Following 3 poor results, United travelled to Villa Park to face Aston Villa, a ground on which the reds have enjoyed some great success down the years, losing only 1 contest of the last 20 in all competitions. The midweek defeat to Crystal Palace, and the impending Champions League group decider on the horizon added extra pressure to what was already a crucially important game for United, with rivals City opening up an 8 point lead at the top of the table. Sir Alex Ferguson clearly shared the sense of importance, and selected his strongest available XI with Phil Jones adopting a role in midfield along side Michael Carrick in a side containing 10 changes from the midweek debacle against Palace.
Having only secured a point on the past 3 trips to Villa Park, United knew they were in for a tough evening against a dogged rather than flamboyant Villa side who have started the season steadily. The task was made immediately more difficult when on 7 minutes, Javier Hernandez went over awkwardly on his ankle whilst trying to get onto the end of a Nani pass, resulting in a lengthy delay whilst the Mexican striker was stretchered off. His replacement Antonio Valencia made an immediate impact down the right hand side, allowing Nani to move forward into a more advanced forward role which brought United immediate results. In a quiet game of few chances, it was United who seized the initiative on the 20 minute mark, as Nani’s curling cross found Phil Jones unmarked, allowing the England international to volley home his first goal in a United shirt in some style.
Having managed a succession of 1-0 victories in recent weeks, United looked in the mood for goals as Villa appeared to be totally devoid of any solutions to United’s enterprising play. Carrick and Jones were dictating play through the middle with little challenge, and it was perhaps a disappointment for United to only find themselves a goal ahead at half time. The second half continued in much the same fashion as the first had ended, with United on cruise control, playing the game at walking pace and building up patiently from midfield. Another quiet period ended with the introduction of Emile Heskey and Stiliyan Petrov for Villa, and Ryan Giggs for United as the home side began to grow in adventure after an abject display. They should have levelled through Heskey on 70 minutes, with the former England striker latching onto Richard Dunne’s cross at the back post, only to tamely head wide of Lindegaard’s near post. The Danish keeper was enjoying a very quiet afternoon, but was called into action again on 76 minutes, as James Collins thundered a header towards goal, with Lindegaard having to be on high alert to athletically tip over the cross bar.
At the other end, United were quick to hit Villa on the break at every available opportunity, with Giggs, Young, Rooney and Nani all combining well to keep Villa pinned back in their own half. Former Villa player Young perhaps should have doubled the reds lead with time running down, his curling shot from the edge of the box however fell tamely into the arms of substitute keeper Brad Guzan. United could have made things comfortable in the closing stages, with substitute Welbeck going close with stoppage time approaching, closely followed by a fine solo effort from Rooney, narrowly volleying his left footed shot over the cross bar. The result was never in doubt however, with an insipid Villa lacking the energy to muster a final assault on the United goal, handing the reds a vital 3 points and drawing them to within 5 points of leaders City.
Lindegaard – 6 Spectator for large parts of the game. Great save from Collins.
Smalling – 6 Dealt with Abgonlahor with consummate ease.
Vidic – 8 MOTM Magnificent lesson in how to play central defence.
Ferdinand – 6 Assured until coming off in the second half.
Evra – 6 Combined well with Young down the left in offense and attack.
Nani – 7 Looked very dangerous in a more advanced role.
Jones – 7 Deserved first goal for United in mature display.
Carrick – 6 Marshalled the midfield.
Young – 6 Happy return to Villa Park in positive performance.
Rooney – 6 Not his finest game, but still heavily influenced United’s attack.
Hernandez – Subbed after 7 minutes.
Valencia – 6 Worked hard defensively and threatened on the counter.
Giggs – 6 Added some silk to United’s midfield.
Welbeck – 6 Willing runner and linked up well. Slightly wasteful.