Aston Villa’s European aspirations were dealt a blow as they were beaten 1-0 at home by bottom side Sheffield United.
David McGoldrick’s goal on the half-hour secured only Blades’ fourth win of the season for the Premier League’s bottom side.
United defender Phil Jagielka was sent off early in the second half for a foul on Anwar El Ghazi, but Villa couldn’t find an equaliser against the 10 men.
Here’s how the national media reported on the game…
‘Performance to forget’ – BBC Sport
Villa’s transformation since surviving relegation on the final day of last season has been startling – but this was a performance to forget from a team that has been turning heads this campaign.
They started the season with four straight wins and although they have thrown in some surprise defeats – this loss coming four days after winning at Leeds – it has been a positive campaign for Dean Smith’s side.
They struggled to impose themselves in front of goal at Bramall Lane, although Watkins was unfortunate with his header that struck the woodwork, while Traore went close after showing great foot work inside the penalty area.
Keeper Emiliano Martinez has impressed all season but there was little he could do to keep out McGoldrick from close range after the defence was undone by Baldock’s pass.
Villa have been excellent on the road this season, with victories at Leicester, Arsenal and Wolves among seven they have managed away from Villa Park.
‘Grealish’s creativity missed’ – The Mirror
After winning without Jack Grealish at Leeds on Saturday, Villa missed his creativity last night.
They played some nice football and John McGinn and Bertrand Traore missed good chances.
They might have had a penalty when Kean Bryan barged over Ollie Watkins as he ran through.
The Blades showed character and scored on 30 minutes through a goal which was all down to McGoldrick’s desire.
He played a fine diagonal ball to George Baldock on the right and when the wing-back cut inside and crossed to the back post, he was there to score off the underside of the bar to register United’s first in five hours and 35 minutes of league action.
‘Elmohamady switched off’ – Mail Online
Without injured captain Jack Grealish, Villa missed a big chance to move closer to the European places.
Ollie Watkins headed against the post yet despite playing against 10 men for more than half an hour, they could not break through.
Despite their multiple injuries, the home side matched Villa in a competitive opening half, though the first good chance fell to Smith’s men.
Watkins won the header after Bertrand Traore’s shot was blocked and John McGinn outmuscled Kean Bryan at the far post only to drag the ball wide.
Villa were punished in the 31st minute when McGoldrick found George Baldock with a diagonal ball and continued into the box, scoring off the bar when Ahmed Elmohamady switched off and allowed him to reach the cross.
‘Villa fall short – The Telegraph
It was a disappointing evening for Villa, who have threatened to break into the European places but have fallen short this season when within sight of those above them. They have failed to win consecutive games since Boxing Day.
Villa’s progress has been underpinned by keeping eight clean sheets away from home but they were breached by a move started and finished by Sheffield United’s captain.
McGoldrick swept the ball across the pitch to George Baldock and carried on his run into the penalty area. Baldock had eyes for a goal himself but his shot turned into a perfect cross for McGoldick to slide in and finish off the crossbar for his seventh goal of the season.
Jagielka’s dismissal came just before the hour when Anwar El Ghazi raced through on goal and was brought down, with Kean Bryan dashing back to cover. The initial yellow card was checked by Var who asked the referee to have a look at the incident on the pitchside monitor, which so often results in a reversal.
‘Beleaguered Villa’ – The Guardian
There have been plenty of faults you can level against Sheffield United this season but one thing you feel you can never doubt about this side is their spirit.
How that was evident here as Chris Wilder’s side heroically hung on for a fourth win of the season against a beleaguered Aston Villa side which although may not prove decisive in their uphill battle to avoid relegation, certainly was impressive.
This performance was reminiscent of last season’s success the Blades enjoyed. Reduced to 10 men with over half an hour remaining after Phil Jagielka’s red card for a foul on Anwar El Ghazi, and without all three recognised first-choice centre-halves that were the backbone of last season’s campaign, it felt inevitable they would concede at some point.
But time and time again, they hurled themselves in front of everything Villa threw their way, eventually hanging on and reducing the vast gap to safety to a still-significant 12 points after David McGoldrick’s first-half strike.
The Aston Villa manager, Dean Smith, may look back on this game as vital given their aspirations for European football next season.