Sheffield United 2 Aston Villa 0 - Report
John Fleck scored twice in the second half as Villa crumbled to their third straight Premier League defeat at Sheffield United.
The former Coventry midfielder broke the deadlock five minutes after the break when he fired home from John Lundstram’s cross.
And he then doubled the advantage after capitalising on fine work from David McGoldrick.
Jack Grealish then missed a penalty to cap another difficult afternoon for Dean Smith’s team.
The spot-kick was awarded by VAR after Matt Targett’s cross was blocked by defender John Egan.
But Grealish was unable to take advantage as he sent the spot-kick crashing against the bar.
It was a moment which summed up another hugely frustrating Villa display, as they slipped to a sixth defeat in eight Premier League matches.
Smith’s men could now end the weekend in the relegation zone, should Southampton avoid defeat against West Ham in the late Saturday evening kick-off.
Villa’s first half performance at Bramall Lane had actually been somewhat encouraging, as they displayed a discipline lacking in recent weeks to frustrate the hosts.
But they were unable to find any answers in the second period when the Blades upped their game.
Chris Wilder’s team, who were also promoted from the Championship last season, are an outfit buzzing with confidence.
Villa, right now, appear to have very little. They must find some - and quick - ahead of a vital Christmas period which starts with next Saturday’s visit of the Saints.
Villa’s team selection was arguably the most eye-opening of the season.
There were four changes in total, including three in the back four where Kortney Hause was handed a Premier League debut in place of the injured Tyrone Mings.
Hause, who had only once featured on the bench in the league thus far, was partnered at centre-back by Bjorn Engels, while Frederic Guilbert also returned at right-back. Ezri Konsa and Ahmed Elmohamady both dropped to the bench.
Yet by far the most surprising change came in midfield, where Smith opted to hand Henri Lansbury a first ever Premier League start, in place of Douglas Luiz.
The opening half was comfortably the least eventful involving Villa this season, though it is questionable whether Smith will have minded too much as his team remained disciplined and comfortably contained the hosts.
An Enda Stevens volley, which sailed comfortably over the bar, was the only shot mustered by either team.
Otherwise, the only incidents of note were two bookings, both of which went to the hosts. Norwood was the first man to see yellow after bringing down John McGinn, with Fleck following him into the book when he caught Frederic Guilbert late.
The second half began in similarly steady vain until a piece of inspiration from Norwood helped the Blades break through.
His backheel created space for Lundstram to cross and Fleck finished smartly beyond Heaton, after the delivery had taken the slightest flick off Hause.
Villa had no option but to show more adventure and Wesley had their first effort of the match when he fired high into the side netting from a tight angle.
The visitors would go even closer when Grealish headed narrowly wide at the far post from an Anwar El Ghazi cross.
But the hosts were also threatening a second and almost found it when Oli McBurnie, on as a substitute, crossed for Fleck with only the intervention of Guilbert denying the midfielder a tap in.
With 17 minutes remaining, Fleck did double the lead, as he again made the most of a piece of inspiration from a team-mate.
This time it was David McGoldrick, who flicked the ball up and over the Villa defence for Fleck to run through and fire past Heaton.
A miserable afternoon for the visitors then got even worse when Grealish missed a golden chance to get them back into the game.
For once VAR worked in Villa’s favour as Egan’s handball, missed by referee Peter Bankes, was spotted by the video official and a penalty rightly awarded.
But Grealish sent the spot-kick cannoning off the underside of the bar and in that instant any hope Villa had of salvaging something from the match seemed to disappear.
50 - GOAL Sheffield United break the deadlock with a fine move. Oli Norwood’s backheel creates space for John Lundstram and his cross, which takes a flick off Kortney Hause, is put home by John Fleck.
73 - GOAL Fleck doubles the home side’s lead, racing on to David McGoldrick’s flick before firing beyond Heaton.
78 - MISSED PENALTY Jack Grealish misses the chance to get Villa back into it as he sends a penalty crashing against the bar.
Sheff U (3-5-2): Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood (Besic 86), Fleck, Stevens, McGoldrick (Osborn 90), Mousset (McBurnie 61) Subs not used: Freeman, Sharp, Jagielka, Moore (gk).
Villa (4-3-3): Heaton, Guilbert, Engels, Hause, Targett, McGinn, Nakamba, Lansbury (Luiz 66), El Ghazi (Trezeguet 80), Wesley (Kodjia 69), Grealish Subs not used: Elmohamady, Konsa, Taylor, Nyland (gk).