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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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.

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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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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Lampard: It’s in our hands

Frank Lampard is confident that his Derby County side will finish the job off and confirm their place in the Championship play-offs on Sunday.

The Rams drew 1-1 at Swansea City on Wednesday and are sixth, one point ahead of Middlesbrough and two points clear of eighth-placed Bristol City.

Derby entertain West Brom in the last game of the regular season, a team they beat 4-1 at The Hawthorns in October.

Derby are 10/11 to beat the Baggies on Sunday and 13/2 to be promoted to the Premier League this season.

Lampard said: "It's in our hands. If you offered me that seven or eight months ago I'd have taken it. The play-offs are where we want to be and it will be an achievement if we get that sixth spot.

"It's time for us to stay focused and calm behind the scenes. The fans will be excited, but we've got to know what the job is."

Middlesbrough are away to relegated Rotherham United on Sunday while Bristol City travel to Hull City.

Of his side's display against the Swans, Lampard added: "I thought we controlled the game and were aggressive without the ball. But our final movement wasn't quite right and at half time I rued the fact we weren't two goals to the good.

"Credit to Swansea, they changed it second half, played some good football and we have to accept the point."

Potter pleased for McBurnie

Graham Potter has backed Oli McBurnie to improve his goal tally next season even though the Swansea City striker has enjoyed an excellent 2018/19 campaign.

The 22-year-old scored twice against Hull City at the weekend and now has 21 Championship goals to his name this term.

McBurnie is the first Swans player to score 20 league goals in a Championship season since Scott Sinclair in 2010/11 but Potter thinks there is much more to come from the Scotland international.

"There is nothing wrong with a record like that, but I think Oli can do better and I think he can improve," said Potter.

"He has done great for us, he absolutely has, but the exciting thing for him, and I am sure he will say the same, is he can get better again.

"When it comes to first-team football he will only improve if he keeps working in the way I think he can. He has to keep working, I think his overall game can improve. That's not a criticism, he is a young guy who is not yet at the peak of his profession."

McBurnie moved to the Liberty Stadium from Bradford City in the summer of 2015 and was loaned out to Newport County, Bristol Rovers and Barnsley before becoming a first-team regular this season.

Swansea are 9/5 to beat Derby County on Wednesday with McBurnie 5/1 to be the first goalscorer. The Rams are 11/2 to be promoted this season.

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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