IT is Championship football again for Middlesbrough next season after a hugely frustrating night when Tony Pulis’ team failed to live up to the occasion at Villa Park.

Aston Villa, ahead courtesy of Mile Jedinak’s poorly conceded header in the first leg of the play-off semi-final, thoroughly deserved to book a place at Wembley at Boro’s expense.

While Darren Randolph was forced into a number of impressive saves to keep the Villans at bay and, ultimately, keep Middlesbrough’s hopes alive, Pulis’ side lacked the creativity to pull themselves level on aggregate and force the game into extra-time.

While thousands of Villa fans celebrated on the pitch after the final whistle at the prospect of a trip to Wembley to face Fulham in ten days’ time, Middlesbrough’s dreams have died before a trip to London this year.

Now Middlesbrough, whose chairman Steve Gibson was desperate to seal an immediate return to the Premier League after relegation a year ago, have to start planning for another crack at the Championship under Pulis.

While Middlesbrough frustrated their supporters over the two legs, the bigger picture is that this season’s failings were much bigger than two fixtures against Aston Villa.

A poor start led to the sacking of Garry Monk in December and now Pulis, despite getting the team into the top six, has ultimately come up short with a squad he inherited.

So much was made of the fact the home side had tended to win this fixture - Villa’s triumph at the Riverside was the 12th time the hosts had not won since 2005 – but Middlesbrough didn’t really burst into real life until the dying stages.

To deliver at Villa Park there was a need for Middlesbrough to keep things tight, particularly early on to avoid falling more than the one goal behind, and with Daniel Ayala sidelined there was a lot of focus on young defender Dael Fry’s performance.

The 20-year-old was preferred to fill the big Ayala hole rather than switching Ryan Shotton and it was his first start since helping Middlesbrough to victory over Hull in February; the same day that Rudy Gestede was last involved.

Pulis kept the Benin international’s availability quiet beforehand but to have the powerful striker in the ranks from the bench after ankle surgery did create an extra option for a Middlesbrough team boasting just two other strikers in the ranks. It didn’t matter, they still couldn’t conjure up a short on target.

Villa’s directive early on seemed intent on putting Middlesbrough’s backline under pressure and there were a few scares to deal with. Overall, though, Middlesbrough did what was required in their own half, paving the way for a more frenetic second half.

Adam Clayton had to be alert to block two efforts in quick succession from Jack Grealish and Lewis Grabban, while the away fans must have feared the worst when a back pass from the midfielder put Randolph under pressure. His clearance was chased down by Connor Houirhane and it dropped for a corner.

There was also a thunderbolt of an effort from distance from James Bree, who was Villa’s only change on the night for the injured Ahmed Elmohamady, which flew a yard or two wide, and at that stage Middlesbrough couldn’t get hold of the play.

But then, after a decent counter-attack involving Mo Besic, Stewart Downing and George Friend that ultimately came to nothing but offered encouragement, Middlesbrough found there was more space to push on.

Where Middlesbrough had earlier been the team often guilty of gifting possession away, Villa started to do the same after finding themselves being put under greater pressure. Despite the improvements, the game remained scrappy and Johnstone was not asked to make a save before the break.

And had it not been for some wasteful finishing and an incredible last-ditch crunching tackle from Friend, Middlesbrough would have been chasing a two goal deficit in the second half.

When Albert Adomah rolled a ball across the face of goal, it looked a certainty that Hourihane would get on the end but Friend appeared from the side to make an incredible saving challenge to clear his team’s lines.

From a corner moments later there was a knock down from former Sunderland striker Lewis Grabban into Chester and the centre-back’s turn and powerfully struck shot zipped wide of Randolph’s right hand post.

Middlesbrough were nowhere near as composed in possession as they would have liked and despite finishing the opening period relatively strongly Assombalonga and Co struggled to find a way to test Johnstone.

Middlesbrough required more urgency in their play after the restart and the game naturally developed that way, with Villa sitting deeper to protect the lead until bursting into life around the hour mark.

With the hour approaching, the nearest the visitors had come was when Besic pulled an effort wide from 22 yards when Downing was screaming to be rolled in on the overlap.

Rather than Middlesbrough asking the telling questions it was Villa who almost extended their aggregate advantage. A cleverly worked move down the left involving Grealish and Adomah fashioned an opening at the near post for Grabban, whose flick was stopped by Randolph.

Even though Bamford was introduced, Randolph was still the busier of the keepers and he had to tip a long range drive from Grabban over the bar when Middlesbrough were left searching for inspiration with 20 minutes remaining.

Not even Gestede’s appearance could alter the flow, as seconds later Randolph was at it again. This time the Ireland goalkeeper made a flying save to his right to prevent Grealish from finding the top corner.

There was finally some late drama and hope when Johnstone, hardly asked a question all night, raced out of his area and handled as Traore lifted the ball over his head. The keeper was cautioned, leaving Downing with a free-kick from 20 yards … and he struck the crossbar.

That was the nearest Middlesbrough had come to forcing the game to extra-time all night, leaving an electric Villa Park to party at the prospect of a trip to Wembley – and who knows what beyond that.