Sheffield United show guts in defeat after John Egan's early red card
The Blades have lost five of their last six matches either side of the summer break, going out of the League Cup on penalties in the other.
They need a win to get their season up and running but that looked a long shot as soon as John Egan was sent off after less than a quarter of an hour of last night's game, Aston Villa's first of the Premier League campaign.
Chris Wilder's side enjoy upsetting the odds and the ten men would have taken the lead had John Lundstram's penalty not been saved but in the English top division, where even the most direct sides are adept at passing the ball quickly and accurately, playing with ten men is a very tall order.
It was credit to the Blades' spirit that they held out for 50 more minutes, and that Ezri Konsa's header from a corner was the hosts' only goal.
The whole nature of the day changed after 13 minutes when Egan was shown a straight red card for pulling back Ollie Watkins as the striker ran clear of goal. It looked a clear professional foul, and although it took video assistant referee Mike Dean a long time, he agreed with referee Graham Scott.
Egan had been named captain with Oliver Norwood substituted in four out of ten league games since last season's post-covid restart, dropped to the bench.
Despite seeing John McGinn head wide after 64 seconds, Sheffield United had started well. Although a defender just beat David McGoldrick to John Lundstram's ball, it was good to see the centre-forward in a dangerous position at the near post.
Being reduced to ten men meant they had to temper their ambitions, McGoldrick shifted to the left wing.
A reshuffle after 31 minutes almost paid instant dividends for the away side. Their 4-4-1 stayed, but with Ethan Ampadu brought on for McGoldrick, Chris Basham was moved to the right of midfield, giving George Baldock extra help dealing with Jack Grealish, and John Lundstram was moved inside.
Oliver Burke had been handed his first Premier League start to use his pace, and it was Egan who had been first to release him down the sides in the ninth minute.
From his new central position Lundstram was able to send the Scot down the inside-left channel after 33 minutes, and when he pulled the ball across, Bahsam was tripped by Mat Targett.
Again it was a clear goalscoring opportunity, but the “double jeopardy” law stops defenders making a genuine attempt being punished by a red card as well as a penalty.
After more lengthy deliberations, Lundstram's penalty was well saved by Villa debutant Emiliano Martinez, diving to his right.
Villa naturally dominated possession – they had 72 per cent of the ball – and kept battering away at the start of the second half, Trezeguet putting a shot the side netting and Watkins heading a deep cross over.
When the Blades broke, the hard-running Burke did his best to give them an option but with so many claret-and-blue shirts around it was inevitably hard to find him.
After 63 minutes, the inevitable happened, Tyrone Mings flicking on a corner and Konsa climbing above Enda Stevens to score.
Rather than opt for damage-limitation, the Blades were positive about it, throwing on Oli McBurnie as a second striker but still achieving that.
Of course Villa had plenty of shots, Grealish just wide, Trezeguet's volley much further from the target, but there were threats at the other end too, Ampadu guiding rather than thrashing a volley but putting it wide, McBurnie not quite able to get on the end of a Burke pull-back and Sander Berge having a shot blocked.
It spoke volumes that Matty Cash, a summer target for the Blades, was booked for time-wasting after 83 minutes.
Grealish shot into the advertising hoardings and Watkins curled over from a McGinn pass but Berge had a shot on the turn blocked in the 90th minute.
The moment that perhaps best summed up the Blades' spirit came in the second added minute when Lundstram threw himself in the way of a Grealish shot after Ampadu had been caught trying to bring the ball out.
As defeats go, it was a pretty heroic one.
Aston Villa: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett: Hourihane (Davis 62), Douglas Luiz, McGinn; Trezeguet, Watkins, Grealish.
Not used: Taylor, Steer, Nakamba, El Ghazi, El Mohamady, Hause.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Basham (McBurnie 68), Egan, O'Connell; Baldock, Lundstram, Berge, Fleck (Osborn 63), Stevens; McGoldrick (Ampadu 31), Burke.
Not used Sharp, Norwood, Foderingham, Robinson.
Referee: G Scott (Oxfordshire).
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