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Unai Emery pleased with ‘fantastic’ draw despite Villa missing chance to go top

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 22 Dec 2023

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Aston Villa boss Unai Emery refused to be downbeat after his side missed the chance to go top of the Premier League.

Nicolo Zaniolo’s stoppage-time header rescued a 1-1 draw with struggling Sheffield United on Friday.

Cameron Archer, who joined the Blades from Villa in the summer, netted for the visitors – who climb off the bottom – with three minutes left to leave Villa on the brink of a first home league defeat since February.

But they salvaged a point, although their run of club-record 15 straight league wins at Villa Park ended, and they sit second in the standings, behind leaders Arsenal on goal difference.

Emery, whose side saw Leon Bailey have a goal disallowed by VAR while the hosts also had three penalty claims turned down on review, said: “It was a very good point at the end.

“At the start we were very excited and we were expecting Sheffield to be very strong, they were successful in their plan and they scored when we lost control of the game.

“The draw is fantastic for us because we are keeping the good feeling, not with three points but playing in the same way we are trying to do.

“We were upset and frustrated with the review of our goal, we have to understand each decision even if we don’t agree with them.

“We lost the control of the game in the last 20 minutes. At the end we were frustrated, I wanted three points but we have to accept how Sheffield defended.”

Villa dominated from the start without finding the breakthrough and had two penalty claims rejected by VAR, the first when Ollie Watkins was shoved by Vini Souza before George Baldock’s handball was studied.

Neither fell for Villa but they kept pushing and Wes Foderingham saved low from Moussa Diaby.

Sheffield United’s plan was working and they frustrated the hosts, with Villa’s expected procession to the summit failing to materialise.

But the Blades almost gifted Villa an opener after 58 minutes, only to be saved by VAR.

Watkins robbed Baldock as he failed to clear, swapped passes with Jacob Ramsey, and crossed for Bailey to sweep in but VAR disallowed the goal after Ramsey pulled Foderingham at the corner.

Another VAR reprieve for the visitors came 15 minutes later when Baldock survived a handball review as Villa Park became increasingly anxious.

It gave the Blades belief and Emiliano Martinez saved from Oliver Norwood before Archer, who came through Villa’s academy, tapped in after outstanding work from Gustavo Hamer with three minutes left.

United tried to cling on, Foderingham saving from Alex Moreno, but they were breached in the seventh minute of injury time when Zaniolo headed in Douglas Luiz’s cross.

“It always seems when we play at Villa Park it’s an interesting night. We were up against a team on a fabulous run, who have swatted aside better teams than us,” said Blades boss Chris Wilder, whose side host relegation rivals Luton on Boxing Day.

“I’m not going to be embarrassed in terms of the plan we had, because we have to have a structure. You do get close, you are ultimately a little disappointed but when the head is on the pillow we will be pleased with our efforts.

“We’re going to have to show character right the way through because we’re up against it. This football club is built on that. I’ve been delighted with the group and their attitude.

“Everyone in the world expects a home win. We had to have a structure, it’s not anti-football, it’s up to the opposition to break us down. They are the ones in form.”

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