The three moments that defined Aston Villa’s defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane...
#3: Sluggish Start
Villa didn’t quite look at it in the opening part of the game against Sheffield United and were duly punished after half an hour.
David McGoldrick picked up the ball just inside the Villa half and spread a lovely cross-field ball out to George Baldock on the right wing.
Baldock was able to advance into the box unchallenged and get a shot away.
Unfortunately for the visitors, his miss-hit shot found its way to McGoldrick at the back post, who had failed to be tracked down by first John McGinn and then Ahmed Elmohamady, to put the bottom of the table hosts 1-0 up.
It was one of only two shots on target Sheffield United had in the 90 minutes, but it would be enough to provide them with just their fourth win of the season.
#2: Tactical Naivety?
In last weekends victory at Leeds, Dean Smith picked the perfect midfield trio for the opponents on the day.
Marvelous Nakamba was exactly the right man to play to nullify the threat that Leeds can offer.
However – and it’s easy to say with hindsight – it feels like Smith got it wrong for the trip to Bramall Lane.
Villa were likely to have the majority of the ball and in games such as this, someone with the passing range and ability of Douglas Luiz is going to be more useful than what Nakamba provides.
Jacob Ramsey also struggled to make a meaningful impact and again, with hindsight, might have benefited from a rest, with fresher legs available in the shape of Morgan Sanson or Ross Barkley.
Smith has said himself that it’s ‘horses for courses’ in terms of the starting line-up, but he didn’t heed his own advice.
Plenty of fans online were calling for changes at half time, but they didn’t come.
On 57 minutes, Phil Jagielka was sent off after an ‘interesting’ VAR intervention, but it was still another 10 minutes before any changes were made.
The reactive rather than proactive nature of substitutions and tactical changes is a valid criticism that has been leveled at Smith on more than one occasion this season and this was another game where that particular flaw arguably contributed to this defeat.
#1: Wasteful In Front Of Goal
Despite being nowhere near their best, Villa really should have come away with at least a point; especially considering the missed chances.
At 0-0, they missed two glorious chances.
First was McGinn, who pulled his volley from six yards well wide of the goal.
It was on his weaker right foot, but that’s no excuse for a player of his ability as he should have hit the target.
Second was Bertrand Traore, who showed exquisite footwork in the area to beat three or four players, only to place his shot agonizingly wide of the post.
At the start of the second half, Ollie Watkins came inches away from scoring his 11th league goal of the season, when his glancing header from Matt Targett’s cross came back off the crossbar with Aaron Ramsdale in goal beaten.
Traore missed another great chance, failing to properly connect with the ball whilst just six yards out in the center of the goal.
Then as the final whistle was approaching, Ezri Konsa expertly controlled a corner and hit a well struck volley towards goal, which Ramsdale stopped superbly, with Baldock reacting quicker than Barkley to clear the loose ball away.
Let’s not try and dress it up as anything other than it is – this was a really, really bad result.
Losing to the bottom club who have just 14 points after 27 games, with them also being down to 10 men for over half an hour is just not acceptable; especially if Villa have serious ambitions of securing European football next season.
Whilst talking on Sky’s Monday Night Football earlier this week, Jamie Carragher mentioned how on a few occasions this season Villa have blown opportunities to really kick on in the table, and once again they have let themselves down by throwing in a ‘Classic Villa’ performance.
From a possible 18 points in games this season against struggling Sheffield United, Burnley, and Brighton, Villa have taken just 5 points.
It feels like dropping points in these games could cost the club come the end of the season.
Villa have normally responded well to setbacks this season and this weekends visit of local rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers, provides the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs from the midweek visit to Yorkshire.