Last night saw the return of a historic fixture as Aston Villa took on Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Villa was looking to build upon their win against Leeds at the weekend and push themselves up the table with an unchanged starting XI. Relegation-threatened Sheffield United looked to be an ‘easy’ match, but with Jack Grealish and Matty Cash still injured and the opposition fighting for their pride, the game was tougher than fans were hoping for.
Villa started clumsily, misplacing passes and struggling to make use of possession. A couple of early opportunities were created through the left side as El Ghazi and Ramsey linked up to drive the play forward, but did not amount to anything significant. Our first big chance fell to John McGinn, after a blocked shot from Traore was kept alive by Watkins. Unfortunately, McGinn was unable to keep his attempt on target, pulling it past Ramsdale but also wide of the far post.
Tyrone Mings, captaining the side again, put in another solid shift. He and Konsa attended to their duties well and managed to be in the right place at the right time throughout the game. After a couple of important blocks, Sheffield United was instilled with confidence from winning consecutive corners and a spell of possession in the final third.
Villa provided a response and Watkins managed to get a couple of shots away, but with no success. This fixture would not be complete without a little controversy and the first questionable moment came when Watkins was collided with and sandwiched between two opposition players on the edge of the box. Frustratingly, not even a check was completed.
We continued to look promising until McGoldrick opened the scoring for Sheffield United around the half-hour mark. A very disappointing goal to concede – what was likely a shot became the perfect set up for McGoldrick to slot the ball home as he was left unmarked at the back post.
Our record for winning games after conceding first is near non-existent, and was not improved upon last night. Despite dominating possession, the dynamic of the game completely changed as Sheffield United then shifted to protecting their lead. Other noteworthy moments arose, such as Traore dancing through five or six players to get a shot away, but nothing to change the result.
The second moment of controversy came when El Ghazi was fouled by Jagielka as he was away on goal. After an initial yellow was shown, the referee upgraded the punishment to a straight red card as a goal-scoring opportunity was deemed to have been denied. Shortly afterwards, Smith brought on Barkley and Sanson at around the 70-minute mark, hoping they could make the difference.
The latter stages of the second half became particularly difficult to watch, with Villa’s play becoming extremely repetitive despite its lack of success. Keinan Davis was called upon with ten minutes remaining and his physicality looked to be quite effective during his cameo; it is a shame this wasn’t utilised more by playing low and carrying the ball into the penalty area. The game plan appeared to consist solely of crosses into the box, with the hope that one would be finished off. An embarrassing number of these crosses were caught with ease by Ramsdale, but a couple we were unlucky to put away.
Sheffield United made a total of forty-seven clearances, allowing us only four shots on target. They defended their chance of survival and nullified the only way we decided to attack. Our desperation to score was possibly what secured our poor result, as players frustratedly persevered with the same routine. We missed an element of unpredictability and were unable to break down such a defensive Sheffield United. The game ended 1-0, with both teams reminiscent of their 19/20 form. Consistency is the major downfall of Aston Villa this season and this game will join the growing list of nights to forget. We look forward to a return to Villa Park to face Wolves on Saturday.
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