Pulis heads for Boro exit

Middlesbrough have decided to part company with manager Tony Pulis after opting not to renew his contract at the Riverside.

Pulis took charge of Boro on Boxing Day 2017 and led the Teessiders into the Championship play-off semi-finals a few months later, where they lost out 1-0 on aggregate to Aston Villa.

This season they missed out on a top-six finish, ending up in seventh place – one point behind Derby County – with a run of six straight defeats between March and April proving decisive.

Chairman Steve Gibson told the club's official website: "Two years ago we invested heavily in the squad in terms of transfer fees and salaries in an attempt to regain our Premier League status. This happened before Tony's arrival.

"Over the past 18 months Tony has been proactive, not only in the ambition to win football matches and promotion to the Premier League, but also in addressing our financial position in order to comply and respect the Championship Fair Play criteria.

"He has ensured that the club is stable and strong for the future. He leaves us in excellent condition."

Meanwhile, Aston Villa and Derby will meet in the Championship play-off final, with a place in the Premier League at stake at Wembley on Monday 27th May.

The Villans are 8/13 to secure promotion, with the Rams available at 13/10.

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Resilient Rams reach Wembley

Derby County will play Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final on 27th May after beating Leeds United on an action-packed night at Elland Road.

Frank Lampard's side produced an exhilarating display in the second leg after losing the first match at home 1-0 and eventually won through 4-3 on aggregate.

It was certainly not plain-sailing for the Rams though as they fell a goal behind on the night and 2-0 down on aggregate on the before being handed a lifeline when Jack Marriott was introduced as a substitute just before half time.

He scored 33 seconds after coming on to the pitch and Derby netted twice more in the opening stages of the second half through Mason Mount and Harry Wilson's penalty to lead 3-2 on aggregate.

Leeds responded through Stuart Dallas' second goal of the second leg only for Marriott's late winner to confirm Derby's place at Wembley.

Lampard said: "Jack's been really good for us this season. I just felt in the last couple of months, in terms of what I really want from Jack, what can make him the player he was here, is the absolute ethic to do everything as an all-round striker.

"He's not the tallest. He's strong in terms of stockiness, but he needs to work without the ball, to have a hunger and desire constantly.

"It means such a great deal. To get into the play-offs after such a great run and to go 1-0 down and do something that no team has ever done in the play-offs after losing the first leg at home. In terms of personal achievement, the feeling is as much as I've had in football.

"It's not the personal achievement of being able to win stuff at Chelsea, but in terms of how I feel right now, it's up there."

Derby can be backed at 13/10 to be promoted to the Premier League this season while Villa are available at 8/13.

Grealish hopes to make amends

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish says his side have to make the most of their return to Wembley for a second successive Championship play-off final.

Villa edged through 4-3 on penalties against neighbours West Brom after their semi-final tie had ended locked at 2-2 on aggregate, with the Baggies winning the second leg 1-0 at The Hawthorns after losing out 2-1 in the first leg at Villa Park.

That gives Grealish and his colleagues an opportunity to make amends for a 1-0 Wembley defeat at the hands of Fulham just under 12 months ago.

Grealish told the club's official website: "It's massive to get there again. I was part of it last time, we know how it feels to lose. I have the experience of it.

"It's no good going on a good run and then going to Wembley and falling at the final hurdle again. I truly believe we can get promoted."

Meanwhile, Villans boss Dean Smith admitted to be being disappointed that, although a Wembley return had been secured, his side had lost for only the second time in their last 15 games.

He added: "We deserved it, but the disappointing for me was not winning. I couldn't believe we lost the game, that's our (second) defeat since losing at Brentford in February."

Villa will play the winner of the tie between Leeds United and Derby County, with the former holding a 1-0 lead heading into their home second leg at Elland Road.

The Villans are 5/6 to be promoted to the Premier League, with Leeds available at 5/4 and Derby 12/1.

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Smith vows to go on the attack

Dean Smith has said his Aston Villa side will not sit back on their 2-1 lead when they travel to face West Brom in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg.

Smith watched as his side recovered from going a goal behind to a Dwight Gayle strike in the first half at Villa Park on Saturday as two goals in the space of three minutes from Conor Hourihane and a Tammy Abraham penalty handed Villa a slender lead for Tuesday's trip to the Hawthorns.

And, while some teams could be tempted to set up defensively in a bid to try and protect their lead in the second leg, Smith is adamant that will not be the case for his players.

The former Brentford and Walsall manager, who expects to have a full squad at his disposal, told the club's official website: "I won't be sat behind the ball as much as Albion were. My aim is to go and win the game. We'll be looking to score more goals.

"I said before that the tie couldn't be won in the first leg. We've given ourselves an advantage, but that's all it is. We've got to go and perform at The Hawthorns now.

"It'll be a different game. I can't see them playing how they did (at Villa Park).

"We've got to go there full of confidence. There's a lot of belief in this team, that's for sure."

Villa, who lost the play-off final against Fulham 12 months ago, are 31/20 to win and 2/7 to qualify for the final, while West Brom are 15/8 to win and 5/2 to book their place at Wembley.

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Shan tells Albion to buck up

West Brom caretaker boss Jimmy Shan has warned his players to buck their ideas up for their Championship play-off semi-final against neighbours Aston Villa.

Shan was speaking after seeing the Baggies round off their regular season campaign with a 3-1 defeat at Derby County, who claimed the fourth and final play-off place for themselves in the process.

The Rams move on to face Leeds United, while Shan is seeking to reignite the spark in time for the showdown with the Villans.

He told the Express & Star: "We need to make sure we prepare in training and perform a hell of a lot better than that to have some success against Villa.

"I spoke to the players and there was some honest assessments. Maybe, having cemented our place for so long and having the play-offs round the corner, sometimes that can act as a bit of a distraction.

"That distraction has gone now, there's no excuse and we know exactly who we're up against."

Albion claimed a 2-0 win at Villa Park in mid-February, when Hal Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez were their goalscorers, while the meeting of the two sides at The Hawthorns ended in a 2-2 draw in early December.

The Baggies are 5/2 to gain a draw in the first leg of the play-off semi-final at Villa Park on Saturday, with the visitors 10/3 to keep a clean sheet.

Meanwhile, West Brom are 21/20 to reach the play-off final, with Villa available at 7/10.

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Farke: We’re ahead of schedule

Norwich City manager Daniel Farke admitted after the 2-1 victory at Aston Villa that his side's achievements this season had come as a surprise to him.

The Canaries have won the Championship title just 12 months after finishing in a mid-table spot and then selling their best player – James Maddison – to Leicester City.

Norwich won at Aston Villa thanks to an early goal from Teemu Pukki and a late Mario Vrancic effort after Jonathan Kodjia had grabbed the home team's equaliser.

Farke said: "The title is the icing on the cake. It fits our season to win the title at Villa Park against a side that was on fire before. To be able to lift the trophy at this amazing ground is a fantastic feeling. It is a proud moment for the club as each and every player worked so hard for this ending.

"These moments don't come that often and we will never forget this moment.

"We know that we are probably three or four years ahead of schedule to build something for this club but we will take it. [Sporting director] Stuart Webber said we have climbed Mount Everest and now we have to try and climb it again."

Villa face West Brom in the Championship play-off semi-finals and are 3/4 to reach the Wembley final while Leeds United, who face Derby County, can be backed at 1/2.

Lampard says Rams underdogs

Frank Lampard said his Derby County side would be underdogs when they take on Leeds United in the Championship play-off semi-final.

In his first season in management Lampard has guided the Rams to a final place of sixth in the Championship, a position they confirmed with victory over West Brom in the last day of the Championship regular season.

It means a home leg against Leeds United next Saturday followed by the return game at Elland Road on the 15th May.
 
It will be Derby's fourth play-off opportunity in the last six years, the other three ending in disappointment and Lampard said his side would be underdogs this time against a Leeds side who finished third, nine points ahead of the Rams.

Lampard said afterwards: "We're underdogs. I don't want to think about anything past Leeds. They're a fantastic team.

"They will be two massive games for us. We've got our work cut out."

The former England international said it was a great achievement to secure a play-off alongside Leeds, Aston Villa and West Brom.

West Brom were already sure of a place in the top-six ahead of their trip to Derby but the home side needed a victory to be certain and they took the lead through Martyn Waghorn after 20 minutes.

The Baggies equalised early in the second half, Stefan Johansen getting their goal but Derby went back in front through Mason Bennett and three minutes later sealed victory with a contentious penalty converted by Harry Wilson.

West Brom, who finished fourth and play local rivals Aston Villa in the semi-finals, were dealt a blow with Hal Robson-Kanu sent off meaning his participation in the semi-finals is in doubt.

Derby are 6/4 to win their home leg next weekend with Leeds 17/10 and the draw is priced at 12/5.

Leeds are 15/8 to get promotion via the play-offs while Derby can be backed at 9/2.

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Grealish told to play in top flight

England manager Gareth Southgate has told Jack Grealish that he may not get a chance at international level unless he plays regularly in the Premier League.

The Aston Villa midfielder has seven caps for England at under-21 level but has not yet received a call-up for the senior squad.

He last played in the top flight for Villa in 2016 but they have failed to win promotion since, losing in the Championship play-off final last season.

Grealish was then linked with a move away from Villa Park, Tottenham making bids that were rejected in the summer. The midfielder then pledged his future to Villa, signing a new five-year contract.

However, Southgate says that, if he is to achieve his international ambitions, Grealish will have to either get promoted with Villa or seek a move to a Premier League club.

The England boss said: "Although we can see the quality, when the evidence of the opponent is a different level, that's where it's hard to directly correlate what that's going to look like at a level above.

"With Callum [Hudson-Odoi], he's playing Europa League, he's playing Premier League – that does make a difference."

Southgate added that, as an ex-Villa player himself, he hoped to see Grealish and the club back in the top flight before too long.

Meanwhile Southgate is preparing his side to face Montenegro away in the Euro 2020 qualifiers on Monday night.

His side top Group A after starting their campaign with a 5-0 win at home to the Czech Republic on Friday, Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick.

They are 1/3 for the win on Monday with Montenegro 10/1 and the draw 7/2.

Sterling is 15/8 to score at any time on Monday while England are 7/1 to win the game 3-0.

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Monk desperate for derby glory

Birmingham City manager Garry Monk is optimistic about his team's chances of ending their dismal recent run against Aston Villa when they face their local rivals on Sunday.

The Blues have failed to win any of the last 14 derbies against Villa.

However, City are in a buoyant frame of mind having surged up the table after starting the season poorly and are 7/4 to beat Villa.

"We're all really looking forward to it," said former Swansea City, Middlesbrough and Leeds United boss Monk. "Everybody knows it's the first game you look for home and away, and this promises to be a special one at a packed St Andrew's.

"But as much as it's about bragging rights and the fans, three points is the most important thing.

"Their (Villa's) remit is to be promoted, ours is slightly different – but none of that matters in this game.

"I've got no doubt we've got the characters that will thrive in the atmosphere. You can never predict derbies because we've all seen so many different ones and things change very quickly in derbies, even during the games."

Mid-table Villa can be backed at 17/10 to beat Birmingham on Sunday.

Lampard rues loss of King

Derby County will be without loanee Andy King for the rest of the season due to an ankle injury sustained in the 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest.

Thirty-year-old Wales international midfielder King joined the Rams right at the end of the January transfer window and made four appearances before seeing his campaign ended early by an injury which may require surgery.

County manager Frank Lampard told his club's official website: "We don't know the specifics yet, but the injury will take him to the end of the season.

"As we look at it now, we will miss him. He will go back there to work on his rehab and maybe speak to a surgeon on whether he needs surgery or not.

"We are a little up in the air at the moment, but it is a significant enough injury to rule him out.

"It adds to the injury list, particularly in midfield where we had injected a lot this season in terms of energy and quality.

"Some players who were here already that have done well – Tom Lawrence, Craig Bryson – and others who have come in – Mason Mount and Andy."

Having won only one of their last five Championship games, the Rams stand one place and two points outside the play-off places.

Their next games comes on Saturday when they head to Villa Park to take on Aston Villa, who have also suffered a loss of form in recent times – having not won in five league outings.

Derby can be backed at 12/5 to defeat the Villans, with a 1-1 draw priced at 11/2 and a 2-2 final scoreline 12/1.

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