Aston Villa fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat courtesy of David McGoldrick despite bottom side, Sheffield United, being reduced to ten men on a damp Wednesday evening at Bramall Lane.
The striker, playing a deeper role before coming off in the latter stages of the game, started and finished a sublime move that saw him fire home from six yards out; connecting to a hard-hit pass by George Baldock.
The hosts were reduced to ten men after Phil Jagielka was adjudged to have brought down Anwar El Ghazi and prevented a goal-scoring opportunity.
A decision that was ruled a yellow card initially, but upgraded to a red card after a VAR instigated monitor review.
Despite having most of the possession and chances, Villa failed to convert with the best chances falling to Ollie Watkins striking the post and Ezri Konsa having his effort saved with a reaction parry by Blades’ keeper, Aaron Ramsdale, late on.
Slow, sluggish, inconsistent
In many press conferences in recent months, Dean Smith and many others within the Villa dressing room have circled inconsistency as their main crutch and so it proved again tonight.
Villa started out the gates strong against Leeds on Saturday; much less so today.
The Blades started the much sharper of the two teams, pressing early and forcing Villa to play from the back, with the visitors made to work much harder to connect passes and move the ball downfield.
In their second period of sustained pressure, on the half hour mark, David McGoldrick instigated a fast free-flowing move that used all of Villa’s half and caught Ahmed Elmohamady napping at the six yard box; running into acres of space to complete an awkward tap in which struck the underside of the bar in the process.
It was only late on, well after Jagielka’s red card (60’) and a couple of substitutions later, that Villa started to really get into an attacking groove and create consistent chances.
Nevertheless, despite some lovely chances created, Villa seemed sluggish and slow in working through a tiring Blades’ defensive front.
Villa could have gone three points from the Champions League places tonight, yet now find themselves on the outside looking in on the European places available.
All bark no bite
The Villans had 72% possession and 16 shots, but only 4 of those hit the target and only about four attacks looked to present any real malice.
Once Sheffield United went down to ten men, Chris Wilder parked the bus, but kept Oliver Burke up top to keep the away side on their toes for a quick counter; something that almost paid off on one particular breakaway.
Crosses into the box were easily dealt with by the Sheffield back-line, showing Villa’s desperation and lack of ideas.
Sanson and Barkley did start to work the ball into the box on the floor, which looked to unlock opportunities late on, but in reality the momentum never seemed to be with Villa despite their perceived dominance.
A game like this definitely called for better attacking prowess in breaking down a stubborn Sheffield United back-line; something that both Jack Grealish and Matty Cash would have provided.
The latter would have probably snuffed out the danger for the only goal of the game too.
Looking beyond the injury table, Ollie Watkins once again looked alone and having to bring himself to the action, as he was otherwise fed mismatches through crosses or long balls.
Traore and El Ghazi did little to abridge that gap and the midfield trio, unchanged from Leeds, lacked creativity in comparison to Barkley and Sanson.
The upcoming game against Wolves will be a much sterner and hopefully more free-flowing test, however, a slow start against them in the same vein to this evening will see a much higher mountain needing to be climbed.