Aston Villa 3 Sheffield United 3
Aston Villa’s remarkable comeback from 3-0 down in the last eight minutes against Sheffield United, was a match to enjoy only in isolation like most of their crazy high-scoring draws this season.
In the context of Villa’s dying play-off hopes, the 3-3 draw left Dean Smith’s team with one win in their last 11 games and the realisation that it looks more than likely it’ll be a fourth season in the Championship for Villa.
After two abject performances from back-to-back games against teams in the bottom three had bought four points, Sheffield United provided a proper play-off litmus test at Villa Park. A win for the Blades would have taken them to the top spot in the league.
In the first half Villa were poor, while a buzzing Sheffield United side impressed. Villa failed to force a single corner, never mind a shot on target.
While a mixture of poor referring and Billy Sharp’s opportunism saw the Blades 3-0 up and seemingly out of sight, Villa were worryingly lacklustre. Their handful of dynamic displays against other teams in the play-off spots at the start of Dean Smith’s reign, were a distant memory.
United deserved the three points, until a series of individual errors threw them away. To their credit, when opportunity knocked, Villa took full advantage in a frantic final ten minutes or so.
Unfortunately, when the Villa goals started to rain in after the 82nd minute, half of the home fans that had turned up to watch the game, were already in the car park or standing on a train platform.
Aston Villa Player Ratings
Lovre Kalinić – 6
Despite his big frame and international pedigree Kalinic still hasn’t earned the complete confidence of the Villa faithful just yet. Part of his transition into Villa’s undisputed number one though will be the establishment of an regular back four in front of him.
It was hard to put the blame for any of the three goals at his doorstep.
Alan Hutton – 5
To be fair in the battle of two Alex McLeish Villa signings, Enda Stevens got the upper hand against Hutton. A lot has been made of Conor Hourihane’s blind pass out for a throw-in, but a static Hutton arguably should have run onto it. With Villa’s play-off hopes fading fast, it will soon be pointless playing Hutton, who is surely in his last season at the club.
Neil Taylor – 5
If Taylor put in a 7/10 performance, then most Villans would be happy, as it would probably lead to the defence keeping its shape and not be constantly pulled out of position down the flanks.
It’s no secret that Villa struggle to defend against the counter. Both Hutton and Taylor have constantly been targeted, yet Smith doesn’t seem to have found a solution to address it yet.
Tommy Elphick – 6
Too many people have perhaps a little too eager to celebrate the centre-back partnership of Elphick and Mings getting a clean sheet against Reading, who are bottom three and one of the lowest scoring teams in the league for a reason.
Elphick and Mings is a step in the right direction and they were largely undermined by their full backs and midfield against the Blades. The question has to be asked though, if a centre forward bags a hat-trick, are the centre backs ultimately doing their job?
Tyrone Mings – 6
Again, as with Elphick, Mings is part of a centre-back pairing that has promise, but would benefit from a midfield that contributes to defending as a unit. This issue is more at the feet of Dean Smith and his coaching staff.
Mings has impressed with his physical presence and most of all his distribution. He has a decent long ball delivery too, as he demonstrated against Reading.
He scored a header to get the comeback up and running.
Mile Jedinak – 4
Jedinak’s selection gave the impression that Villa might be a bit harder to breakdown. Fast-forward to 3-0 down and Jedinak was being bypassed and was struggling to deal with the Blades’ movement.
Lacking in games, the Aussie was always going to be a little rusty, but this was as poor as he’s been for Villa. His principle issue was his distribution, which was far from tidy. With a pass completion of 65.9%, he was a least 15% down on his fellow Villa midfielders.
Villa’s fortunes changed after he was subbed.
Conor Hourihane – 6
Hourihane has been receiving a lot of flak in recent weeks with little actual explanation. To be more specific than the Twitter masses, the midfielder tends to be poor off the ball.
When defending, he tends to be drawn to the ball, so when the opposition attack down the flank he leaves more central opposition midfield runners free.
He doesn’t seem to be the greatest reader of the game.
Still, Hourihane always carries a cutting edge and he provided another assist for Villa’s first goal, from a corner.
While his wayward pass mentioned above may have done the rounds on social media, he actually boasted the best pass completion rate of any Villa starter with 88.7%.
John McGinn – 6
Despite his effort, he struggled to contain the opposition midfield. He doesn’t seem to have a teammate to scheme and link up with to make things happen. He obviously misses Grealish in this respect.
Still, he provided some real quality in the dying embers of the game, delivering a smart cross for Green to head home for the equaliser.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5
El Ghazi has been a bit of a frustrated figure in recent games. We know there’s a player there, for he’s already demonstrated his talents in terms of finishing and dribbling, but he seems to be ineffective due to his decision making and possibly lack of support.
With his talent, strength and skill set, he should be serving opposition full-backs up on toast.
Tammy Abraham – 6
A bit of a quiet night for Abraham apart from his goal, but he showed plenty of effort at both ends of the pitch.
Abraham is now on 20 league goals for the season, although he may have to double that total to blast Villa into the play-offs, considering the amount of goals they concede.
It’s the first time a Villa player has reached 20 league goals for the season, since Peter Withe’s tally in the 1980/81 season, which obviously helped Villa win the league title in the top tier.
Jonathan Kodjia – 5
As per the majority of this season, his contribution was largely frustrating. He always seems to be on a road to nowhere, when he gets the ball.
Off The Bench
Glen Whelan (64) – 7
After a decent performance against Reading, Whelan seemed to transform and galvanise Villa’s unlikely fightback when he came on for Jedinak.
For the 25 minutes Whelan was on the pitch, he saw plenty of the ball and was constructive with it (registering the highest Villa player completion rate of 89.7%).
He also helped stifle the Blades’ midfield play.
He may not be a sexy player and everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s largely performed well, when called upon, since his infamous penalty miss.
Andre Green (65) – 7
Green is fast making a name for himself as an impact sub, who can finish. He demonstrated his finishing prowess in pre-season and it’s pleasing to see it translating into competitive games this season.
Green perhaps needs to add a bit more dimension to his game to be a regular Villa starter, but he’s one player that could benefit from the rest of this season, in terms of maybe fulfilling becoming a starter next season.
Manager Rating – 5
It’s now one win in his last 11 league games for Dean Smith, and that was an unconvincing win against bottom of the table Ipswich. It’s certainly not a good look and he’s evidently failed to address the weakness of Villa’s defending as a unit.
It’s hard to buy this social media narrative of some fans who are quick to make excuses for the Villa fan. Apparently, (all of a sudden) Villa’s current players are cr*p and we’re nothing without Grealish.
If you are to believe Smith’s appraisal of Grealish as “the best player in the division”, the good news is, no other team has a Grealish. Also, most other teams don’t have the talent that Villa actually do have in their squad.
The same fans would be hard pressed to pick one Sheffield United player to get into the Villa first XI too (almost all would have Tammy Abraham over Billy Sharp).
There is certainly enough decent players in the Villa squad to manage into a Championship play-off team.
So what’s up with the players? Who seemed to have regressed since the impressive 3-0 away wins at Derby and Boro.
Do they not buy into their former Brentford boss, now? In the same way that Villa’s decorated early 1980’s players were less than impressed suddenly being managed by ex-Shrewsbury Town boss Graham Turner?
The Blades were only recently promoted to the Championship too, but are fantastically organised both in defence and attack by their boss Chris Wilder. They only conceded against Villa due to some poor individual errors.
Smith has never been convincing with the defensive part of his game as a manager. As MOMS pointed out when he was appointed, he’s never finished higher than 9th in the league with either Walsall or Brentford.
It’s been argued he never had the resources, but did Chris Wilder have such resources when he got Oxford United promoted from the Conference to the Football League? Or when he won the League Two title with Northampton? Or, when he won the League One title with the Blades?
He has quickly developed a proven winning pedigree as a manager, Dean Smith does not at the moment, and this is fast becoming a concern.
His attacking football ideology is nice, but Smith, on the evidence so far, has shown that his teams only win when they play very well. If they are not on song, then tactically they are left too open and vulnerable to ever win a game by playing poorly.
As we all know, in football, teams are successful, because on their off days, they know how to win ugly too.
Improvement is needed from Smith before any doubts in him begin to grow.