Sheffield United secured just their fourth Premier League win of the season to dent Aston Villa's European hopes as David McGoldrick's strike earned a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane.
McGoldrick put the Blades in front after 31 minutes when he turned home George Baldock's driven cross, sticking out his leg to divert the ball into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men following VAR review in the second period as Phil Jagielka's challenge on Anwar El Ghazi when the last defender was upgraded to a red card by referee Rob Jones.
But Chris Wilder's men held on for a rare three points to close the gap on 17th-placed Newcastle to 12 points with 11 games remaining. Villa stay in ninth place on 39 points after 25 games.
Sheff Utd: Ramsdale (8), Baldock (7), Stevens (7), Bryan (8), Ampadu (8), Jagielka (6), Fleck (8), Lundstram (6), Norwood (7), Brewster (6), McGoldrick (7).
Subs: McBurnie (n/a), Osborn (6), Burke (5).
Aston Villa: Martinez (6), Elmohamady (6), Targett (5), Mings (6), Konsa (6), Nakamba (5), Ramsey (5), McGinn (6), El Ghazi (7), Traore (7), Watkins (7).
Subs: Barkley (6), Sanson (5), Davis (n/a).
Man of the match: Aaron Ramsdale.
Too little, too late for Blades?
Wilder, whose side ended a four-game losing streak, admitted this week he does not know if he will be Sheffield United manager next season, but his team produced a valiant display, absorbing some early pressure.
Aston Villa, in the continued absence of Jack Grealish, were seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since Boxing Day - and they had the game's first chance as Ollie Watkins headed into the path of John McGinn but the midfielder's shot across goal failed to trouble Aaron Ramsdale.
But Ramsdale was forced into action after 19 minutes when Anwar El Ghazi slipped Watkins into space down the left channel and his low drive was parried out by the former Bournemouth goalkeeper. Watkins wanted a penalty moments later when he was sandwiched inside the box by Kean Bryan and Jagielka but referee Jones waved away his protests.
- Wilder cannot fault Sheff Utd fight | Smith: We threw points away
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
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Having defended resolutely, the hosts took the lead just after the half-hour mark. McGoldrick started and finished the move as his raking pass found Baldock on the right. After the wing-back cut inside, his effort was drifting wide before McGoldrick stretched out a leg to lift the ball into the net via the underside of the bar.
It was the 33-year-old's sixth goal in 16 Premier League starts this season and only the third time in 14 home games this campaign that Sheffield United had opened the scoring - but they were so nearly pegged back immediately.
Bertrand Traore was found by Ahmed Elmohamady, and the forward escaped Oliver Norwood, Jagielka and Bryan with his weaving run before curling his shot just wide of the post.
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder made just one change to the side that were beaten 2-0 by Liverpool last time out as Rhian Brewster started in place of Oliver McBurnie, who dropped to the substitutes bench.
Aston Villa were again without Jack Grealish. Dean Smith named the same starting XI that beat Leeds 1-0, and indeed it was the exact same matchday squad.
It was a frustrating opening 45 minutes for Villa, who were faced with the challenge of improving a record of collecting just one point having conceded the first goal this term.
The visitors hadn't come back to win a Premier League game since January last season against Watford, but they came within inches of equalising nine minutes into the restart when Watkins directed El Ghazi's cross onto the woodwork.
A minute later came the game's major flashpoint as Jagielka was initially shown yellow for hauling down El Ghazi on the counter-attack. But VAR Graham Scott advised Jones to review the incident via a pitchside monitor, and the match official upgraded the card to red, deeming Jagielka to have been the last defender.
Sky Sports' Nick Wright said: "Another game, another instance of VAR controversy. Jagielka was clumsy but was El Ghazi really away? Or would one of Jagielka's team-mates got back and caught him? There will be plenty of differing views on that one."
Villa failed to make their numerical advantage count, however, as Wilder immediately reverted to a back four.
Chances were few and far between but Sheffield United stood defiant. El Ghazi's cross was headed back across goal by Traore for McGinn to shoot first time but Ethan Ampadu was in the right place to block.
Villa continued to press against the disciplined Blades backline, but when Ezri Konsa's low shot was brilliantly kept out by Ramsdale in the final minute of normal time, the Premier League's bottom side had the victory their efforts deserved.
What the managers said
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder: "It's a win that was made a little bit more difficult by going down to 10 men but we showed good character. It was similar to a lot of games we played in the Premier League last year.
"We took our moments last season and we didn't make any individual errors, which have basically cost us so many points all season. If you do this, it allows you to get the kind of results like this which we consistently got last season."
On Phil Jagielka's red card: "He was gone the moment he went over [to the monitor]. Villa are a great club, but they've had some decisions against us. I don't think Villa can ever complain about the decisions that have gone against us in our previous three fixtures. We got on with it and kept the ball out of the back of the net.
"He was a long way out. I still think Bryan is close enough and we had retreating players. I think it's harsh. Some of the decisions, not just for us, but for everyone else are head-scratching. But maybe I've gone past caring. I even thought [David McGoldrick] was offside given the luck we've had this season!
"We showed an unbelievable desire to keep the ball out of the net. I said to the players I'll celebrate for them tonight. They have another game on Saturday. All the beers they might have drunk tonight, I'll do that for them. I'll give it a good go. It was everything you want in a performance. That was a game like 90 per cent of our games last season."
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: "We found it difficult to provide a decent ball tonight and the one time we did, Ollie [Watkins] ended up hitting the bar. With all the possession we had in the final third, we needed better quality runs and balls.
"For me, we tried to get the goal back within the first five minutes after the sending off rather than being a little bit more patient by dragging them out.
"I have no worries about us scoring goals. If we take our big chances today, we're not having the discussion [of a lack of goals]. As long as we create big chances in games, that's what I'm interested in. We did in the first half but we didn't so much in the second period. When a team goes down to 10 men, you can see them all in front of the 18-yard box and they were hard to break down.
"We've had three days in between the games and felt that was enough recovery period to go again. I felt it would be a game where second balls would be important, and we did that quite well. There were moments in the first half where we were very good despite maybe not being as crisp on the ball. We've not taken our chances while they've taken their one opportunity."
Man of the match - Aaron Ramsdale
Villa lacked quality in front of goal and became frantic as they chased the game in the second period, but this missed opportunity was thanks in large part to Ramsdale's resolute performance, in front of the excellent Bryan and Ampadu.
The England U21 international has endured a difficult season since arriving as Dean Henderson's replacement last summer, but a second clean sheet of the campaign was earned through four crucial saves as Villa pursued an equaliser in the closing stages.
His quick reflexes to thwart Konsa's firm strike late on keeps Sheffield United's flickering hopes of survival alive.
One-goal margin favours Blades - Opta stats
- Sheffield United (4) have now won more Premier League games this season than 19th-placed West Brom (3), and the same number as 18th-placed Fulham (4); indeed, the Blades have now won three of their six home league games in 2021 (L3).
- For the very first time in the Premier League, Sheffield United managed to win a match in which they received a red card (D5 L8), though Jagielka's red was the first time they had been reduced to 10-men whilst already winning.
- Following their defeats at QPR in October 2014, Leicester in January 2015 & Sheffield United this evening, Aston Villa are the first side to lose three straight away Premier League games against the side starting the day bottom of the table since Fulham in November 2018 (4).
- 32 of Sheffield United's league results since their promotion last season have finished with a one-goal margin (W13 L19), more than any other side - indeed, their four Premier League wins this season have all been by the odd goal.
- Sheffield United defender Phil Jagielka (38y 198d) is the second oldest player to be sent off in the Premier League, behind only Stuart Pearce in March 2001 for West Ham against Everton, at the age of 38 years and 341days.
Live Premier League
Live Premier League
Sheffield United host Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off is at 3pm. Aston Villa will also feature in front of the Sky Sports cameras next up as they host Wolves on Saturday Night Football at 5.30pm.