Ezri Konsa’s second-half header proved decisive as Aston Villa overcame a resilient performance by Sheffield United, who played for 78 minutes with 10 men after the early dismissal of John Egan.
Konsa headed in fellow defender Tyrone Mings’ flick-on in the 63rd minute after Matt Targett whipped a corner in from the left.
Villa put United under pressure for long spells after visiting captain Egan was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity in a tussle with Ollie Watkins in the 12th minute.
But the Blades missed a golden opportunity to score the opener after half an hour when John Lundstram was denied from the penalty spot by Villa debutant Emiliano Martinez, after a lengthy VAR review showed Targett had clipped Chris Basham in the box.
United regrouped and were solid in defence – clearing numerous crosses and presenting a threat on the break – but could not hold out to earn a share of the points.
It means United have now lost five Premier League games in a row, including the end of last season, while Villa are unbeaten in their past five.
Villa got off to a good start and within a minute right-back Matty Cash – making his debut – fired a dangerous ball into the box but John McGinn’s volley flew over the bar.
United also threatened in the early exchanges and Konsa had to slide in at the near post to prevent a low cross from the right being poked in by David McGoldrick.
But Villa were gifted the upper hand inside a quarter of an hour when Egan pulled back Watkins as he raced on to Mings’ long ball and referee Graham Scott showed the red card.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Lundstram could have given United the lead from the spot 20 minutes later but Martinez, who arrived from Arsenal for £17m earlier this month, dived to his right to deny the midfielder.
Conor Hourihane’s deliveries were causing problems and although Villa were unable to capitalise initially, they deserved to take the lead through Konsa’s header after Jack Grealish and Watkins each went close.
It was Villa’s second victory in a week after they overcame League One side Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup second round.
Blades fail to recover from Egan red
After going two goals down in their Premier league opener to Wolves within six minutes last Monday, Blades manager Chris Wilder would have hoped for a smoother start at Villa Park.
But again, a needless error from Egan made United’s task much harder and Wilder was forced to sacrifice striker McGoldrick before the break.
New signing Ethan Ampadu’s introduction was a shrewd tactical decision – releasing Basham into midfield and moving John Fleck across to deal with Cash.
The move paid off immediately with Basham making the forward run into the box to earn the penalty but Lundstram was unable to take advantage.
United kept their organisation and steel at the back – pushing back every set-piece and squeezing out the space in which Villa tried to work for the next half an hour.
But Konsa’s header was the key blow and while United had glimpses of hope on the counter-attack, they never truly tested Villa from open play.
‘Both boys are grappling’ – what they said
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith to BBC Sport: “A very good start, to get three points and a clean sheet you can’t ask for more. I thought we stared the game the better and the game changes with the sending off.
“We’ve worked on Tyrone Mings getting across the near post, flicking it on and Ezri Konsa arriving. It’s difficult when they go in with two banks of four. We probably should have scored more. Since lockdown, defensively I think we’ve been more aggressive.”
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder to BBC Sport on John Egan’s red card: “I wanted to clear up [with referee Graham Scott] the decisions he made. Why wasn’t there a look at the monitor? Why wasn’t there intervention from VAR?
“Both boys are grappling there. The linesman never once raises his flag for a foul. I don’t see many Villa players running to the referee.”
A first for debutant Martinez – the best of the stats
- Aston Villa have won three consecutive Premier League games at Villa Park for the first time since October 2007 under Martin O’Neill.
- Villa are unbeaten in their last 14 home league meetings with Sheffield United (W8 D6), including all five games against them at Villa Park in the Premier League (W4 D1).
- Sheffield United have lost their opening two games to a top-flight season for the first time since 1973-74.
- Seven of Aston Villa’s last nine Premier League goals have come from set-piece situations (four corners, three free-kicks).
- Sheffield United have failed to win any of their 11 Premier League games in which they received a red card (D4 L7).
- Konsa has scored two goals in his last four league games, one more than he registered in his previous 137 in league competition.
- Martinez became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty on their debut for Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Aston Villa travel to Bristol City in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Thursday (19:00 BST), before a visit to Fulham in the Premier League on Monday (18:00).
Sheffield United host Leeds United in the Premier League on Sunday (12:00).