With the title race back in the balance after a surprise defeat to Wigan, United returned to the sanctuary of Old Trafford to face Aston Villa, with the reds now just 2 points clear of Manchester City. Having inflicted a 1-0 victory over Villa in December, and with the Birmingham club languishing near the relegation zone, there was a quiet confidence around Old Trafford that United would respond to City’s comprehensive 6-1 thrashing of Norwich. Having sat out the fixture versus Wigan, Paul Scholes returned to the United midfield, looking to continue his impressive record since returning to the side in January. Rafael and Danny Welbeck were also recalled to add the extra tempo which was severely lacking on Wednesday night.
Villa would have been disappointed to not have got off to a dream start, as with just 25 seconds on the clock, a seemingly innocuous ball fell to Weimann in the United penalty area, but the Villa striker struck his shot tamely at De Gea, giving the reds a timely reminder that the title is far from over. It proved to be a rare venture into the United half for the visitors however, as Scholes continued his imperious form dictating the game from the middle of the park. The deadlock was broken on 7 minutes, in somewhat controversial circumstances, as Young’s mazy run was ended by a trip from villa midfielder Kieran Clark, handing United a penalty. Replays seemed to indicate that whilst there was slight contact, Young’s fall was theatrical, and had greatly incensed Young’s former Villa teammates. Rooney made no mistake from the spot, and granted United a crucial lead in an imperative game in the title race. Whilst the visitors seemed to dwell on a sense of injustice, United went from strength to strength in an impressive first half performance. A succession of world class blocks from both Collins and Baker in the Villa defence kept the visitors heads above water, as well as a stunning save from Shay Given, denying Welbeck from point blank range. United were not to be denied a deserved second goal cushion, and just on the stroke of half time, Welbeck ensured it by capitalising upon some hesitant defending to tap home Evra’s cross and make the game all but safe.
After spending much of the first half on the back foot, Villa showed greater invention in the early parts of the second half, profiting from some extremely lazy United passing, and creating an air of tension around Old Trafford. Substitute Emile Heskey almost set up a tense finale, heading firmly towards the United goal with his first touch of the match, but David De Gea was on hand to tip over athletically. United responded in turn, and this time to great effect, as the magnificent Antonio Valencia found Rooney with his low cross, leaving him with the simple task of controlling and slotting home for his second of the match and putting the reds firmly out of sight. Nani added the icing on the cake in stoppage time, collecting Jonny Evans’s pass and slotting past Given at his near post for the Portugese wingers first goal since returning from injury. With a 5 point lead restored, United need only win their next two games to secure a 5th premier league title in 6 years, although a trip to the Etihad in two weeks time could prove decisive either way in who will win the title.
DDG – 6 Distributed well and some good saves.
Rafael – 7 Was sorely missed on Wednesday and showed exactly why.
Evans – 7 Defensively solid, contributed attacking wise also.
Ferdinand – 7 Kept up his good form.
Evra – 7 Complimented Young superbly in the first half.
Valencia – 8 Back to his devastating best.
Scholes – 9 MOTM A lesson in the art of playing midfield.
Carrick – 7 Dominated the middle of the park.
Young – 6 Gave Hutton a torrid time in the first half.
Rooney – 5 Two goals masked what was overall a sloppy performance.
Welbeck – 6 Denied by some heroic last ditch defending on several occassions, deserved his goal.
Nani – 7 Instant impact and well taken goal.
Cleverley – 6 Kept United’s tempo up.
Berbatov – 6 Showed he’s still fit and able to play a part.