Aston Villa let themselves down in the second half today, and hang precariously in the league table.
Words: Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
Aston Villa lie just goal difference away from the drop zone after a John Fleck double at Bramall Lane sent the Pride back to Birmingham with nothing – and Dean Smith will be keeping a keen eye on fellow strugglers Southampton and West Ham, who play later today.
The loss confirms a crucial Christmas period for Aston Villa, with games against fellow strugglers Southampton, Norwich and Watford on the horizon.
The game started fairly quietly, and it was clear that Dean Smith wanted to tighten up after last weeks thrashing against Leicester City.
Bjorn Engels has arguably been Aston Villa’s most dependable defender this season; and it was his sliding clearance that stopped an early low ball from Jack O’Connell before Nakamba blocked his follow up.
Chris Wilder has continued to use the wing back system in the Premier League and this caused Aston Villa problems out wide. Too often a switch was on, allowing Stevens or Baldock to get some kind of delivery into the box. Thankfully, Engels and Hause were switched on enough to clear most that came their way.
At the other end, Wesley was struggling to find much joy against the trio of Sheffield United centre-backs. This, coupled with passes going astray and a lack of belief going forward, meant that the Villa failed to register a shot in the first half.
Before the break David McGoldrick got in behind Frederic Guilbert, with the former Ipswich man finding Lundstram – who’s shot was blocked by the chest of Kortney Hause – with calls for handball swiftly waved away by referee Peter Banks.
In the second half, Oliver Norwood put in a dangerous cross from the right, but Guilbert was there to deny McGoldrick any sort of clear connection on the ball.
This proved to be a warning sign that Aston Villa didn’t heed. Chris Basham’s backheel allowed John Lundstram time to pick out a low cross, finding John Fleck who sidefooted in for the opener.
With 55 minutes gone, El Ghazi found Wesley – and the Aston Villa striker did well to hold off Enda Stevens but only found the side netting with his strike. Anwar looked to create again moments later, crossing for Grealish who headed wide.
After the hour mark Smith decided to ring the changes, Douglas Luiz coming in for Henri Lansbury and Jonathan Kodjia for Wesley.
It didn’t have the desired effect, and instead Aston Villa found themselves two goals down after 72 minutes, as McGoldrick hooked the ball over his head to an onrushing Fleck who got his second of the game with a low strike.
With a quarter of an hour left, Matt Targett’s cross skipped up onto the arm of John Egan, leaving Banks with no choice after the intervention of VAR to award the penalty. Jack Grealish summed up Aston Villa’s day with an effort that crashed off the underside of the bar.
Chris Wilder’s side seemed much more energised than Aston Villa right up to the final whistle. Basham, Stevens and Baldock continued to bomb forward whilst Aston Villa looked ragged, tired and bereft of ideas.
Ultimately, it was a day to forget for Dean Smith who will be looking for a reaction from his players next week when Aston Villa host Liverpool and Southampton.