Sheffield United turned the clock back to 2019-20 as they kept their second clean sheet (in 27 games) of the 2020-21 season in a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Turf Moor on Wednesday.
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The victory changes very little in terms of Sheffield United’s impending relegation back to the EFL Championship, but it deals a massive blow to Aston Villa’s hopes of European qualification.
3 things we learned: Sheffield United – Aston Villa
1. Massive opportunity missed for Aston Villa: By definition, there won’t come any easier game the rest of the way for Villa, who coming into Wednesday were somewhat hopeful of a top-four finish. Taking on the last-place side — one with all of three wins on the season — should have been a mere formality. A gift from the schedule makers, at this critical — and busy — point of the season.
2. Blades still playing for Wilder: Sheffield United’s players could have well and truly quit on the 2020-21 season after starting the campaign with two points from their first 17 games, but they instead all four of their wins, and the majority of their best performances, have come in the last 10 games.
3. Grealish’s absence weighing heavy: With Jack Grealish (calf) in the team, Aston Villa are one of the most entertaining free-flowing sides in the Premier League. Without him in the team, Aston Villa look like just another side in the Premier League. Even with a man advantage for 33 minutes, the ideas were severely lacking in his absence.
John McGinn should have put the visitors ahead in the 11th minute, and Aston Villa would eventually paid for his wastefulness. Bertrand Traore’s initial shot was blocked, but the ball bounced across the face of goal and wound up with McGinn at the back post. The Scottish international dragged his follow-up effort well wide.
Sheffield United took their unlikely lead in the 31st minute, when David McGoldrick arrived in the right place at the right time to turn home George Baldock’s wayward shot at the far post. Baldock cut in from the right side of the penalty area and dragged a shot across the face of goal, but well wide. McGoldrick simply never halted his run into the box and breezed past every dark blue shirt stuck in cement.
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Aston Villa were incredibly unlucky to not draw level in the 54th minute, as Ollie Watkins sent a glancing header high and toward the far post from Matt Targett’s cross. Watkins needed to get ever so slightly higher on the ball, though, as it bounded high in the air and crashed off the crossbar with Aaron Ramsdale rooted in place.
Much of Sheffield United’s hard work was undone in the 57th minute, when Phil Jagielka was sent off for bringing Anwar El Ghazi down out near midfield. Upon video review, it was deemed that El Ghazi was set for an obvious goal-scoring opportunity with 40 yards of green grass in front of him.
Aston Villa largely failed to make the most of their advantage as they settled for a series of long-range shots which hardly tested Ramsdale down the stretch.