Aston Villa's Jack Grealish happy taking the hard knocks in Premier League promotion bid
Steve Bruce’s side are on the verge of the Championship play-off final as they take a 1-0 lead into tonight’s semi-final second-leg at home to Middlesbrough.
Grealish played a pivotal role as Mile Jedinak’s header sealed a priceless Riverside Stadium victory on Saturday but he paid the price because not for the first time this season, the midfielder was singled out for some harsh treatment in the heat of battle.
The 22-year-old has won praise from manager Bruce after knuckling down following a series of disciplinary scrapes in his wild-child days at the outset of his career.
The England Under-21 international has grown up on and off the pitch and will take the rough and tumble in his stride in the bid to reach Wembley.
He insisted: “I got a few up at Boro but I don’t mind getting kicked. I go on like I don’t but really I do. It shows the opposition are keeping an eye on me.”
Grealish will compare bruises with former Villa team-mate Adama Traore, the winger who holds the key to Middlesbrough upsetting the odds against his old side.
The pair have kept in touch since the Spaniard sealed a £9m switch to Teesside almost two years ago and Grealish said: “Adama gets it similar to me all the time because he’s such a good player. We got on really well when he was here and we still speak regularly now.
“We’re not out to kick or hurt him but you’ve got to be on your mettle against players of his quality. He’s a match-winner and I’m sure he’ll be desperate to do that against his old club, so we’ll be working hard for that not to happen.”
Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis backed Traore to cast-off the shackles after he was largely nullified in the first-leg, with Villa’s gameplan to triple-mark the Spanish speedster working a treat as the 22-year-old barely had a kick.
Pulis believes the former Barcelona youngster can bounce back to help his side spring a shock in their bid to secure an immediate return to the Premier League.
“Adama’s a massive threat in this league, so it’s important that we get the ball out to him a bit quicker than we did on Saturday,” said Pulis. “We know it’s a learning curve for him because he’s only a young lad and it’s all part of his education.”
Daniel Ayala is a doubt after limping out on Saturday with a knee problem. Brazilian full-back Fabio is on standby, and Pulis could also bring in Patrick Bamford to replace Britt Assombalonga up front.
He said: “Villa will have a full house behind them and it’s going to be tough but I’m not concerned about them, it’s more about how we play. If we bring our A-game and get the breaks then we’ve got as good a chance as them.”