Aston Villa were featured on Sky/ESPN for a match-up of teams even on points at the edge of the playoff race. It was a wild ride right from the start — but like roller coaster type fun — more like an in-laws visit for the holidays: Full of noise, barbs, plans falling through and — in the end — frustration.
A story of twos. Up 2-0, tied 2-2, and 2 points left on the table.
Keinan Davis took his place back up front after missing out last week due to illness and Mile Jedinak continued to pair with Chester at the back.
The Villa faithful did not have to wait long for some joy. In the third minute Keinan Davis was taken down in the box and referee Simon Hooper pointed to the spot right away. Albert Adomah stepped up and made no mistake sending the keeper the wrong way making it 1-0 to the good guys.
And our own James Rushton enjoyed watching it — albiet from the far end of Villa Park.
Alberto 1-0 #AVFC pic.twitter.com/kCR5NyLRzj— James Rushton (@Jamorushton) December 23, 2017
On the penalty call — it was a 50/50. Seen it given; seen it waved off. Certainly a brave call to make in the opening five minutes.
After going up a goal — Villa sought to press the attack. Tactically — it was nice to see Aston Villa attacking up both sides. The penalty was caused by movement up Villa’s left. A few minutes later the team were working down the right side with enough pressure to earn a free kick.... and BAM! Snodgrass great ball in found Mile Jedinak’s header and the back of the net. 2-0 ViIla.
At least for a few minutes — then it was a long ball that caught Villa’s defense and it was a great lofted finish by Donaldson that made it 2-1. Johnstone was caught in no man’s land and Jedinak could not quite recover fast enough to block the shot.
Then — for the first time — both teams seemed to take a bit of a calming breath as the clock hit 15 minutes. Chester had to come over a stop one attack — seemingly covering for Jedinak who clearly isn’t quite comfortable in the CB role.
In the 25th minute it was yet another defensive mistake from a veteran (i.e Whelan’s back pass). Mile Jedinak quite simply whiffed at a very simple defensive clearance. Ball goes right to Donaldson who slides it through Johnstone’s legs and Villa found themselves all tied up. Egg on the face type mistake that Villa fans are far too used to.
Villa sprung into attack and Albert Adomah nearly found his second with a header that went just wide in the 28th minute.
Mile Jedinak began the long road to making up for his mistakes by blocking a short range effort that came off the first corner of the match in the 30’. It is going to be a long journey...
A couple of spurts saw out a first half that must have been a fun watch for a neutral but a frustrating one for a Villa supporter. A great chance came after Grealish was taken down outside the box in the 35’. Perfect setup for Snodgrass — sadly the wall did the job and blocked it. A clear handball wasn’t called at the top of the boxes and on the edge of halftime Johnstone made an decent save. For you stat’s folks -- HT xG (as calculated by InfoGol) 1.36 - 0.38.
The second half got underway with a bad back pass from Albert Adomah. Not the confident start that Villa fans were hoping for.
The winger almost found the back of the net when a waist high pass found him one-on-one with the keeper. Granted it was in a really tough spot but it was a bright point for the opening minutes.
On the 50 minute mark Sam Johnstone was forced into his first challenging save when (yet another) midfield giveaway let Sheffield United break.
A few minutes later the boo-birds came out among the Villa fans for a few back passes. Writer’s note: I get some frustration but don’t think that is productive/helpful but other’s disagree. The fans — to their credit — didn’t carry on with the booing after the two passes in question.
Grealish was taken down outside the box on the far left with earned the first yellow card of the match for United’s Basham. The Snodgrass free kick came to nothing and then the Scotsman was subbed off for... Richie De Laet. Elmo was pushed up and De Laet filled in at RB.
With half an hour remaining — Leon Clarke had the best chance of the second half but his diving header did not find the target. It was a huge let off that the man who has found the net so often couldn’t make it count.
Basham nearly picked up a second yellow when Jack Grealish dove while moving into the attacking third. Fans and players pleaded for the card after a foul was called but the referee was right not to give it.
Donaldson — on the other hand — did pick up a yellow after clipping the back heel of Elmohamady down Villa’s right. Hourihane’s free kick found the grateful hands of the keeper. 70’ Sheffield picked up their third yellow card — this time for O’Connell. The free kick created some chaos in the box but no real chance.
For the last 18 minutes — Steve Bruce went for it. Gabby and Hogan on, Elmo and Davis off. Adomah went to the right side, Grealish to the left. Former Villa starlet Samir Carruthers also came on for the opponents when they also did a double sub.
Four new players on the pitch and the game in the balance.... and..... the frustration continued. Fouls mounted both ways. So did turnovers. So did empty beers on my side table.
And for Aston Villa it means more points left on the table and scraps don’t lead to the playoffs.