Villa lose at Sheffield United with Dave Woodhall watching.
One day it will be possible for Villa to play Sheffield United without the word ‘Hawkeye’ being mentioned. One day.
To their credit, United supporters have never seemed all that fussed about the decision, and neither for that matter have Bournemouth, who could also have claimed they lost out because of it. The real hysteria always comes from the sort of people who think every match they watch is a variation on a game show and there should never be anything contentious or open to debate. I don’t often read what our upcoming opponents have to say, but one of theirs was spot on before the kick-off when he said football should be an experience rather than something you flick on the TV when you’re bored.
To continue with my uncharacteristic positive opinion of the opposition, their manager Chris Wilder started the week off by praising the Villa, agreeing that Jack Grealish is the best player in England and hoping he wouldn’t be appearing in this one. Wilder got his wish with an unchanged Villa team, which would normally be a bit of a surprise as this was the second game in five days but as we should know by now Dean Smith doesn’t do too many changes.
If he had the chance to pick the team again he would probably have dropped seven or eight, because almost without exception the line-up that had done so well at Leeds on Saturday were unrecognisable at Bramall Lane. They started brightly but it soon became clear that this was a night when too many of them were out of sorts and it would have taken a spark of genius to ignite their performance – the sort of spark Jack can provide better than anyone else.
Villa went behind in the first half, and although Phil Jagielka was sent off with more than half an hour to go there was nothing from then on to show that they were capable of getting back into the game. We traditionally have trouble against sides who don’t so much park the bus as get the passengers off and line them up either side and on the roof, and we usually fail to make the advantage tell against ten men. Put the two together and the result was inevitable.
I do hope that now safety is assured the team aren’t thinking the season is over because there’s still a lot at stake, not least the mixed blessing of a European League place. 2020-21 has provided so many memorable moments that it deserves a lot more than to fade away towards its ends. As has been said previously, maybe the covid outbreak that caused a couple of games to be postponed was more serious than we thought because the side have definitely been a lot less energetic since their return. It might be just coincidence but John McGinn, who covers more gro0und than anyone else in the team, has been consistently off-form since then.
Perhaps the result might have been better if we’d been able to take a full turnout of supporters to what is undoubtedly one of the best away trips of the season. One day it will be possible to enjoy the experience of a day out in Sheffield watching the Villa again. One day.