Aston Villa 2-2 Sheffield United Six Things: a fine Championship advert

Donaldson draws Blades level – bbc.co.uk

Aston Villa drew 2-2 with Sheffield United as Clayton Donaldson’s first half brace undid early goals from Albert Adomah and Mile Jedinak. Here’s six things from a game that showcased Championship football at it’s best, but also highlighted shortcomings in both sides.

Adomah’s early influence

Albert Adomah proved a real handful for Sheffield United early on and coolly netted from the spot inside the first three minutes, after Richard Stearman’s foul on Keinan Davis. George Baldock and Chris Basham pressed high up the pitch and at times this allowed space for Adomah to be picked out by clever passes from Neil Taylor and put dangerous balls into the box. On the other flank, Ahmed Elmohamady combined well early on with Robert Snodgrass, whose right-sided free-kick on 10 minutes found Jedinak, who headed across goal into the far corner.

Blades let back in

Within three minutes of going two behind, Sheffield United halved the deficit when John Lundstram played an excellent pass to find Donaldson, who got in behind Jedinak to lob the onrushing Sam Johnstone. As good as that goal was, Villa’s nervy response to it gave their visitors the encouragement to press. From there, a side that had shown no attacking ideas in the early stages, other than simple balls down the channels, suddenly became a dominant force.

Donaldson’s double delight

The ex-Birmingham striker unsurprisingly took a lot of flak from the Holte End, which served only to fire him up in a similar manner to Gabriel Agbonlahor in Second City Derbies. Donaldson pestered Chester and Jedinak throughout the first half and while the former was forced into safe clearances that ceded territory, the latter was less streetwise. Playing in an unnatural centre-back position, the Aussie tried to tap  the ball back to Johnstone but saw his soft pass intercepted by Donaldson, who slotted through the goalkeeper’s legs. On this evidence, Chris Wilder’s decision to start the Don over an out-of-form Billy Sharp was a masterstroke.

Villa’s second half dominance

Mark Duffy had looked at his creative best in the first half and his long-ranger hit the target on 50 minutes, but Johnstone denied a second ex-Blues player entering the scoresheet. That was a rare concerted attack from Sheffield United, who spent much of the second period camped in their defensive third. Jack Grealish and Conor Hourihane were given acres of space to switch play but the Villans couldn’t find a winner due to a combination of wasteful finishing, with Davis and Adomah heading wide, and dogged defending. Basham, another Blade unpopular with Holte Enders, put his body where it hurt to stop Whelan’s fierce drive.

Bruce’s questionable subs

With 20 minutes of normal time to play, Aston Villa looked the likeliest to win but Bruce’s decision to bring on forwards Scott Hogan and Agbonlahor backfired. Villa went more direct in the closing stages than they had done previously, meaning the substituted Davis’ hold-up qualities were missed. Neither Hogan nor Agbonlahor provided that or aerial prowess and the game fizzled out: while Villa’s performance wasn’t deserving of the full-time boos it received, the draw does represent a missed opportunity.

United need pace but have spirit

Although the South Yorkshire outfit defended well in the second half, too much pressure was put on their rear-guard due to the lack of pace and intent going forward. If Sheffield United want to make the top six, they either need to maintain the intensity they showed for half an hour of the first half, or add a quick forward who can play on the break. What this game did show though was that, despite their bad run and despite going two goals down early on, the spirit and desire in Wilder’s side can never be questioned.