Sheffield United secured just their fourth Premier League win of the season to dent Aston Villa’s European hopes as David McGoldrick’s strike secured a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane.
McGoldrick put the Blades in front after 31 minutes when he turned home George Baldock’s driven cross, sticking out his leg to divert the ball into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men following VAR review in the second period as Phil Jagielka’s challenge on Anwar El Ghazi as the last defender was upgraded to a red card by referee Rob Jones.
But Chris Wilder’s men held on for a rare three points to close the gap on 17th-placed Newcastle to 12 points with 14 games remaining. Villa stay in ninth place on 39 points after 25 games.
Sheff Utd: Ramsdale (8), Baldock (7), Stevens (7), Bryan (7), Ampadu (7), Jagielka (6), Fleck (8), Lundstram (6), Norwood (7), Brewster (6), McGoldrick (7).
Subs: McBurnie (n/a), Osborn (6), Burke (5).
Aston Villa: Martinez (6), Elmohamady (6), Targett (5), Mings (6), Konsa (6), Nakamba (5), Ramsey (5), McGinn (6), El Ghazi (7), Traore (7), Watkins (7).
Subs: Barkley (6), Sanson (5), Davis (n/a).
Man of the match: Aaron Ramsdale.
Too little, too late for Blades?
Wilder, whose side ended a four-game losing streak, admitted this week he does not know if he will be Sheffield United manager next season, but his team produced a valiant display, absorbing some early pressure.
Aston Villa, in the continued absence of Jack Grealish, were seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since Boxing Day – and they had the game’s first chance as Ollie Watkins headed into the path of John McGinn but the midfielder’s shot across goal failed to trouble Aaron Ramsdale.
But Ramsdale was forced into action after 19 minutes when Anwar El Ghazi slipped Watkins into space down the left channel and his low drive was parried out by the former Bournemouth goalkeeper. Watkins wanted a penalty moments later when he was sandwiched inside the box by Kean Bryan and Jagielka but referee Jones waved away his protests.
Having defended resolutely, the hosts took the lead just after the half-hour mark. McGoldrick started and finished the move as his raking pass found Baldock on the right. After the wing-back cut inside, his effort was drifting wide before McGoldrick stretched out a leg to lift the ball into the net via the underside of the bar.
It was the 33-year-old’s sixth goal in 16 Premier League starts this season and only the third time in 14 home games this campaign that Sheffield United had opened the scoring – but they were so nearly pegged back immediately.
Bertrand Traore was found by Ahmed Elmohamady, and the forward escaped Oliver Norwood, Jagielka and Bryan with his weaving run before curling his shot just wide of the post.
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder made just one change to the side that were beaten 2-0 by Liverpool last time out as Rhian Brewster started in place of Oliver McBurnie, who dropped to the substitutes bench.
Aston Villa were again without Jack Grealish. Dean Smith named the same starting XI that beat Leeds 1-0, and indeed it was the exact same matchday squad.
It was a frustrating opening 45 minutes for Villa, who were faced with the challenge of improving a record of collecting just one point having conceded the first goal this term.
The visitors hadn’t come back to win a Premier League game since January last season against Watford, but they came within inches of equalising nine minutes into the restart when Watkins directed El Ghazi’s cross onto the woodwork.
A minute later came the game’s major flashpoint as Jagielka was initially shown yellow for hauling down El Ghazi on the counter-attack. But VAR Graham Scott advised Jones to review the incident via a pitchside monitor, and the match official upgraded the card to red, deeming Jagielka to have been the last defender.
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright said: “Another game, another instance of VAR controversy. Jagielka was clumsy but was El Ghazi really away? Or would one of Jagielka’s team-mates got back and caught him? There will be plenty of differing views on that one.”
Villa failed to make their numerical advantage count, however, as Wilder immediately reverted to a back four.
Chances were few and far between but Sheffield United stood defiant. El Ghazi’s cross was headed back across goal by Traore for McGinn to shoot first time but Ethan Ampadu was in the right place to block.
Villa continued to press against the disciplined Blades backline, but when Ezri Konsa’s low shot was brilliantly kept out by Ramsdale in the final minute of normal time, the Premier League’s bottom side had the victory their efforts deserved.
Sheffield United host Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off is at 3pm. Aston Villa will also feature in front of the Sky Sports cameras next up as they host Wolves on Saturday Night Football at 5.30pm.