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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Warnock extends Cardiff stay

Cardiff City have confirmed that Neil Warnock will stay with the club as they seek an immediate return to the Premier League.

The Bluebirds ended their single season back in the top flight at the weekend, ending with a 2-0 win at Manchester United.

City owner Vincent Tan said he wanted Warnock to remain at the club and afterwards the manager himself said that he would have another year in the Championship though he ruled out managing again in the Premier League.

Now it appears that has been confirmed with "positive" talks having taken place and chairman Mehmet Dalman said: "He is the best man for the job, there was never any doubt in my mind.

"We all share the same vision. We will give it (promotion) another go."

Warnock has a year left on his contract and had apparently sought assurances that there was money to add to the squad in an attempt to engineer an immediate return to the Premier League.

Adding to the squad is the priority now having already lost Icelandic midfielder Aaron Gunnarsson while Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa have returned to their parent clubs.

Warnock holds the record for having won promotion eight times and now looks set to aim for a ninth next season.

Norwich and Sheffield United are already promoted to the Premier League to replace relegated Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham while the one promotion place remains up for grabs via the playoffs.

Aston Villa and Leeds hold the upper hand after their semi-final first-leg victories over West Brom and Derby respectively and Villa are 11/8 to gain promotion at Wembley later this month with Leeds 5/4 and West Brom 7/1.

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Bielsa won’t get carried away

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa thought his side thoroughly deserved to win the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at Derby County 1-0.

Kemar Roofe's 55th-minute goal proved to be decisive although there was some controversy later in the game when the Rams were awarded a penalty at Pride Park only for referee Craig Pawson to change his decision following discussions with his assistant, Eddie Smart.

Derby boss Frank Lampard could not understand why the referee had changed his mind, although he conceded that his players needed to be better on the ball and more confident in Wednesday's second leg, which County are 25/1 to win 2-0.

Meanwhile, a cheerful Bielsa said: "We always play to win and I think it was a deserved win. I am really pleased with the performance.

"Apart from the first minutes of the first half and then 10 or 15 minutes in the second half, when we dominated the ball, we defended well when we had to defend well and we attacked well when we had to attack.

"However, the Champions League games this week are a warning of what could happen. A 1-0 lead is not enough to be comfortable going into the second leg.

"It is an advantage, but we still have 90 minutes to play."

Bielsa: We are full of hope

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa hopes his experience of high-profile matches will prove crucial as he gears his side up for the Championship play-offs.

Leeds face Derby County in the first leg of their semi-final on Saturday after finishing third in the regular season.

Bielsa's team appeared to be on course to clinch an automatic promotion place for much of the season but a poor run in the last few weeks of the campaign allowed Sheffield United to finish second behind champions Norwich City.

Leeds have already beaten the Rams twice in the regular season, recording 4-1 and 2-0 victories, and Bielsa is confident his side can come out on top against Frank Lampard's team and reach Wembley.

He said: "This event is a football episode which everyone will want to live. The team that wins at Wembley will go up and get promoted and you can't have a bigger goal than this.

"I am familiar with this situation. What I can tell you is that I have been through this many times with Copa Libertadores, the Olympic Games, with Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League and the Copa America.

"We think about the responsibility we have on our shoulders because we are bearing the hope of many people. It is a big opportunity for us to fulfil this hope, for all of the fans. We are full of hope."

Leeds are 11/8 to win Saturday's first leg and 15/8 to be promoted to the Premier League this season.

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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Bruce confirmed as Wednesday boss

Sheffield Wednesday have confirmed that Steve Bruce will take over as the club's new manager, starting work on 1st February.

Dutchman Jos Luhukay left the Championship club in December after less than a year in charge and Bruce, who left Aston Villa earlier this season, had been strongly tipped to take over at Hillsborough.

Now that has been confirmed by the club, Bruce taking over next month with his assistants Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence taking charge in the meantime.

A club statement read: "Steve Bruce brings a first class CV to Hillsborough, with an outstanding success rate of Championship promotions – four to date,"

Bruce has previously been in charge at Sheffield United but most recently has been in charge at Hull City and then Aston Villa.

His Hull side won promotion to the Premier League in 2016, winning the Championship play-off final at Wembley, beating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0.

That was his second promotion to the top flight with Hull, he also took Birmingham up twice.

Most recently he took Villa to the play-off final last season where they lost to Fulham and, after a poor start to the current campaign, he left Villa Park to be replaced by Dean Smith.

Since Luhukay left Hillsborough, Wednesday have been unbeaten in the four games in which Lee Bullen has been in temporary charge.

They currently sit 16th in the Championship table, 10 points clear of the bottom three but 11 shy of the top six.

Their last game was a 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham on New Year's Day while this weekend they are in action at home to League One Luton in the third round of the FA Cup.

They are 5/4 to win through to the fourth round on Saturday with Luton 2/1.

Wednesday are 40/1 to finish in the top six of the Championship this season with Villa 5/4 and Hull City 10/1.

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Bruce sacked by Villa

Steve Bruce has paid the price for Aston Villa's poor run of form, leaving the club after two years in charge.

The Midlands club put out a statement confirming the news, saying: "We would like to place on record our gratitude to Steve and his team for their hard work and commitment. We wish them well for the future.

"The process of recruiting a new manager has begun. In the meantime, Kevin MacDonald, Aston Villa U23s manager, will be in charge of the team for our trip to Millwall on Saturday."

Bruce's backroom staff of Colin Calderwood, Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence and Gary Walsh are also leaving Villa Park with immediate effect.

The news comes after Villa's poor start to the season. Having been within 90 minutes of a return to the Premier League last season, Bruce took them to the Championship play-off final where they lost to Fulham.

However this season results have been disappointing, just one win in 10 matches which leaves the club mid-table in the Championship.

Bruce's final game in charge was a 3-3 home draw with struggling Preston in which the visitors, 2-0 down, recovered to lead 3-2 only for substitute Yannick Bolasie to score an injury time equaliser.

Glenn Whelan had the chance to win the game for Villa but missed a 97th minute penalty.

After the game Bruce reiterated his intention to stay and try to turn the club's fortunes around, saying: "The one thing I've always had is the determination to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. I'll always have a go."

Bruce came to Villa Park two years ago with an excellent record of taking clubs up to the Premier League, having succeeded twice at Birmingham and twice again with Hull, also leading the Tigers to an FA Cup final.

Villa take on Millwall on Saturday and are 11/8 for a win, the Lions are 19/10 with the draw 12/5.

Villa are 5/1 to be promoted at the end of the season.

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Grealish commits to Villa

Jack Grealish has temporarily ended speculation over his future by signing a new long-term deal at Aston Villa.

The midfielder, who had two years remaining on his existing deal, has signed a new five-year contract as the Championship side hope he will lead their charge back up to the Premier League.

Villa CEO Christian Purslow said: "Securing the long-term future of Jack, a player we believe will play a pivotal role in leading Aston Villa back to where it belongs, is fantastic news for everybody associated with our football club.

"He is a tremendous talent who has been with us since he was a child and naturally we are delighted that he has now committed the next five years of his career to Aston Villa."

The 23-year-old was the subject of constant speculation throughout the summer with Tottenham known to be keen on signing him.

However, Villa rejected their approaches with new owner Nassef Sawiris insisting that the player was not for sale.

The transfer window shut with Grealish still at Villa Park but, despite rumours that he was "disillusioned" at not securing a route back to the top flight, Villa boss Steve Bruce has praised his attitude.

Villa almost returned to the Premier League themselves last season, reaching the Championship playoff final only to lose to Fulham at Wembley.

This campaign they have struggled so far, sitting 13th in the Championship table having only won three of their nine league games.

Bruce's side were booed off the Villa Park pitch after losing at home to Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.

They are next in action on Friday night when they travel to Ashton Gate to take on Bristol City. Villa are 7/4 for the win with the Robins 6/4 and the draw 23/10.

Villa are 4/1 to be promoted at the end of the season with Leeds 6/4.

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