After a draw with Preston North End on Tuesday and a loss to Fulham last Saturday, Villa travelled to Sheffield Wednesday in need of a strong result to keep pace with Cardiff City and Derby County in the race for the second automatic promotion place.
Villa started the stronger side, but it was Sheffield Wednesday who found the opening goal with the first shot on target of the match. Sheffield worked an efficient move down Villa’s lefthand side, and the ball fell to Sean Clare outside Villa’s box, who fired an impressive effort past Sam Johnstone’s lefthand side. However, just as on Tuesday against Preston North End, Villa were back equal just minutes later through Lewis Grabban. John Terry’s initial effort from a free kick was fumbled by Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith, Scott Hogan’s rebounded effort was stopped on the line, but Hogan’s rebound fell once more to a claret and blue shirt in the form of Grabban, who made no mistake calmly forcing the ball over the line.
After Villa’s equaliser, Sheffield Wednesday returned with a vengeance. Pressure on Villa’s goal was non-stop, especially through Sean Clare and George Boyd. Clare had one effort deflected wide and another saved, while Boyd supplied dangerous crosses from the Sheffield Wednesday left wing and had a shot that hit the post and Sam Johnstone (in that order) before being cleared to safety. Villa fashioned one chance through a Snodgrass header, but Wednesday remained much more dominant and eventually found a deserved second goal seconds before halftime. Lucas Joao lost his marker Alan Hutton on a Wednesday corner kick and directed a powerful header past Sam Johnstone to send Steve Bruce’s side into the dressing room facing a steep challenge.
Bruce made no changes at half-time, but was forced into his first substitution minutes into the second half when Alan Hutton picked up an injury, replaced by Neil Taylor. Villa continued to struggle to create, and Bruce did not linger long before bringing on Keinan Davis, just as he did on Tuesday when Villa was also searching for a second-half equaliser. Villa made it 2-2 shortly before the 70th minute from the most unlikely on the pitch: Glenn Whelan. Without a league goal since 2011, Whelan came out of nowhere to latch onto a spectacular Robert Snodgrass cross, and converted from point-blank range to pull Villa level.
After the goal, Wednesday pressed hard once more for a winner. Villa were subject to a heart-stopping goal line sequence with about 15 minutes to play, and John Terry made a crucial last-line tackle that was deemed fair but could have easily been a red-card offence if mistimed. Mile Yedinak replaced Scott Hogan in the 82nd minute, signalling a note of caution from Steve Bruce.
Despite the removal of Hogan, pandemonium struck in the 87th minute, as Conor Hourihane pounced on a bouncing ball in the Wednesday box with a clinical volley to put Villa 3-2 up. Hourihane’s goal came on a corner resulting form an equally clear-cut chance for Hourihane just seconds before, when his header at the back post was saved well by Wildsmith.
Villa added a 4th in stoppage time, as Robert Snodgrass superbly angled his way into the Sheffield United box before being barged over and awarded a penalty. Snodgrass converted the spot kick, unleashing an vicious penalty that Wildsmith was unable to stop despite diving the correct direction.
Saturday’s victory was impressive because of the resilience Villa showed. Despite going down twice and being put under constant pressure, Bruce’s men kept pushing forward and were rewarded in a thrilling emotional rollercoaster. With a home match against QPR and a visit to struggling Sunderland next on the schedule, another run of wins does not appear unlikely after Villa’s second half display today. With Derby dropping two points today, Villa now sit three points above Derby and one point behind Cardiff City, who play later tonight against Bristol City. Up the Villa!