Over the years, Villa Park has become a very happy hunting ground for United, having not lost there since 1995. And hopes were high once again after an impressive display against City, albeit without the win, and the remarkably young names on the Villa team sheet. However, United’s away record this season has been average at best with only one win on the road and a succession of draws, therefore the pressure was on to keep pace with the league leaders.
On paper, the midfield battle between Fletcher & Carrick v Bannan and Hogg appeared to be one United should dominate, given the Villa pairings relative inexperience (Hogg made his league debut.) However, United failed to get any rhythm early in the game, and allowed Bannan in particular to flourish cutting the United defence apart on a few occasions. It was apparent United would be in for a tough time with the pace of Abgonlahor, Downing, Young and the impressive Albrighton posing a threat to our defence. United however appeared to be without any ideas of their own going forward, with the out of form Berbatov once again frustrating by his inability to get into the game. The first half was dominated by Villa, who looked the more energetic side, and more threatening especially from set pieces, however they failed to break through as first half drew to a close with the game all square.
Any United fan thinking we could play any worse was in for a massive shock in the second half. United constantly gave the ball away, were overrun in midfield, and were being ripped open by Villa’s incisive counter attacks. Nani, Berbatov and Hernandez all struggled against the resilient Villa defence, with chances few and far between. United were punished for their laziness on 72 minutes when Ashley Young was bundled to ground clumsily by Wes Brown, and he stepped up to slot home the penalty to give Villa the lead. Things got worse for the reds 5 minutes later, as an incisive break left Albrighton free at the back post to put Villa 2 up and almost out of sight. Almost.
A wise man once said “football, bloody hell”, and these words resonated loud and clear in the next ten minutes, as once again United salvaged what was an impossible situation. Just as the clock had ticked over to 80 minutes, Macheda stepped up and nailed a stunning right foot shot into the top corner to give United their lifeline. And the equalizer was soon to follow, after a delightful cross from Nani, Vidic was left unmarked at the back post to rescue the point for United. It could have been better for the reds, only for Obertan to be denied a dramatic last gasp winner by Brad Friedel a constant source of United frustration over the years.
Once again United were largely unconvincing, yet managed to get some points on the board and avoid defeat which is absolutely crucial at this stage of the season. What looked to have been a bad point has ultimately turned into a priceless one, given Chelsea’s surprise defeat at home to Sunderland, and City’s laboursome home draw to Birmingham. Although United and Fergie will be pleased with how things have turned out, it is clear United must step up their performances if we are to challenge for the title. Thankfully, we have the perfect game to bounce back next week at home to Wigan, and the imminent return of Rooney and Giggs. As we enter the crucial winter period, United find themselves there abouts in the league title race, and Ferguson will know as well as anybody that a good run of wins now could see us take the initiative and bring back number 19.