Sheffield United 2-0 Aston Villa: John Fleck nets double to down struggling visitors as Chris Wilder’s high-flying Blades move back into fifth spot
- Sheffield United opened the scoring soon after the break through John Fleck
- Scotsman Fleck then netted his second with a cool finish beyond Tom Heaton
- The visitors failed to halve the deficit when Jack Grealish’s penalty hit the post
- Wesley and Grealish had squandered good openings for the visitors to level
- Neither side were able to impress throughout a first half of very few chances
A brace from John Fleck settled a slow burner between two of the top-flight’s new boys and handed Sheffield United back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time in 13 years.
The result, secured after Jack Grealish spurned a VAR-penalty lifeline with a quarter of an hour remaining by striking the cross bar, lifted Chris Wilder’s team back into the European places.
Those opting for this match over Christmas shopping would have trudged through the turnstiles in anticipation of a cracker if recent evidence was anything to go by.
Sheffield United climbed back into fifth spot after easing beyond Aston Villa at Bramall Lane
After all, last season’s two fixtures between the clubs dished up 11 goals and no end of drama.
A 4-1 defeat here 15 months ago was Villa’s first of the Championship campaign and began a sequence of results that led to the sacking of Steve Bruce.
It also highlighted the promotion credentials of a relatively unfancied team put together by Chris Wilder.
But it was the second game between the pair in February that was more significant in the greater scheme of things.
The Yorkshire club were three goals clear at Villa Park through Billy Sharp when the hosts produced a ferocious finale that saw their deficit eroded in the final eight minutes.
It was the point at which United were expected to be derailed in their three-way tussle for a top-two finish with Norwich and Leeds.
Scotsman Fleck was teed up by John Lundstram inside the box and rifled beyond Tom Heaton
Fleck wheeled away in celebration after coolly firing the Blades in front against the strugglers
MATCH FACTS AND LEAGUE TABLE
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Henderson 6; Basham 7, Egan 6.5, O’Connell 6.5; Baldock 7, Lundstram 7, Norwood 6.5 (Besic 86), Fleck 7.5, Stevens 6.5; Mousset 6 (McBurnie 60, 6), McGoldrick 6.5 (Osborn 90)
Subs (not used): Moore, Freeman, Sharp, Jagielka
Booked: Norwood, Fleck
Manager: Chris Wilder 7.5
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Heaton 6; Guilbert 6, Engels 6, Hause 6.5, Targett 6; McGinn 6, Nakamba 7, Lansbury 5.5 (Luiz 66, 5.5); El Ghazi 6 (Trezeguet 80), Wesley 6 (Kodjia 69, 5.5), Grealish 6
Subs (not used): Nyland, Taylor, Konsa, Elmohamady
Booked: Hause, Targett
Manager: Dean Smith 6.5
Referee: Peter Bankes 6
Attendance: 30, 396
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Rather than deflate, however, it galvanised. Seven consecutive clean sheets followed as part of a sequence that returned 10 wins and four draws from the final 15 matches as Yorkshire’s other United were edged out of the equation.
This time, though, there was no need for an abacus during a first half that that didn’t get out of first gear. In which the number of shots on goal could be counted on one finger – an Enda Stevens’ attempt from distance that flew over the top.
Such a statistic was credit to a Villa team with three quarters of its back four altered following defeat to Leicester last weekend.
With England international Tyrone Mings nursing a hamstring injury, there was a first Premier League appearance for the club for Kortney Hause – a £3million summer signing from Wolves – at the heart of the defence while Bjorn Engels was preferred to Ezri Konsa as his partner and Frederic Guilbert came in for Ahmed Elmohamady on the right.
During the first 45 minutes, there was simply not enough urgency in United’s play to make their overloads in wide areas effective.
Fleck later netted his second goal of the encounter after a clever pass from David McGoldrick
The 28-year-old celebrated with Lundstram after the high-flying Blades edged further in front
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish then saw a spot kick agonisingly strike the woodwork
In a reprise of last week’s win at Norwich, that changed as soon as the second half kicked off.
And within five minutes Bramall Lane was restored to its atmospheric best.
Improvisation on the right flank from Chris Basham, in the shape of a back-heel, offered John Lundstram the chance to step into space and Fleck – one of three red-and-white shirted players in a central area – turned in a deflected cross at the near post.
Until then a rather sluggish affair’s two biggest moments of note had been a couple of VAR stoppages: one for a potential elbow by John Egan when his trailing arm caught Guilbert and another for a United penalty shout when the ball struck Hause in the midriff.
But the second period was much more bountiful in terms of match action as the hosts lifted the tempo.
Wesley attempted to squeeze an effort inside Dean Henderson’s near post but narrowly missed
Villa defender Kourtney Hause was shown a yellow card after a challenge on David McGoldrick
Grealish exchanged words with Peter Banks as Dean Smith’s men laboured for an opener
And, having seen the visitors brush the side netting through a Wesley shot and Grealish header respectively just before the hour mark, they sealed the three points with a brilliant team goal finished by Fleck 15 minutes from time.
Having fed the ball to George Baldock on the edge of the area, the Scottish midfielder continued his run and took David McGoldrick’s hooked assist in his stride before dispatching past Tom Heaton.
It would not be a Sheffield United match without a technology twist, though. Only this time it did not hurt them.
Awarded a penalty after intervention from TV official Stuart Burt, Villa captain Grealish stepped up and crashed his shot from 12 yards straight down the middle – only for the ball to flash back past him following impact with woodwork.
Blades boss Chris Wilder watched on as his side rose back into the lofty heights of fifth spot
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