John Fleck struck twice in the second half to seal a 2-0 victory for Sheffield United against Aston Villa, who missed a late penalty through Jack Grealish.
Sheffield United failed to register a single shot on target during an uneventful first half at Bramall Lane but they opened the scoring five minutes after the restart as Fleck put the finishing touches on a fine team move involving Chris Basham and John Lundstram.
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- How the teams lined up
With 17 minutes remaining Fleck added his second of the game and fourth of the season with a well-taken strike from close range after being put through on goal by David McGoldrick's clever flick on the edge of the box.
Aston Villa had a great chance to drag themselves back into the game after John Egan was adjudged to have committed a handball inside the area following a VAR review but Grealish was unable to convert his spot-kick, lashing his effort off the crossbar.
That costly miss all but ended Villa's hopes of salvaging something from the game and Sheffield United ran out comfortable winners with the result lifting them into the lofty heights of fifth place in the Premier League table.
Sheffield United: Henderson (6), Baldock (7), Basham (7), Egan (6), O'Connell (7), Stevens (7), Lundstram (8), Norwood (7), Fleck (9), McGoldrick (8), Mousset (6)
Subs: McBurnie (6), Besic (N/A), Osborn (N/A)
Aston Villa: Heaton (6), Guilbert (6), Engels (6), Hause (6), Targett (5), Lansbury (5), Nakamba (6), McGinn (6), El Ghazi (6), Grealish (5), Wesley (5)
Subs: Luiz (6), Trezeguet (6), Kodjia (6)
Man of the match: John Fleck
How Fleck became the architect of Villa's downfall
There were 11 goals scored across two entertaining Championship games between these clubs last season but there was little to suggest that either had the requisite craft to break down the other in the first Premier League meeting between them in 12 years during a low-key first half.
With the attacking players on the periphery of the action in the opening period, there was only a VAR review for a possible red card for John Egan to raise the excitement levels, although the Irishman escaped such punishment following a clash with Frederic Guilbert.
- Chris Wilder named an unchanged line-up following last weekend's 2-1 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road.
- Dean Smith made four changes from the team beaten 4-1 by Leicester City with Frederic Guilbert, Bjorn Engels, Kortney Hause and Henri Lansbury replacing Ahmed Elmohamady, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Douglas Luiz.
Sheffield United looked revitalised and reinvigorated straight after the restart, though, and with their first effort on target they went in front. Basham's intelligent backheel on the right wing set Lundstram free and the midfielder teased a low ball across the box for Fleck to side-foot confidently beyond Tom Heaton.
Aston Villa responded well to going behind as they carved out a couple of presentable opportunities to score shortly after Fleck's strike. A striker in more confident mood than Wesley might well have flashed a shot into the back of the net rather than the side-netting after escaping the attentions of Egan, while Grealish nodded narrowly wide at the far post after being picked out by Anwar El Ghazi's cross.
After failing to grab an equaliser, Villa succumbed to a second goal conceded and again Sheffield United carved open their defence with intricate passing play on the edge of the box. Fleck started and finished the move, feeding a pass into George Baldock before latching onto a brilliantly improvised flick from McGoldrick to roll the ball beyond Heaton.
Moments later, Villa were handed a huge opportunity to reduce the deficit after Peter Bankes awarded them a penalty following consultation with the VAR official after Egan had handled inside the area. Grealish sent Dean Henderson the wrong way, but saw his penalty cannon off the middle of the crossbar and float to safety.
Grealish's miss appeared to knock the confidence out of Villa and it was Sheffield United who looked the more likely to score the game's third goal with McGoldrick failing to convert two presentable opportunities in the final 10 minutes, stretching his goal drought in the Premier League to 16 matches in the process.
Ultimately, it was Fleck's decisive display of finishing that separated the teams as the Scotsman doubled his Premier League tally to four with two accomplished finishes off either foot following free-flowing moves that emphasised the quality of Chris Wilder's upwardly mobile team.
Man of the match - John Fleck
All three of Sheffield United's central midfielders performed well but it was Fleck who made the difference scoring twice to ensure a relatively comfortable afternoon for his side.
The Scotland international took both of his chances with aplomb, expertly cushioning a low cross into the net with his favoured left-foot before sliding in a second on his right.
A clinical display from a key member of Chris Wilder's side. The one downside for Fleck and Sheffield United is that he will miss Saturday's game against Brighton through suspension after collecting his fifth yellow card of the campaign.
What the managers said...
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder: "I don't want to look at it [the Premier League table]! I've looked at the points that we've got after 17 games and that's quite healthy and we've just got to keep adding to it, that's all our focus is on.
"It's been a big week for us, a huge three points at Norwich on Sunday, it was a tough ask for us and then to come and play Villa - a historic club in English football - and dominate a good side was very pleasing from our point of view.
"I felt it was coming just before half-time and we really took it up a level in the second half. We rode our luck a little bit with Jack [Grealish] missing the penalty but I think the right result has happened at Bramall Lane."
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: "It was a tough day. We've got beaten 2-0, we gave them too much ball, we weren't good enough with the ball and we didn't take our chances as well, they took theirs.
"Tom Heaton's not made a save all game. I think there were three shots on target all game and they've scored two of them but our overall performance wasn't what I want from this group of players.
"We had a 10-minute spell where we had them on the back foot, Wesley's had a shot that's hit the side netting and Jack's had a header that's gone wide and the second goal was a bit of a killer really but they probably deserved the win on the day."
- Sheffield United have lost just one of their last 10 Premier League games (W4 D5), after losing three of the five before that.
- Aston Villa have lost six of their last eight Premier League games (W1 D1), after losing just one of the five before that.
- Sheffield United have won back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since December 2006.
- Of the 16 Premier League sides to take a penalty in the competition this season, Aston Villa are the only ones yet to score a spot-kick (0/2).
- Sheffield United's John Fleck has scored four goals in his last four league games at Bramall Lane, one more than he managed his previous 73 in the league on home soil.
Sheffield United face Brighton at the Amex next Saturday at 3pm while Aston Villa will host a youthful Liverpool in the Carabao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday before resuming Premier League duties against Southampton on Saturday, also at Villa Park.