Sheffield United 0 Aston Villa 1
The FA Cup fifth round became a pretty exclusive club this weekend, but Aston Villa managed to gain admission yesterday. Whether they deserved to get the keys to the door will be hotly disputed in South Yorkshire, however.
Like Manchester United, Villa beat First Division opposition to complete a group of two without the words "either or" attached to their number in last night's draw. But they got there in controversial circumstances.
No one should question Villa's superiority yesterday - their tidy approach play and movement passed Sheffield United to distraction; it was their goal that was in doubt. The home team made it obvious they believed that Savo Milosevic had dived for the 63rd-minute penalty and the bulk of the 18,749 crowd, who booed and pelted the Serb with snowballs for the rest of the game, clearly agreed with them.
To add to United's considerable annoyance, they had a claim for a penalty of their own turned down in the first half when Gary Charles handled a 24th-minute cross from Roger Nilsen. Television evidence suggested Mr Wilkie was lenient then, just as he was harsh later.
The incident that left Bramall Lane seething occurred when Tommy Johnson put Milosevic clear of the United back four. The pounds 3.5m striker was pulled back by Chris Short, a foul that probably should have yielded a spot-kick, but the referee waved play on.
Milosevic stumbled, recovered his feet and then pushed the ball to the right of Alan Kelly. That touch was too strong, however, and he fell to the floor. The United goalkeeper, who was booked, immediately signified to the stadium that Milosevic had dived but the referee pointed to the spot.
There followed scenes of considerable anger that in more violent, less restrained times might have caused a pitch invasion. Instead a hail of snowballs came from the stand behind the goal and it must have required considerable effort from Dwight Yorke to retain his concentration. If he was put off he hid it wonderfully, however, impudently chipping the penalty past Kelly.
The drifts were nearly a foot deep on some of the pavements around Bramall Lane which showed the labour required to clear the snow and allow this game to be played. After about 20 minutes there must have been some who wondered whether it was worth the trouble.
The normal script in situations like this is for the Davids to go for the jugular early in the hope that some of the slingshot does not rebound in their faces. United, who knocked Arsenal out in the previous round, seemed not to have read it and it was Villa's silky movement that was the dominant theme.
Dominant but not decisive in the first half so, although they had bags of possession, the Premiership team created half-chances rather than the 24-carat variety. The best of these occurred in the 29th minute when Andy Townsend threaded an immaculate pass through the core of the United back four. Johnson turned smoothly, evaded a tackle and then thumped the ball from 20 yards, forcing Kelly to dive to his left to save spectacularly.
Villa had obviously heard something that has escaped the First Division because a string of long shots were aimed at Kelly whe dealt with them with some aplomb. However, his composure would have been shaken if Yorke had launched himself at Milosevic's 33rd-minute chip instead of falling rather lamely to his knees.
For all Villa's pressure it was United who made the best first-half opportunity. Don Hutchison headed for the corner after David Tuttle had knocked Nilsen's free-kick back across the area after 37 minutes, but although the effort was accurate it was not powerful and Mark Bosnich leapt to stop the ball. Ugo Ehiogu cleared for the corner.
The second half followed a similar vein of Villa supremacy until the goal, after which the home team poured forward in pursuit of an equaliser. Doug Hodgson had a volley that was narrowly wide and the ball was richocheting round the visiting area as the match reached its conclusion.
Indeed United probably should have got one in injury time when Carl Veart suddenly found himself in space about 12 yards out. He turned and shot but the connection was not entirely true and Andy Townsend blocked it.
Almost immediately the referee blew his whistle and the United players left the field obviously nursing a grievance. It was difficult not to sympathise with them.
Goal: Yorke (pen, 63) 0-1.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Short, Tuttle, Hodgson, Nilsen; Ward, Cowans (Hodges, 50), Patterson, Whitehouse; Hutchison (Veart, h-t), White. Substitute not used: Tracey (gk).
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, McGrath, Southgate, Wright; Johnson, Draper, Townsend; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Staunton, Taylor, Spink (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).
Bookings: Sheffield United: Kelly.
Man of the match: Johnson.
Attendance: 18,749.Reuse content