Sheffield United hang on to beat Aston Villa despite Phil Jagielka's VAR red

Aaron Bower at Bramall Lane
·3 min read

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.

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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.

“It was very frustrating from our point of view,” Smith said, after watching his side miss out on a chance to make up ground on those above them. Before McGoldrick’s goal, his side were wasteful. John McGinn fired wide from close range, before Bertrand Traoré fashioned a wonderful chance for himself but he too shot wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal.

“We had the best chances, and ended up somehow going in a goal behind,” Smith said. “We’ve thrown points away tonight. With all the possession we had in the final third, we needed better quality.” The home side led at half-time despite Villa’s dominance, when McGoldrick turned home George Baldock’s skewed shot for his sixth league goal of the season.

It would prove to be decisive, but not before the Blades survived over half an hour with 10 men, after Jagielka was sent off. The referee, Robert Jones, booked the 38-year-old for his foul on El Ghazi, but after VAR intervened, overturned his decision and adjudged that Jagielka had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.

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The Blades were incensed as Jagielka appeared to be covered by a defender behind him. Smith admitted the decision “could have gone either way”.

Wilder, who has bemoaned VAR already on numerous occasions this season, said: “As soon as he went over to the monitor, he’s gone. I don’t know where I’m at with it all. Maybe I’ve gone past caring. For any young coaches, that’s how it gets you.”

Wilder’s side dug deep, however, with Ramsdale denying Ezri Konsa in stoppage time.

“Any result for Sheffield United in this division is huge, and I won’t underestimate that,” Wilder said. “We took a lot of big moments last year, and we took one tonight.”