Aston Villa made it five league wins on the bounce as Robert Snodgrass’ 90th minute wonder-strike dealt a hammer blow to the Blades at Bramall Lane.
With an away trip to table-toppers Wolves sandwiched between this match and a testing home derby to Leeds United, it was an opportunity for the Blades to pit their wits against the big guns of the Championship in front of the Sky cameras.
And United did no harm to their reputation with this display but they were left to watch as Snodgrass curled in a strike from the edge-of-the-box to end the Blades’ unbeaten January.
The defeat left boss Chris Wilder justifiably disappointed after the Blades let the on-loan winger cut inside on his stronger foot for his sixth goal of the season, but proud of his side’s performance against an established side with Premier League-standard players.
He said: “It was a really good game.
“They have got some really good players and that was an even contest with our team. That delights me.
“They found a winner with a great bit of quality. I can’t do anything about their goalkeeper being brilliant.
“We have done ourselves justice.”
The Blades named an unchanged side from their last league match which saw them notch a 2-1 away win at Norwich, meaning Billy Sharp, who netted the winner from the penalty spot in Saturday’s FA Cup win at home to Preston, was forced to settle for a place on the bench.
It meant that Ryan Leonard and Lee Evans, who were both cup-tied for the Preston victory, retained their place in the line-up for their full home debut, with on-loan Manchester United forward James Wilson teaming up with skipper Leon Clarke up front.
It didn’t take long for Steve Bruce’s side to be tested with Jack O’Connell rising highest in the box to head Evans’ pinpoint cross onto the bar; a timely reminder for the visitors that the Blades were more than capable of ensuring Villa endured an uncomfortable night under the Bramall Lane lights.
Leonard and Evans gave the Blades some dynamism and a source of flair in midfield, with the latter driving forward to sting the gloves of Sam Johnstone.
George Baldock then latched on to John Terry’s failed clearance to force a strong save from Johnstone, who managed to palm away the arrowed effort from a tight angle.
The chance of the half fell to Wilson when Clarke’s flick dropped nicely, giving the loanee space to execute an exquisite overhead kick that flew narrowly wide of an upright.
With the continuous threat of Jack Grealish, Villa were always going to be a menace up top and it was the playmaker who temporarily quietened the Lane in the second-half as his curler arched inches past the far post after he was allowed to glide through the middle.
Baldock then tested the gloves of Johnstone once again when he was slid through on goal, but the wing-back shot straight at the ‘keeper who did well to tip over as the Blades began to regain their first-half dominance.
The introduction of Clayton Donaldson, who scored a brace as the Blades came from 2-0 down to draw in the reverse fixture, and John Lundstram looked to add a physical outlet as Bruce’s side were winning the majority of the battles.
Ricky Holmes, making his debut for the Blades after making the switch from Charlton, came on for the impressive Evans as Wilder looked to ensure Villa were given a torrid final quarter of an hour.
Fleck found himself with plenty of time on the edge-of-the-box but was denied as his sweeping shot was smacked away by Johnstone as the Blades thought they had found a late breakthrough.
For all their work, though, they were punished as Snodgrass cut inside Enda Stevens before curling a beautiful strike that nestled into the far corner to steal all three points in the dying embers of the game.
Any hope of a resurgence were dashed when Donaldson’s flick at the near post was blocked and O’Connell’s header was tipped over, and the win meant the Villans closed the gap on second-placed Derby, moving a point away from the second automatic promotion spot.
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham, Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Leonard (Lundstram, 67’), L Evans (Holmes, 74’), Fleck, Stevens; Clarke (C), Wilson (Donaldson, 67’). Subs not used: Sharp, Duffy, Lafferty, Eastwood.
Aston Villa: Johnstone, El Mohamady, Chester, Terry (C), Hutton, Bjarnason, Snodgrass, Grealish, Hourihane (Onomah, 77’), Adomah (Jedinak, 86’), Hogan (Davis, 82’). Subs not used: Taylor, Whelan, Tuanzebe, Bunn.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Bookings: Sheffield United: Chris Basham (49’, cynical foul)
Aston Villa: None
Scorers: Sheffield United: None
Aston Villa: Robert Snodgrass (90’)
HT score: 0-0
FT score: 0-1
Man of the Match: Lee Evans (Sheffield United)