Match Analysis: Chris Wilder’s side confirm their promotion credentials after brutally exposing Aston Villa’s frailties​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Chris Basham, Jack O'Connell (centre) and Billy Sharp celebrate Sheffield United's latest win
Chris Basham, Jack O'Connell (centre) and Billy Sharp celebrate Sheffield United's latest win

There was a probably moment in this game, as Sheffield United sprayed passes across the pitch and toyed mercilessly with his players, when even Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce felt like applauding.

Chris Wilder's side, despite being assembled on a fraction of the budget, are the team the big-spending visitors were supposed to be.
Indeed, so appealing was the quality of their work, so irresistible was the force of their momentum, the fomer Manchester United's defender's mind must have wandered back to the days he helped inflict similar punishment on opponents at Old Trafford.

"It was a really good win and, during the first-half in particular, I thought we blew them away," Jack O'Connell, whose goal laid the foundations for United's landmark victory, said. "I watched the highlights before coming up here to see you guys. If I'm honest, we could easily have got more."

O'Connell, as Bruce himself had sportingly acknowledged only minutes earlier, was correct in his analysis of a game which, despite Wilder's repeated attempts to suggest otherwise, confirmed United's status as genuine promotion contenders. Of course, after flying out of the blocks last season before fading down the straight, O'Connell and his colleagues will still face questions about their ability to last the course. But, having demonstrated they possess the ability to utterly dismantle arguably the Championship's most glamorous club, there can be none whatsoever about the talent within their ranks. And, as both the centre-half and Wilder reminded afterwards, United's squad are now one year older, one year wiser and, following some impressive acquisitions during the transfer window, much more knowledgeable about what it takes to succeed in football's most competitive division.

"We've got a lot more experience of this level now," O'Connell continued. "We've learned from what happened last time around and the staff have learned from it as well. A lot of us back then had never played a full season in the Championship. Now we have and I think we can put that understanding to good use."
"It's a long old season and, as we know, we started really well last year before tailing-off a bit as things went on. But I think we've improved as a group and brought some really good people in so hopefully that won't happen again. I definitely think we're capable of challenging so, the key now, is showing it on a consistent basis."

One of those new arrivals, midfielder Oliver Norwood, has made an especially significant impact since landing at Bramall Lane. The Northern Ireland international, whose technical prowess and spatial awareness made Villa appear completely pedestrian, choreographs proceedings as if he were perched on the roof of the stadium. But it was Norwood's delivery from set-pieces which enabled United to land the first of several heavy blows which pummeled the opposition into submission.

After watching O'Connell convert his early centre before Mark Duffy extended their advantage, Norwood underlined United's superiority with an audacious strike when, as he prepared to take another free-kick, he noticed Orjan Nyland had strayed a fraction too far from his near post. Anwar El Ghazi's effort midway through the second-half owed more to United's complacency, after Billy Sharp had struck for the fourth time in five outings, than it did any revival on Villa's part.

With Paul Coutts making his long-awaited return to the bench following a 10 month absence through injury, Wilder could soon be facing the mother of all selection decisions. Particularly given John Fleck's continued good form. The manner in which he eclipsed John McGinn, who reports for Scotland duty this week, illustrated the folly of Hampden Park's refusal to recognise his ability.

"He's been unbelievable since coming in," O'Connell, referring to Norwood, said. "His passing range is excellent to be fair. He shows it all the time in training too. It was great to have Couttsy back on the bench because he's great around the changing room and a top, top player too. I think it's going to be great for us having Couttsy and Ollie battling it out. Couttsy is class as well and he won't want to settle for not getting in."
United were as brutal as they were brilliant against Villa, seizing control of the contest from the first whistle and rarely loosening their grip. Having unveiled Marvin Johnson and Martin Cranie ahead of kick-off - their respective moves to South Yorkshire were not completed in time for them to take part in this fixture - United swarmed all over Villa who, despite concerns about Bruce's leadership, travelled north unbeaten in the league.

O'Connell opened the scoring after climbing highest in the box and when Duffy ghosted past McGinn, finding the bottom corner of the net with a perfectly placed shot, Glenn Whelan had already diverted a shot onto his own post. Norwood's intervention was impudence itself while Sharp, pouncing from close range, did what he does best. David McGoldrick, whose persistence deserved a goal, went close after El Ghazi beat the offside trap following substitute John Lundstram's fine cross.

"We showed out there we're getting cuter," O'Connell said. "Again, that's all part of the learning curve. If we start like that and then get in front, I think we can beat anybody. It's when we don't take our chances that things get a little bit nervy."