ASTON VILLA'S Wednesday curse struck again to leave a season that promised so much in danger of falling flat.
And if you’re losing to a 10-man Sheffield United side, then maybe Europe is just not for you.
David McGoldrick’s first-half strike gave the rock bottom Blades hope of a fourth win.
But when Phil Jagielka was sent off on the hour, even Chris Wilder must have doubted their chances.
It was hardly like United were indebted to keeper Aaron Ramsdale either, who barely had to lift a finger.
Stretching back to mid-January, Dean Smith’s side have now lost their last four games on a Wednesday.
And those defeats, to Manchester City, Burnley and West Ham before this one, leave the Villans off the pace in ninth.
In normal circumstances there would be nothing wrong with that having scraped to survival last season.
But having taken the league by storm early on, to not finish with European football must go down as a disappointment.
They are still in the hunt, but they’ve got no hope if they play like this.
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Without talisman Jack Grealish again, Smith’s side were toothless and, if anything, were closer to scoring before Jagielka’s dismissal.
For Sheffield United, it was heroic stuff to keep a clean sheet given their nightmare year.
Still 12 points off safety it is surely too little, too late.
But for simply not throwing in the towel given they have looked doomed for months, they deserved this one.
Smith named the same side that beat Leeds last Saturday, with Ross Barkley again missing out to youngster Jacob Ramsey.
Having not started the previous five, Chris Wilder gave Rhian Brewster another chance to break his duck having gone more than 12 hours without a goal since signing from Liverpool.
Cut adrift at the bottom, the Blades refused to feel sorry for themselves and started well, despite the first big chance going Villa’s way.
Bertrand Traore’s 20-yard shot was deflected and ballooned up in the air.
As panic engulfed the home defence, Ollie Watkins nodded it into John McGinn’s path, but the Scot fired just wide of the far post.
Watkins was up next, forcing Aaron Ramsdale into a smart save down to his left.
But for all Villa’s early dominance, McGoldrick put the hosts ahead in the 31st minute with their first shot on target.
The striker started the move with a classy raking ball out to right wing-back George Baldock from the halfway line.
Baldock drove to the edge of the box and cut inside before shooting towards the far post.
And there was McGoldrick, having followed his pass and somehow ghosting in undetected, to bundle it in off the crossbar.
His sixth of the season, this was the 33-year-old's first ever Prem strike against a side not from the ‘big six’.
Traore almost equalised with a stunning solo-effort but, after doing the hard work dancing effortlessly past four defenders, he fired just wide on his trusty left peg.
Wilder’s side were in unfamiliar territory, with this the first time this season they have led at the break.
But they had a mountain to climb after Phil Jagielka was sent off – after a VAR intervention – for denying Anwar El Ghazi a clear scoring opportunity.
Played into space down the left, the veteran defender wiped out the Dutch speedster around 35 yards from goal and was shown a yellow by Robert Jones.
But with no covering defenders in immediate proximity, VAR Graham Scott saw it differently and told Jones to look at the monitor.
And we all know what happens next, with Jagielka’s yellow upgraded to red – leaving him the second oldest player to be sent off in the Prem, behind Stuart Pearce.
With Baldock five yards behind and Kean Bryan charging across the pitch to cover, it was far from clear-cut.
But despite the protestations, United had to get their head around trying to hold out for the last 30 minutes.
Smith brought on creative duo Barkley and Trezeguet for Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey.
But the Blades looked comfortable for the most part, with Villa barely threatening any more than they did before.
Ethan Ampadu got a good block in to deny Traore’s scuffed shot – but that was about it until the dying moments.
The chance fell to Ezri Konsa from a corner and his shot was spilled by Ramsdale before it was frantically hacked away.
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