Aston Villa 2, Sheffield United 2: Donaldson haunts Villa as Wilder's men come from two behind to halt poor run of form
Two goals from former Birmingham City centre-forward Clayton Donaldson secured Sheffield United a share of the spoils at AstonÂ Villa and prevented Chris Wilder's side from slipping to a fourth straight defeat.
An Albert Adomah penalty and Mile Jedinak header put the hosts in the driving seat before Donaldson pounced twice in quick succession to stun his old club's arch-rivals.
Boos echoed around this famous old stadium when the final whistle was blown although, from their corner of The Doug Ellis Stand, United's supporters were in much more joyous mood.
"I thought the response was brilliant," Wilder said. "That's what this football club is all about."
Both Wilder and Bruce were defenders before retiring as players. But for the first 30 minutes of this fixture, neither team showed any interest in keeping the ball out of their own net. Referee Simon Hooper gave Villa a helping hand when he adjudged Richard Stearman of fouling Keinan Davis in the fourth minute. But, after Adomah had converted the resulting spot-kick, there was no doubt about the header from Jedinak which left Simon Moore grasping at thin air.
What United lack in spending power, they more than make-up for in terms of character. Donaldson, who used to ply his trade three-and-a-half miles away at St Andrews, brought them back in the game with a delightful finish before threading the ball between the goalkeeper's legs after taking advantage of a Jedinak howler.
As the contest progressed, so United continued to gnaw away at Villa's reserves of self-belief. An opportunity to shatter it completely presented itself in the 63rd minute when Leon Clarke glanced wide from close-range.
Villa regathered their composure and posed some questions of their own, particularly during the closing stages, but neither side could fashion a winner.
Although the result sees United slip from sixth to seventh following Leeds's victory over Hull City earlier in the day, Wilder will be pleased by both the courage and calibre of his team.
Lundstram, who has improved week on week since replacing the injured Paul Coutts, impressed in midfield while Donaldson reminded United their attacking options extend beyond Clarke, Billy Sharp and David Brooks who was missing due to illness.
The visitors' coaching staff will have been similarly encouraged by the display of courage which saw their players drag themselves back from the abyss.
If Wilder's pre-match message focused on the importance of keeping a clean sheet, he will have been sorely disappointed with the way the opening 10 minutes of this match unfolded. Although the decision to penalise Stearman's tackle on Keinan Davis appeared harsh and Donaldson immediately reduced the deficit following Jedinak's effort, the sight of United's defence being breached twice in quick succession drew a resigned shake of the head from the 50-year-old.
Wilder's disappointment, however, did not last long as Donaldson exploited Jedinak's mistake to equaliser just before the half hour mark. Adomah wasted a glorious chance to restor Villa's lead when he headed the ball back across goal and wide of the far post. But, with United wrestling back the momentum, Cameron Carter-Vickers forced Sam Johnstone to save during a scramble at the other end of the pitch.
As the atmosphere inside the stadium began to change - any stray pass from the hosts provoked audible groans - Wilder's players sensed an opportunity. Mark Duffy, restored to the starting eleven following illness, nearly took his after combining with Lundstram and Leon Clarke but Johnstone diverted his shot over the crossbar. Clarke should have edged United in front just past the hour but headed wide of the near post as he stopped to meet George Baldock's centre.
Afterwards, Wilder confirmed Brooks had been absent with a throat infection but admitted to being less than impressed that pictures of the youngster appeared on social media before kick-off.
"I think he tweeted the Aston Villa manager just to let him know he wasn't playing," Wilder said. "So cheers for that Brooksy."
Aston Villa: Johnstone, Taylor, Chester, Whelan, Snodgrass (De Laet 59), Grealish, Hourihane, Jedinak, Elmohamady (Hogan 73), Adomah, Davis (Agbonlahor 73). Not used: Steer, Bjarnasson, Hutton, Elphick.
Sheffield United: Moore, Baldock, Stevens, O'Connell, Stearman, Carter-Vickers, Basham, Lundstram, Duffy (Carruthers 73), Clarke, Donaldson (Sharp 74). Not used: Blackman, Sharp, Wright, Lavery, Heneghan, Lafferty, Carruthers.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).