Goals from Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn ensured United deservedly beat their more illustrious opposition in front of a jubilant 6,000 travelling fans.
United brought back Jamie Murphy from the start for Connor Coady in the only change although the bench featured youngsters Terry Kennedy and 16 year old Dominic Calvert Lewin.
Villa opted not to start with Gabriel Agbonlahor but Christian Benteke did play. They also changed keepers with deputy Ged Steer in for Brad Guzan. They also made a late change with Tonev coming in for Baker meaning ex Blade Lowton began at centre back. However it was still a strong team that they named amongst all the pre match talk over Paul Lambert’s comments about the FA Cup losing its appeal.
The game began with United kicking away from the majority of their 6,000 fans, although some were seated in the stand to the side meaning there was a really impressive backing from the Blades. The home ends were rather sparsely populated in comparison.
United began by winning a series of midfield battles and then Collins blocked out Benteke. The United defender was harshly booked for a challenge on the dangerous Albrighton. The winger had caused some problems early with his strong running but United were well in the game and from a move forward they shocked the home side by taking the lead.
MURPHY took up the ball after Baxter fed him and ran at the defence before cutting inside and his shot took a deflection to loop up and into the goal. The goal was a reward for the winger’s determination to attack and have a go at goal.
Buoyed by this United continued to work hard and use the ball well when they could. Murphy had another shot but this time was well off target before Albrighton’s cross was cleared as Weimann looked to get in on goal. Tonev shot wide and then Clark was booked for a challenge on Porter that drew blood. The game was relatively even but United were actually using the ball well and winning key battles. Benteke had been watched well but had a header wide before a golden chance right on half time from Albrighton’s cross as he got between Collins and Maguire but inexplicably headed wide. It was a let off but United had played well and were applauded off by the large travelling contingent as they went off at the break.
The second half saw United actually begin the better side and Flynn had two efforts on goal which Steer palmed out before Albrighton’s speculative cross had to palmed away by Long. Porter then shot wide at the other end from Flynn’s cross as United were now creating and making numerous chances. They were knocking the ball about with speed and purpose and if anyone looked like scoring again then it was the away side. Villa had offered little and the home crowd were becoming very frustrated with their efforts. Helenius came on for Tonev as Lambert looked to find anything but more good work from McMahon and then Maguire prevented any chance for a shot on goal.
United had looked relatively comfortable but suddenly after another ball in from Albrighton and a series of deflections then ball fell to the substitute HELENIUS who hit a low powerful shot past Long. It was right justice on the visitors who had held the Premier League side rather comfortably.
Undeterred United came again and Porter had a chance but clipped it wide when well placed after more good work from the impressive Flynn. The winger looked like a man possessed as he came inside and hit a fierce cross cum shot that just missed the far post.
Coady came on for Baxter but the Blades were certainly not looking like they were settling for a replay and this positive intent was rewarded
FLYNN got on the ball again and once again looked to attack and this time he came inside and went past a defender before unleashing a left foot shot that fairly arrowed into the top corner past the despairing dive of Steer who had no chance. The United players collapsed in a heap on top of the scorer as the away fans behind the goal celebrated wildly.
United had less than 10 minutes to play and Doyle showed more good work to block out Benteke before Maguire and Collins cleared again. Villa wasted more chances to get the ball in the box and many home fans started to leave the ground. United kept the ball well again in the right areas and continued to keep their shape and discipline. The board went up signalling four additional minutes and United brought on Miller and Kennedy for Murphy and Porter as they looked to see the game out. Villa won a late corner but in truth they never really tested Long with Weimann shooting over and Benteke’s overhead kick well off target. Long was booked for time wasting but the final whistle was not long ago and when it came the celebrations from both players and fans alike showed real togetherness as the side stayed on the pitch for a long time to celebrate with the fans with even the normal mild mannered manager Clough punching the air towards the visiting fans.
United – I have been very critical of United over the last few seasons and despite many protesting I think I have been justified in some of my criticism as players who although poor should have been doing much better than they were. Often getting outfought and outworked aswell as poor basics with the football, at times this Blades side in recent times has been tough to watch.
However, now and again this club surprises you and you can actually go home with very little negative to say. At Villa Park you could definitely say that. We were excellent from start to finish. We worked our socks off, were well organised, determined and actually looked a threat on the break. Villa had a few chances but we had more and overall we actually deserved to win in my opinion. Sure many will look at the opposition who were poor but I would rather focus on my side that were superb and did very little wrong all game. We defended really well, kept our shape, played with our heads and our hearts and it would have been hard to take if we had not won the game.
The defence headed and cleared it but used it well when they could and never really got overrun or gave away chance after chance. Other than one free header from Benteke we were quite secure and restricted them to half chances until the goal. The midfield fought hard and used it well when they could but most importantly they got in good positions and kept the best shape I have seen from us for a long time. We were organised and disciplined and covered when we had to, making sure they were no gaps in key areas.
One of the biggest praises today is not just the shape/organisation and heart we showed but also the level of passing, skill and one touch football. We actually passed it well and at times played triangles of passes and went forward with it. There was some neat one touch stuff and even at 1-0 we kept passing it and did not just lump it. We attacked with purpose and intent and did not go sideways or backwards as they did.
Up front we broke well and had chances with Flynn in particular causing real problems and having some good efforts on goal. Porter could have maybe done a little better at times but even he contributed to the win. Baxter’s passing was mixed but he put some lovely balls out amongst a few poor balls. More than anything we broke well, actually at pace and used it well in the last third meaning we did have chances. With a bit surer finishing or a touch more composure we could have scored more goals.
It was a performance that shocked me but in a good way and it reminded me of the days of Bassett and Warnock when we played a team that were underdogs and fought harder and showed more passion. We also showed some skill and ability to surprise the bigger side as evidence by the winning goal. It was one of few days in recent years where you could puff your chest out and say you were proud of your team. You stayed at the end to clap them off and you meant it rather than the token applause it sometimes is. They finally put in a quality, all round performance and wore the shirts with pride.
I suppose the only slight criticism is more looking at the bigger picture. Quite simply if we can play like that today why cannot we do that more often and why are we in the position we are in? I am not saying we should be top of the league or anything as sadly I still think many of players lack quality and also consistency. However we should be comfortably mid table pushing for the playoffs if yesterday’s performance is anything to go by. I will counter such criticism and say maybe if you look at the form and results under Clough, if we had done that over the full season then that is where we will be. We have no excuses for not pulling away from the bottom area of the league. We still need more up top but the main thing the players have to take from today as that they have shown what they can do. To see likes of Flynn and Murphy running at and beating Premier League full backs and Doyle and McGinn winning countless loose balls and the defence coping with a World Cup player Benteke relatively well.
Villa – Apparently they had 62% possession and 9 shots (3 off) on target to 8 (5 off us) from us. Those stats may be accurate; they may not be but they are a nonsense to me. Maybe they did have more ball and more efforts on goal but they did nothing with the ball and the efforts on goal outside of the goal I can barely remember Long making any other saves? United were excellent winning first and second balls, winning individual battles and passing it better with more purpose but Villa were awful. We made them look bad by winning battles and shutting them out all so easily but I have to say I still expected more from Villa despite noting our outstanding organisation and play.
They never penetrated when it mattered, could not really get through our defence and looked generally clueless. I overheard a Villa fan saying after the game how they just knocked it sideways and backwards and never really looked like scoring much of the game. It was hard to argue as they looked woeful and I would say we have played better League One sides this season with more purpose and who have caused us more problems. Benteke was never really a threat although he missed one good chance. He looked disinterested for long spells as Maguire and Collins got to the ball first. I felt Albrighton caused problems for a spell and put in some dangerous balls but he faded. Weimann on the other side was barely involved and the other lad up top Tonev was completely ineffective. Helenius at least looked a threat and obviously scored a decent struck goal.
In midfield Delph showed some neat touches and clearly has some talent but often got crowded out and the rest just knocked it sideways and backwards. Westwood has been a regular started but he was not a factor in the game as Doyle and McGinn showed more desire. At the back they were missing captain Vlaar and I felt they looked like they did much of last season and were never totally solid. Lowton played centre back but was not great and some of his clearances were poor. Ditto for Clark. The rhyming full backs Luna and Bacuna had another thing in common. They were both given a bit of a roasting from Murphy and Flynn with Luna in particular woeful.
As a team they lacked shape, discipline and more than that desire. They did not fancy it. Even saying that you would expect when they had the ball they would have done more with it. I cannot recall them really hurting us and they never got beyond us and ran out of ideas. The amount of time they just knocked it out of play or gave it away leading to jeers from the home crowd, I lost count of. I was pleased Agbonlahor did not play as he was the one with his raw pace I most feared. When he was not in the 16 I felt it increased out chances considerably but they still had a very strong side out. Vlaar was injured the keeper would not have mattered to the goal is Guzan had played.
They were really poor and as my friend who is a Villa fan remarked many seem to have had enough of the manager. On the surface that seems harsh as he has had little funds and been with a squad of a lot of young players and he took over a difficult situation when McCleish left. However then you see how bad they were today and the fact they have gone out to Bradford, Millwall and us in the cup is not great. You could see them getting sucked into a relegation fight as they lack genuine quality and the natives seem to be restless despite them not being right in the mire (at least at the moment).
Ratings – (upped some from my twitter ones after time to reflect)
Long 7/10 – Did not look the jittery keeper he has been in recent games I have seen. His kicking was poor although maybe some were intentionally kicked out as we looked to see the clock out at the end! He did not have that much to do in general play with a few routine saves but he punched clear a few times and generally looked more competent than he has been. Had little chance on goal with a well driven effort.
McMahon 8/10 – Good today. He picked up his routine booking for another daft foul and skirted on the edge with a few dived tackles after but he did win them. He was determined and resolute today making some good tackles, defending with common sense and doing the basics well. He also got forward really well and supported the attack as he and Flynn caused all sorts of problems second half with him often overlapping giving Flynn the chance to come inside. A performance today that showed what he is capable of.
Hill 8/10 – Felt he was up against Villa’s best player on the day in Albrighton who was a tricky customer showing some nice dribbling, pace and putting in some dangerous crosses. He got left one on one a few times as Murphy was a bit slow to spot the problem but this improved as the game went on. However after a start where the winger got away from Hill, I felt he got stronger and stronger to the point where the winger was not really a threat any more. Made some key blocks and tackles second half as the whole defence stayed solid. He even got forward a few times second half once when I was shouting for him to get back as they broke and nearly had a chance but it was nice to see a new kind of adventure.
Collins 8/10 – Very good as he and Maguire stayed solid most of the game. Benteke had one half headed chance and then a really good chance when he pulled off Collins into space and the defender was slow to react. He should have scored. Outside of this he was very good and headed/cleared ball, kept in a good position and looked more like the player we saw in the good season of a few years ago when he was one of our better players.
Maguire 8/10 – Thought he was excellent. His positional sense was superb throughout and he picked off several through balls that came into his area. Made some key tackles and blocks and like his partner headed and kicked the ball away when needed. Stepped out of the defence quite a few times to initiate some of our attacks too and played some decent balls into the midfield/wide areas. Showed he could probably survive at a higher level (Champ) if he was on his game week in, week out, despite his lack of pace/mobility as good positional sense is such a key part to a good defender.
Flynn 9/10 – Excellent. Left me scratching my head as to why he cannot do that every week and questioning where the performance came from! Actually played well in last home game so maybe the penny has dropped and he realises his contract is soon to be up. Today he ran at the defence, had shots/crosses and looked a different player. Showed neat control, good dribbling and used both feet well. He was our main threat and could have had another goal with 2 or 3 efforts even before his goal. Took his goal superbly as he came across the area and then hit it with his wrong foot giving the keeper no chance. If he plays like that I would keep him but he has to be more like that (not saying he will play as well as that every week but must show same intentions from a positive, attacking sense).
McGinn 8/10 – Did his job well as he sat in a more defensive position than recent weeks but picked off passes/loose touches from Villa and used it relatively sensibly throughout the game. He was neat and tidy with the ball but off it was where his best work came as he worked tirelessly with Doyle to deny space and time for Villa in that area of the field. They both kept their discipline too and made sure we had a nice shape that was hard to break down.
Doyle 8.5/10 – Thought he played really well today too and was everything McGinn was above He got spoken to by the referee but this did not put him off and kept tackling/fighting and winning key tackles. He actually showed some good leadership as saw him talking to others throughout the game and ensuring we kept the right line of defence and that players switched into positions when others went forward; recall twice him dropping into the full back area to cover for runs forward from Hill and McMahon.
Murphy 7.5/10- He began the game well and scored a decent goal via a deflection after he ran at the defence. He had a few other decent runs where he attacked the defender and got up and down the flank well. He did leave Hill exposed for a small period early on but then did get back and cover well then he had to and in the second half he also tucked inside when he had to making us even more solid. Hearing rumours about him going leaves me mixed as for the most part he has been a big disappointment but the last few weeks it looks like finally he has found some sort of form. He needs to show consistency now and not drift out of games as he has in the past.
Baxter 7/10 – Played just off Porter and often did have to come back into midfield and often in key moments he was the one picking up the ball from the defence/midfield to kick start the attack. Gave it away a few times but also played some lovely threaded balls inside the full back or into key areas. I felt he played Porter in with a few good balls that his partner was just a bit slow to react to. A clever player who can do things a lot of our players cannot in terms of close control, shooting/scoring abilities and his range of passing and type of balls he can play.
Porter 6.5/10 – He did some ok things and moved across the line as often he was the only one up there but he had some decent support from wide today and coming from midfield so was not completely isolated. He at times held it ok and brought others into play but at times he was too slow to react to perfectly decent balls. I may get criticised for this but felt he was one major weak link today. At times he gave it away or could not control it and never looked like getting on the end of anything despite some decent crosses. Missed one good chance second half but at least got in a good area for that. He contributed to the win but I feel with someone with a bit better control, pace and anticipation today up top we may actually have got more goals. He is one player we definitely do need to upgrade.
Coady – Introduced for Baxter and played in similar area maybe a bit more withdrawn. Was neat and tidy when on the ball and contributed to the defensive efforts when it mattered in the final stages.
Miller – Brought on in stoppage time and played wide left for final moments.
Kennedy – Came on right at the death and played between Maguire and Collins. Involved as he challenged and Benteke over head kicked well wide at the death.
Clough 9/10 – Little to criticise. The team played brilliantly, fought hard, were motivated and ready from the start. He had them set up well from back to front, but they were organised and resolute. We looked like we had a particular emphasis on keeping our shape and positions to ensure they had little room to manoeuvre. They were shown into non dangerous areas and we closed down the areas that could have caused problems. Often they passed it from side to side and went nowhere which was as much down to our players as them in that we stopped them from using superior pace/quality when it mattered as positions/tactics and willingness to win first and second balls.
Bravely brought Murphy back and gave us a relatively attacking line up which was brave as it would have been easier to have gone more solid with Coady. He seemed to get the tactics and selection exactly right and I felt that all game we had the measure of them. A lot was down to great effort and heart but the system also helped massively. The organisation from Clough and the side is like light and day from the times of Weir. Whatever criticisms we could point at the side and even Clough to some degree, much of the problems comes from the players not being good or consistent enough. The one constant that has been put in place since he came is the fact we have become so much more organised, hard to beat and look more like a team than before when in truth we were a sorry mess.
Officials – Did feel there was a strong whiff of Premier League bias for long spells of the game but as the contest wore on I think even he realised they were so poor and started to give decisions with a more balanced and fair type of officiating. The game began with a series of very harsh free kicks to Villa down the right hand side including one booking for Collins that barely looked like a foul let alone a yellow card. He gave a lot of 50/50’s to them mainly in the first half but did at least give us some free kicks as the game went on. I did feel we did not get much from him though and seemed desperate to give them things at times.
The linesmen were poor too with the one on the side where the Blades fans particularly poor and they did not help the general bewilderment at some of the decisions.
Heard some say he was a Premier League referee but never heard of the guy (David Coote). Maybe he was looking for a promotion by favouring the bigger team. Not sure but he was generally awful and we won deservedly in spite of this guy’s bizarre and rather biased display.
They had three booked for quite cynical trips/fouls and I would say they fouled us as much as them as the stats bear out (12-11). The Long booking at the end was fair enough as he was taking a ridiculous time to take his goal kicks but you could understand that.
Crowd – Villa obviously did not care about this as a regulation match as the crowd numbers and lack of noise bore out. Of course you can understand that. This was not a big game for them and not the most important match of the season. Still for a team that’s only real goal is to stay up, this is the only other thing they could have a run in and I think at the end the reaction of the crowd proved those there did care and were disgusted by the performance. We have been to games against smaller sides and there has been no noise/lack of numbers so cannot be hypocritical but do have to say they were incredibly quiet and United’s large following were the only noise all day. The support was outstanding all afternoon and they willed the team to victory as they attacked where the majority where. Have to say despite great atmosphere and tremendous celebrations for the goals and at the end there were some individuals who did not really do themselves any favours. Obviously the lighter being thrown and some seats broken were not great but from a personal experience there were some less than pleasant fans around us. Maybe too much ale or too over excited but to listen to one fan have a go at my friend’s Dad as he chose to sit rather than stand (did so as he is senior in age and also chose to sit as he wanted to) was poor. Surely that is his choice? I know a lot like to choose but some can’t do that for a whole game and surely they need to be respected too. Maybe I am a boring so and so but all fans are different and some people cannot stand all game even if they wanted to. A few over excited fans and pretty disgusting chants about Ched Evans coming in was also a little embarrassing as Villa fans near me were gobsmacked. Despite these gripes will end to say that on the whole the support was superb with noise, passion and belief that seemed to filter down to the Blades. It was one of those days where you loved being a Blade and it was a good atmosphere at the end and in the pubs after the game
The ground is very impressive. First time I had been since the mid 90’s. It is what I like about English football grounds. Like Goodison Park and Anfield maybe parts of it has seen better days but it has lots of character. Has all the history and tradition but also looks a bit more modern than those two I have mentioned, certainly from inside the ground. Love the steps and the back of the Holte End. So imposing and traditional. Four big stands all the same height with the imposing Holte End at one end (imagine it can create some right noise when full). The away end offers a good view from behind the goal (upper tier where we were) but the facilities inside are awful when full with large numbers as you can barely move, get in the toilet or get anything to eat or drink. It was bordering on dangerous down there so chose to go the toilet right on half time.
Day Out – Got into Brum around 10ish. Not a big fan of the city I am afraid and prefer many more other bigger cities in the UK. Just ever had a good feel for Birmingham and feel it is not the most pretty of cities. Still found some good pubs today. After we got in we went to the Wellington. Played darts and had a few nice real ales before heading to the Post Office Vaults. We had a bite to eat near the canal and then had a nice walk (walked off lunch/ales) along canal up to the Jewellery Quarter and had pints at the Rose Villa Tavern, the Church Inn and the Lord Clifden, Some really nice pubs although most were populated by West Brom fans who were at home and many get the train from there or cabs to the ground. We got a cab to Villa Park around 2.30 and had a walk around the ground before going in. After the game got the train back from nearby Witton and had a drink in the Shakespeare before going in the big pub near the Cathedral, the Old Joint Stock before finishing with a pint in the Victoria (nice pub back of New Street) and the Bacchus (huge underground bar) before getting home around 11pm after our train was delayed due to some fighting at Derby sadly.
Overall a great Blades away day. Plenty of great pubs, a huge following and an upset win where the team played great. What could be better.
Aston Villa 1 Sheffield United 2
Goals from Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn ensured United deservedly beat their more illustrious opposition in front of a jubilant 6,000 travelling fans.