By Aidan Pashley
A ten-man Sheffield United were victorious over Aston Villa after a hard-fought display saw the Blades seal a one-nil win against the Villans thanks to a first-half David McGoldrick finish. While Villa maintained the upper hand throughout the game, the lack of Jack Grealish evidently took a toll on their attacking creativity, while the Blades dug-in following Phil Jageilka’s sending off in the 56th minute. While Villa had the upper hand, they struggled to create many clear chances against a resilient Sheffield United.
The first tangible chance of the game came in the 12th minute, when a Villa attack led to a John McGinn shot placed just past the post. The first half saw both sides scrap for possession in midfield, with Villa attempting to put Ollie Watkins to good use against a weakened Sheffield United backline. Watkins utilised his pace while stretching the Blades defenders (included a 38 year old Jagielka). This athletic disparity was exemplified when a Watkins run led to him being brought down in the 22nd minute by a sandwich of Sheffield United defenders, Villa feeling hard done to by Robert Jones’ refusal to award a penalty for the challenge.
The tide of the game turned in Sheffield United’s favour at the 30 minute mark against the run of play. A clever cut inside and shot by George Baldock trickled toward the back post, culminating in a tap-in by McGoldrick – making a late run onto the back post. The goal was the striker’s sixth of the season in the Premier League, McGoldrick providing some attacking spark for a team that has sorely lacked in that department this season. Chris Wilder utilised his technical ability to good effect in this game, linking the play in the attacking third. The last significant chance of the half came at the opposite end, with Bertrand Traore producing an impressive dribbling run that nearly ended up with a Villa equaliser.
Villa came out searching for an equaliser, Watkins producing a glancing header which rattled the Blades back post. The principal incident of the game came just before the hour, as Jagielka brought down Anwar El Ghazi. Despite Jagielka receiving an initial yellow card, referee Jones was ushered over to the VAR screen and concluded that Jagielka had denied El Ghazi a clear goal scoring opportunity, meaning Sheffield United were down to ten-men. A Blades back five became a back four as Kean Bryan and Ethan Ampadu comprised a centre-back pairing in a heavily depleted backline.
The Blades produced a battling display for the final thirty minutes of the game. Villa threw everything at Sheffield United, Blades defenders throwing themselves at a series of half chances throughout the dying embers of the match. Despite Villa’s perseverance and intent, the Sheffield United backline was too compact and resilient to be breached, in part due to a superb Aaron Ramsdale save in added time, denying Ezri Konsa and Villa an equaliser and a point to take home.
This is a win that will surely boost the dwindling confidence of this Sheffield United team as they prepare for the final eleven games of the season. As for Villa, this performance must raise some concerns about over-reliance on Grealish to provide attacking output. Despite this, Villa sit comfortably in ninth and the win provides a small glimmer of hope to Sheffield United’s prospects of pulling off a great escape. The Blades sit 12 points from safety, a huge gap for a team that has four wins to their name, but this performance shows that Wilder’s men are going out fighting.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Ampadu, Jagielka, Bryan; Baldock, Lundstram, Fleck, Norwood, Stevens; McGoldrick (Osborn 73’), Brewster (Burke 60’ (McBurnie 89’)). Subs not used: Foderingham, Sharp, Mousset, Lowe, Ndiaye, Maguire.
Aston Villa: Martinez; El Mohamady, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Nakamba (Barkley 68’), Ramsey (Sanson 68’); Traore (Davis 81’), Watkins, El Ghazi. Subs not used: Heaton, Taylor, Douglas Luiz, Trezeguet, Engels, Hayden.
Referee: Robert Jones
Scorers: Sheffield United: David McGoldrick (30’)
Aston Villa: None
Yellow cards: Sheffield United: McGoldrick (45+1’)
Aston Villa: None
Red cards: Sheffield United: Jagielka (57’)
Aston Villa: None