Sheffield United 1 – 0 Aston Villa
It was the first game of this exciting Aston Villa season when the Villans last played Sheffield United. It was a single Ezri Konsa goal that put the Blades to the sword on that day, and since, Sheffield United’s fortunes haven’t improved. With Villa sat in ninth in the table with 39 points, Chris Wilder’s men are bottom, with only 11 points. For a claret and blue comparison, in the 2015/16 season, Villa were on 16 points after 26 games.
After an impressive, hard-fought victory over Leeds, Dean Smith named an unchanged starting XI. Marvelous Nakamba kept his place in midfield, and would be looking to extend the run of Villa not conceding with him on the pitch. Sheffield United have been plagued with injuries, especially in defence, for large portions of the season. None of their tried and trusted back three were available for selection, meaning Jagielka, Ampadu and Bryan started. Chris Wilder’s one change from their two-nil defeat to Liverpool, was Rhian Brewster coming in for Ollie McBurnie.
In a disappointing first-half, Villa had plenty of opportunities to create chances and grab the opening goal. The best chance fell to John McGinn in close in the box, and the Scot really should have hit the target. Dean Smith’s men occasionally sparked into attacking life, but in the meantime, passing was sloppy. Chances for the Blades were created when Villa players gave the ball away in their own half.
However, it was a switch and shot-come-cross that was their undoing. Ahmed Elmohamady was stood still as David McGoldrick reacted to run in behind him to finish past Emi Martinez. Bertrand Traore nearly evened things up as he danced past four Sheffield United players, but could only place his shot wide. With Villa only coming from behind to get one point so far this season, it would need to be a first comeback win of the season for Dean Smith’s men to grab all three points.
The improved performance didn’t come, and though opportunities presented themselves for the Villans, shots were often blocked, or good positions wasted. The referee gifted Villa a chance to redeem themselves, as Phil Jagielka was somewhat harshly sent off, for taking down El Ghazi. The action was then 100% in the Sheffield United half, as Villa threw cross after cross into the box in a vain hope that something might happen.
The less said about the quality of the crossing the better. One did come off, as Ollie Watkins headed on goal, but the ball agonisingly pinged of the upright and away from the goal. The game had a feeling that it was going to end one-nil. Ezri Konsa’s drive on goal was saved by Ramsdale, and the rebound wasn’t quite enough for Tyrone Mings to pounce on. Some late corners provided a few shaky moments for the Blades, but there was nothing Villa could do as the clock relentlessly ticked down.
The lack of real goal threat against the bottom of the table side is a little worrying. The attack hasn’t properly clicked since the first half of Burnley away, and even then it only managed one goal. Villa have had some workman-like wins, but no real sensational, dazzling performances that came prior to the enforced Covid break. With a defensively solid Wolves side next to visit, it seems that the Villa faithful may have to wait even longer for another of these performances.
Emiliano Martinez – 6
Emi Martinez only had to pick the ball out of his net in a game that was one-way traffic for large sections. The Argentinian did make a meal of a cross that he attempted to claim, and had Elmohamady to thank for blocking the resulting shot on goal. His distribution was generally calm and accurate, though he did play one or two dodgy passes out from the back.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5
For the second time in his limited run of games, Ahmed Elmohamady was caught ball-watching, resulting in an opposition goal. It was remarkable how little he managed to move, perhaps he’d been swapped out with a new Madame Tussaud’s exhibit? Even Elmo’s trademark crossing ability was nowhere to be found. The majority of his attempts to put the ball in the box were off the mark, or blocked.
Ezri Konsa – 6
There wasn’t a great deal for Ezri Konsa to do, but when Sheffield United did make forays into the Villa half, Ezri Konsa was there to put a foot in or win a header. There was one near disastrous loss of the ball in the second-half, as Oliver Burke took the ball off his feet. Tyrone Mings quickly got across to spare Konsa any shame. The highlight of Konsa’s performance was whipping the ball off the feet of Burke and turning away from him, in one swift motion, as the Scottish international sprinted into the Villa box.
Tyrone Mings © – 6
The frustration felt by fans at Villa’s situation was mirrored by Tyrone Mings. The centre-back was itching to get forward when he could and help out the attack, as Villa tried to draw level. He did create an awkward situation for Aaron Ramsdale with an aerial duel late on, but nothing came of it. The England international did well to sweep up Sheffield United attempts to break, but defensively had a somewhat quiet evening.
Matt Targett – 5
While Matt Targett has been very good this season, this game was an exception. The left-back’s crossing was poor, as only one of his eight attempted crosses found their target. He backed off and back off George Baldock, just before the Blades man played the cross that resulted in the winner.
Marvelous Nakamba – 6
Marvelous Nakamba lost his record of Villa not conceding with him on the pitch. Defensively the Zimbabwe international did a good job, putting tackles in and winning the ball back. However, as soon as Villa were behind and chasing the game, his usefulness declined sharply, as he was asked to carry the ball more and be more positive. This doesn’t suit Nakamba, and as a result the Villa attack became ponderous and slow whenever he got the ball.
John McGinn – 5.5
The sum of all the creative thinking that Villa could put together late on was… pass the ball to John McGinn to put in a deep cross from the left. This unsurprisingly didn’t work. McGinn fought when he needed to in midfield, making two tackles. However, his decision making was very poor, too often when a pass was available McGinn attempted to blast the ball from long range.
Bertrand Traore – 6
A brilliant opportunity, from a couple of yards out, who will it fall to? Bertrand Traore… on his right-foot. As we all know the ex-Lyon winger only scores worldies with his right. Two of Villa’s best chances were there to be finished by Traore, one made by his own deft maneuvers, and the other from the hard work of Ollie Watkins. He couldn’t make the most of either, and it’s this lack of clinical finishing that came back to bite the Villans.
Jacob Ramsey – 6
Jacob Ramsey was neat and tidy with the ball, he completed 96.9% of his passes. But other than being tidy and safe with his passes, there wasn’t a lot dynamism in his game. This will come with more games and greater confidence, Ramsey looks like a solid player, but clearly has a lot to learn.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5
Anwar El Ghazi led the Villa team with 14 crosses. 14! Three of these went to a Villa player. This sums up just how bad the team’s crossing was. At the end of the game, Villa seemed to have everyone in the box, but may as well have had no one. If the cross isn’t good enough, then the attack stops at stage one. El Ghazi did show the occasional good touch, but most of the rest of his game was all over the place. While his set piece delivery was pretty good against Leeds, it was incredibly poor this time around.
Ollie Watkins – 6
Like always, there was plenty of graft both in the box and outside the box from Ollie Watkins. The 25-year-old grafted and tried to battle for balls in the box, and onece or twice, this opened up opportunities for team mates. John McGinn’s first-half chance, and Bertrand Traore’s second-half scuffed shot were products of Watkins’ work.
Off the Bench
Morgan Sanson (67) – 5
Much like the rest of the Villa team, Morgan Sanson had a couple of inaccurate crosses to his name when he left the pitch at full-time. With these attempted crosses aside, the Franchman didn’t really add a great deal. Villa needed something special to break Sheffield United’s dogged defence, and Sanson wasn’t the one to provide it.
Ross Barkley (67) – 6
If anyone was going to conjure something up other than a hopeful cross into a packed box, it was Ross Barkley. Villa’s number 20 had the time to try and create something and control the game and there were flashes pf the Ross Barkley that Villa fans want to see. One link up down the left resulted in a low cross that was defended well, and a darting forward run couldn’t connect with an incoming pass.
Keinan Davis (80) – 6
It’s fine throwing Davis on with 10 minutes to go, but when the crossing is as bad as it was, what can he feasibly do to get on the scoresheet? The powerful forward’s hold up play was decent when he did get the ball, and he almost made an instant impact as he threw his weight around in the box, and the ball fell to Anwar El Ghazi.
Dean Smith – 6
Dean Smith has some real thinking to do. While you can understand him picking an unchanged team, was it too cautious and unadventurous considering the opponents? Also, should he have made proactive substitutes as soon as the opposition went down to 10 men?
Villa have struggled to score goals recently, and when they go behind first, there seems to be no hope of fighting back into the game and getting some points. This was also Sheffield United’s second clean sheet of the season, with the only other team failing to score against them being Newcastle. To compound this Villa conceded what Smith himself described as a ‘soft goal’, and the fact that it was the Blades first goal for four matches adds a little extra sting.
As has been said many times this season, the weekend provides a great chance to bounce back. Villa have had to do this a fair few times this season, with an inconsistent run of form as of late.
With a tough run of fixtures to come after March, lower mid-table obscurity is Villa’s destiny, unless they can find some spark sharpish.