It was a remarkable Friday evening.
So intense and enthralling a watch, that we were distracted from the howling wind and rain around Villa Park.
And the storm clouds quickly gathered, as Villa looked ill-equipped to handle a well drilled Sheffield Utd side looking to reach the summit of The Championship.
In short? Never. Leave. Early.
⚽️ POV Holte End
🔥 All the goals & fightback.
👊 Mings, Abraham & Green.
🔴 Utd defence infighting.
🚨 Scenes, Limbs, Carnage: pic.twitter.com/TIygNoFEEA
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) February 9, 2019
We were punished mercilessly for our protracted periods of slow, uninventive play that merely invited the inevitable.
Whilst there were a number of players who did little to inspire much confidence going forward, Smith also called the formation and midfield selection totally wrong.
Despite the inclusion of the (so-far-so-good) Mings, who is forming a positive partnership with Tommy Elphick, Villa’s midfield provided zero protection.
Hourihane fuelled his detractors with a lightweight showing. Mile Jedinak looked as match sharp as a spoon. Jonathan Kodjia, again deployed wide, disinterested. John McGinn, yet again, tried to do the work of four men.
Smith didn’t need to wait until we were 2-0 down to attempt to rectify this.
The visitors were rampant, forcing an early smart save from Kalinic who dived to his left to keep out a fierce drive.
It didn’t take long for Billy Sharp to get the first of his three though, firing an effort that just crossed the line from a poorly defended corner to make it 1-0. Cue groans.
Villa improved towards the latter part of the half, but marginally so. We couldn’t have started much worse after-all.
The second half saw Smith’s main error play out, as an unchanged eleven and formation emerged. Abraham continued to look isolated and our midfield suggested it was only a matter of time before United fashioned another opening.
Whilst Sharp’s second should arguably have been dissallowed (offside or kicking the ball from Kalinic’s hands), the passage of play that lead to it should be inspected. All three central midfielders are skipped past from deep before the ball wide is released. It’s a painful re-watch. 2-0 to United.
The third Sharp goal was a classic “stadium emptier”, as Villa seemed resigned to a humiliating home defeat for all on TV to enjoy.
After hapless defending, Sharp obliged by nudging Hutton off the ball to head home from a pin-point cross.
With Jedinak finally withdrawn to sarcastic applause and Kodjia hauled off too, it was up to Glenn Whelan and Andre Green to see what could be mustered in half an hour.
Few would’ve predicted what came next.
Even fewer had remained in Villa Park to see whether those predictions may come to fruition.
From a El Ghazi corner, Mings headed home. 1-3.
It was a good header, despite the goalkeeper Henderson being awfully weak in his attempts to claim.
Then came a second, with Abraham lurking like the predator he is to tap in a spilled Hourihane effort. A comeback, surely not?
Then scenes, limbs and total carnage. Someone divided by zero in the Villa Underground bunker and a black hole opened up at Villa Park.
John McGinn, seizing upon a calamitous sliced clearance, delivered a perfectly flighted ball, that Andre Green rose to head superbly into the top corner. Cabbages and balti pies headed for the skies in jubilation, heralding these unexpected comeback Kings.
#AVFC 3-3 Sheffield Utd
Assume. Crash. Positions.
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) February 8, 2019
Sheffield United fell to their knees, dumbfounded, distraught, in disbelief.
Villa, remarkably, given that only ten minutes before had trailed by three goals, had drawn ourselves level. On the basis of the first eighty minutes, if we’re completely honest, wasn’t deserved.
However, in the context of being determined, never giving up and dredging a draw from a place where it never seemed plausible, it was excellent.
Whilst Green secured the headlines, must should be said for the calm, experienced head of Glenn Whelan.
The Irishman entered the fray, immediately barking orders and relentlessly drove the play forward. The visible never-say-die approach he displayed is an attribute we can only hope rubs off on others in the squad.
For Smith, this is another learning curve.
The final minutes demonstrate that there is something in this Villa team, be it goals and heart.
However, we must eradicate the mistakes and our overly casual approach, if we are to have any realistic hopes of a playoff push.