On the back of three wins in a week against Birmingham, Blackpool and Southampton, United welcomed Aston Villa to Old Trafford to continue their pursuit of the premier league title. Villa have had a largely disappointing season under new manager Gerard Houllier, however the signing of Darren Bent for £24 million in January sent out a clear message of Villa’s intentions for the future. United were looking to extend their home record to played 13, won 12 drawn 1 with victory in a fixture which had cost the reds dearly last season in a 1-0 defeat to the midlands club. A familiarly strong United side lined up following the weekends tinkering at Southampton, with Fergie knowing full well these sort of fixtures can often be banana skins for the title challengers.
Any doubts of a tense affair were quickly quelled by United, who got off to a dream start as Rooney latched on to a superb long ball from Edwin Van Der Sar, and lashed home into the top corner leaving the Villa defence shell shocked. Villa must have feared they would suffer the same fate as their local rivals Birmingham City, recipients of a 5-0 drubbing at old Trafford a fortnight ago. United however failed to make the most of a dominant first half performance, with once again Ryan Giggs the catalyst of all that was brilliant about the United performance. Young Villa full back Ciaran Clark was facing one of his tougher tests against a rejuvenated Nani, who has struggled of late, but looked in the mood to wreck havoc against a fragile Villa defence.
United’s second was a matter of when rather than if, and the reds duly obliged minutes before the half time whistle, as Nani’s sumptuous ball in was steered home by Rooney for his second of the night. Nobody will be more relieved to see Rooney on the scoresheet than Wayne himself, who probably by his own admission hasn’t lived anywhere near up to his own high standards this season, but a good goal scoring run now could be pivotal and would probably see United go on to win the title. Lesser sides would have buckled after such a hammer blow before half time, but Villa responded well in the second half and were rewarded as Stuart Downing’s low cross was steered home by Darren Bent in typical fashion to bring Villa back into the game.
However any chances of a Villa comeback where thwarted 5 minutes later, as Nemanja Vidic picked up Rooney’s lay off in the area to smash home what will probably be the centre back’s best goal of his career! Vidic’s goal ended Villa’s hopes, and but for some wasteful finishing coupled with some excellent goalkeeping by Brad Friedel, the scoreline could have looked a lot better for the reds with Berbatov in particular having ‘one of those nights’. However with both Chelsea and Arsenal winning, the 3 points are vital for United, who face perhaps their most difficult two months of the season with trips to Anfield, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge to come. Unquestionably, this is make or break time for this United squad, as we are still actively pursuing success in all the prestigious competitions, and every game that goes by with a tick in the win column gives us all that little bit more belief that we can lift major silverware in the summer.
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