IN many ways, Jack Grealish and Adama Traore are cut from the same cloth. Both are 22, both were on the fringe of things as Aston Villa crashed out of the Premier League, and both are regarded as mercurial midfield talents who can infuriate as well as excite.

There have been times when it looked as though neither would make it, with a succession of managers despairing at their youthful indiscipline, but ahead of tonight’s play-off semi-final second leg at Villa Park, they find themselves cast as potential match-winners on opposite sides of the field.

On Saturday, Grealish won their personal battle, setting up Mile Jedinak’s winner with a pinpoint set-piece and finding pockets of midfield space while Traore was running up a series of blind alleys. If the same thing happens tonight, there is every chance Villa will be heading to Wembley.

Yet having trained alongside Traore at Villa’s Boddymoor Heath training ground, Grealish knows how dangerous it would be to write off his former team-mate. Just as he has learned to pick himself up and dust himself down, so he expects Traore to come back swinging as Boro look to get their play-off dream back on track.

“I got on really well with Adama at Villa,” said Grealish, who was touted as a future England international when he burst onto the scene a couple of seasons ago. “I still speak to him now.

“He’s come to Middlesbrough and the manager has taken to him, and he’s taken to the manager. I’m really happy for him.

“He’s that fast, you need more than one or two players on him, and that worked for us (in the first leg). But he could still win the game for them, and I’m sure he’s desperate to do that against his old club. We’ll be working as hard as we can for that not to happen.”

Prior to Saturday’s first leg, Pulis repeated his calls for the officials to protect Traore in the face of the kind of robust tackling he has been forced to face for the majority of the campaign.

In fairness to Villa, the majority of their weekend efforts stayed within the confines of the laws, with Alan Hutton producing a masterclass in how to deal with an opponent boasting an abundance of pace.

Hutton rarely allowed Traore to spin off him, and when Boro’s fleet-footed winger threatened to break free, either Robert Snodgrass or Albert Adomah was on hand to provide some additional protection.

Grealish admits Villa have been working on plans to contain Traore, but insists his team-mates will not be seeking to kick the Spaniard out of tonight’s game.

“I got a few kicks (on Saturday), but I like it,” said Grealish. “I go on like I don’t but I do. It shows the opposition are keeping an eye on me, and it’s the same with Adama.

“He gets it all the time because he’s such a good player, but we weren’t going out to kick him or hurt him. You’ve got to be wary of these players though.”

Having played at Wembley for Villa in both an FA Cup semi-final and final, Grealish is hoping to complete a notable hat-trick by booking a place in the play-off final on May 26.

With a one-goal advantage, Steve Bruce’s side will head into tonight’s game knowing a draw will be sufficient to guarantee their progress, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the second leg.

Too attacking, and Boro could be afforded an opportunity to do some damage on the break. Too defensive, and Villa could find themselves inviting trouble in the final third. Striking the right balance will be key, but Grealish is confident his team-mates will not be taking anything for granted despite their success at the Riverside three days’ ago.

“We’re going into the game with a lot of confidence,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it, but it’s only half-time. It’s my first experience of the play-offs, but quite a few of the other lads have been in it so they can pass their experience on.

“We went into the first leg with a game plan and it worked. We did it, and it paid off. Hopefully, we can do the same again – go in with a winning mentality, and get through to Wembley.”