Nicolo Zaniolo scored a 97th-minute equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw for Aston Villa against Sheffield United but Unai Emery’s side missed the chance to move top of the Premier League table.
Cameron Archer’s 87th-minute finish against his former club looked to have won it for Chris Wilder’s side but substitute Zaniolo headed in to preserve Villa’s unbeaten home record – even as they dropped points for the first time this season at Villa Park.
Both sides were left frustrated at the end of a dramatic game, each moving up one place rather than the two that they had hoped for. Villa go above Liverpool into second spot. The Blades are at least off the bottom but remain five points away from safety.
Villa could point to an early penalty shout for a push on Ollie Watkins and a disallowed Leon Bailey goal when Jacob Ramsey was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper following a VAR check. But they were unable to create enough against determined opposition.
How the drama unfolded
Emery had been forced into a couple of changes but made some optional ones too, bringing in Bailey in a more attacking starting line-up. Perhaps the Villa boss anticipated a defensive display from Sheffield United. That is precisely what he got right from the start
Wilder’s team had just 21 per cent of the possession in the first half and no shots. Villa managed six without really troubling Wes Foderingham in goal. It was a case of constant probing and the Villa Park crowd had to be patient as they sought the breakthrough.
Bailey thought he had found it when he swept home Watkins’ centre in the second half but VAR intervened. Checks spotted that Ramsey had a hold of Foderingham near the line. It ramped up the atmosphere but Emery’s side became a little ragged.
Gustavo Hamer, on as a substitute, had an opening on the counter-attack when he seized upon Moussa Diaby’s weak pass back to Emiliano Martinez and there were soon groans of frustration. Villa fans could sense the chance to go top slipping away from them.
Martinez was forced into his first save of the game late on – “We’ve had a shot” chanted the away fans – and Ezri Konsa almost turned Max Lowe’s left-wing cross into his own net. Oliver Norwood blazed over. But then came the big moment in the 87th minute.
Hamer skinned John McGinn on the byline and his low pass into the box found Archer, who calmly slotted in from close range. The Villa academy graduate was booed by sections of the home support when substituted soon after but he had already made his point.
There were opportunities for Villa to make theirs. Foderingham saved well from the head of Alex Moreno and as the clock was about to tick into the 98th minute, Zaniolo’s run from out to in saw him latch onto Douglas Luiz’s angled ball and nod into the net.
Fifteen Premier League matches had come and gone at Villa Park with only one team claiming any of the 45 points on offer. Sheffield United thought they had all three of these. They had to settle for one. So, for the first time since February, did Villa. Frustration all round.
Emery proud of his players
“I watched a good game. Two teams trying to play with their idea, not dramatic but we drew,” Emery said
“We’ve been here, winning a lot of matches. Sometimes we know that can change and today [Friday] it did. But I’m very happy, I’m proud of the players who were here when we were winning and today we drew. We have to accept it and I am happy.”
Asked if Villa deserved more, Emery said: “Yes. We scored one goal, had control of the game in the first half, like we prepared. We tried as well to get the ball, we got it.
“We didn’t have clear chances because they were defending very well and very deep. We lost control after VAR refused our goal and it upset things, not controlling the game like we were doing and they score.”
Regarding Bailey’s disallowed goal, one of a series of VAR interruptions, when asked whether that should have been ruled out, Emery said: “No, but I always accept VAR.”
He added: “Today, VAR was too much. It was not necessary. To review the action that they reviewed and as well the goal. The goal was the second action and for me, there’s no foul. VAR is very important to help the referees, but it’s not necessary always.”
Wilder: We hung in there
“We’re delighted with the result and delighted with the structure of the team. We can’t go toe to toe with these clubs at the moment, we’ve had very little time on the training ground,” Wilder said
“I give the players a lot of credit for taking in the amount of information… we hung in there and felt if there were about a thousand VAR decisions tonight.
“We grew into the game a little bit, we were better in the second half. Hamer and McAtee coming on gave us a little bit more in possession and there you go.
“When you go 1-0 up that deep into the game, you wonder if it’s going to be your night, but it isn’t. We have to quickly move on.”
Neville: We didn’t give them a chance
“They would have snapped your hand off before the game for a point and we didn’t give them a chance,” Gary Neville said
“We thought Villa would be comfortable, they both made quite a few changes. I think the goalkeeper made a big mistake on the goal… you’ve to read the flight of the ball and stay on your line or you’re going to go and make it and he doesn’t.
“They will be disappointment from the goalkeeper that he made that mistake because it would have been a memorable victory.”
Carragher: Villa didn’t do enough
“Villa didn’t do enough to win,” Jamie Carragher said
“They didn’t create enough big chances, they had balls into the box but they looked most dangerous from corners.
“I can’t remember too many glaring opportunities they missed or saves the goalkeeper made. The stats will all be in their favour, but as Chris Wilder said, it’s not their job in some ways to come here and win, it’s up to Aston Villa to beat Sheffield United and they didn’t do enough.”