the visitors built into the contest. A 1-0 lead is never much of a comfort blanket against a Pulis team.

Jonny Howson wasted a free header, and had Britt Assombalonga reacted quicker to a Ryan Shotton long throw Boro would have scored.

George Friend launched into a late challenge on Sam Johnstone after losing the ball in the area and was fortunate to only be yellow carded.

Ten minutes before the break Villa finally countered to effect when Albert Adomah sprung clear to cross. But Friend produced a goal-saving block as Conor Hourihane looked primed to tap in.

Chester then went close with a neat touch and shot from a corner but the ball whistled wide.

Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone looks to claim a cross into the box as Shotton challenges

Neither side gave an inch as they battled for a place in the play-off final against Fulham

Neither side gave an inch as they battled for a place in the play-off final against Fulham

Neither side gave an inch as they battled for a place in the play-off final against Fulham

Albert Adomah looks to work a cross in to the box as Villa tried to close out the contest

Albert Adomah looks to work a cross in to the box as Villa tried to close out the contest

Albert Adomah looks to work a cross in to the box as Villa tried to close out the contest

Before kick-off, the two teams paid their respects to Jlloyd Samuel, who died on Tuesday

Before kick-off, the two teams paid their respects to Jlloyd Samuel, who died on Tuesday

Before kick-off, the two teams paid their respects to Jlloyd Samuel, who died on Tuesday

Villa’s approach was characterised by tremendous work-rate, with Robert Snodgrass and Mile Jedinak in particular covering huge ground to stop Boro’s advances. Jack Grealish was also tracking back much more frequently than usual to help.

As ever with a Pulis team, Boro were enormously disciplined. Their manager was a picture of motion on the touchline, marshaling his players into position.

Trailing on aggregate though they had to make their chances count. So Pulis wheeled away in frustration when Mo Besic wasted a great opportunity by firing wide.

On the hour Villa put together a glistening move as Grealish fed Adomah on the overlap and when the cross arrived it looked for all the world Lewis Grabban would apply the killer touch. But Darren Randolph managed to fend away the close-range finish with his feet.

Ten minutes later Grabban tried from much further out, striking a shot from all of 30 yards that swerved and dipped and needed a palm over from Randolph.

The Boro goalkeeper was at it again 15 minutes from time, diving at full stretch to stop a long-range Grealish strike.

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