BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Aston Villa belatedly got their season up and running with a laboured 1-0 home win against 10-man Sheffield United on Monday as Ezri Konsa’s second-half header proved enough to settle a dour game at Villa Park.
All eyes were on Villa’s new record signing Ollie Watkins but it was defender Konsa, a former team mate of Watkins’ at Brentford, and debutant goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who earned their side three points.
Sheffield United had defender John Egan sent off after 12 minutes for pulling back Watkins but wasted a great chance to take the lead before halftime when John Lundstrum’s penalty was saved by Martinez, signed from Arsenal last week.
Even with an extra man Villa struggled to create chances against a well-organised United side, but Konsa’s 63rd minute header ensured a positive start for Dean Smith’s side who last season escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth.
It has been a disappointing opening to the campaign for Chris Wilder’s United who have lost two from two without scoring having also gone down 2-0 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Smith said Egan’s sending off had forced his Villa side to throw their game plan out of the window.
“We thought United would come and press and we wanted to suck them in and then play in the spaces behind,” he said. “But that high press stopped as soon as Egan was sent off.”
The last time the two sides met -- the first Premier League match after the resumption of last season in June -- the game was mired in controversy when United were denied a clear goal because of a failure of goal-line technology.
And they could feel a little hard done by again as Egan tugged at the shirt of Watkins, who was trying to latch on to a long pass by Tyrone Mings. Referee Graham Scott was a long way from the incident but had no hesitation in showing a red card.
Villa struggled to take advantage and were fortunate that Martinez saved Lundstrum’s 36th minute penalty awarded, after a lengthy VAR review, for a foul by Matt Targett on Chris Basham.
United looked comfortable but their resistance was broken when Targett swung in a corner, Mings glanced it on and Konsa’s header, lacking any power, crept past keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Villa captain Jack Grealish curled a right-foot effort just wide and Watkins, who scored 26 goals in all competitions for second-tier Brentford last season before his 27 million pounds move, also went close with a similar effort.
Villa’s scheduled opener at Manchester City on Sept. 12 was postponed so that Pep Guardiola’s side could have an extra week to recover from their Champions League campaign last term.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris
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