Agbonlahor exploits United's weak spot to end 26-year wait - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Agbonlahor exploits United's weak spot to end 26-year wait

Manchester United 0 Aston Villa 1

It was Manchester United's chance to capitalise on everyone else's failure and go level on points with Chelsea by beating a side who had not won at Old Trafford since Martin O'Neill was winding up his playing career at Notts County. The final twist of the day's Premier League script really was the most extraordinary of all.

It wasn't the most improbable, though. United's struggle to finish games which they dominate like this has been a recurrent theme of this season, while the way that Villa have been overlooked while quietly collecting the scalps of the elite sides looks like a blinding oversight this morning, now that they have added Manchester United to their casualty list as well. Perhaps it was that bad opening day defeat to Wigan at home; perhaps the fact that they beat Liverpool on a Monday night when other sides were playing and Chelsea on a Saturday lunchtime. "There's good ability here that sometimes gets overlooked," manager O'Neill said last night. Not any longer.

Villa's victory presses further the England case of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who took his tally against United to four in seven games by rising above Nemanja Vidic to head home an Ashley Young cross which Tomasz Kuszczak should have come for. James Milner's performance in his third appearance in central midfield for O'Neill makes his case to Capello irrefutable: there is not a more versatile in-form player in England. But the men who O'Neill most has to thank are the defenders who stemmed tide after tide as United pushed for a comeback to go with the 3-2 win in this fixture last season which was crucial to their title.

Carlos Cuellar and Stiliyan Petrov were immovable and Richard Dunne's form will probably be providing Manchester City Mark Hughes with a sense of bewilderment today as he has been reborn since his summer move. "We've got a good atmosphere in the dressing room here. Everyone puts the work in," Dunne said. "United are always going to come on top of us. You know you are going to be under pressure."

Villa have stolen up to third in the table but United, five points above them, should be level with Chelsea. The game took a familiar pattern for them – 20 opening minutes of sublime, crisp passing but the lack of finish to go with it providing encouragement to their opponents. Villa had barely ventured out of their own half before Agbonlahor showed United the meaning of crisp finishing. It was something Antonio Valencia generally lacked and Wayne Rooney's frustrations took hold as they so often do when he is the lone striker.

He resorted to some penalty box theatrics, plunging to the turf after he had for once raced beyond Cuellar into the area and saw Luke Young approach. Giggs protested when Rooney was booked for simulation – but the perpetrator didn't. He knew. Taking on Evra's pass and lashing a shot into the underside of the crossbar didn't ease Rooney's state of mind, before the break.

Sir Alex Ferguson threw everything at Villa. Michael Owen arrived after the interval and Dimitar Berbatov, too, but profligacy reigned. Vidic's header from a Rooney corner was cleared off the line by the right foot of Downing. Berbatov kicked at the night air rather than the ball Michael Carrick crossed. And for all the pressure, Brad Friedel had only one good save – a Berbatov shot parried away.

O'Neill sought – as he so often does – to play down expectations. "The best four squads have been in the top four over the years," he said later. "The [same four] will rise to the top. Manchester City and Tottenham, despite their results today, will be very strong, we'll just try to hang in there." But Villa can't remain a secret forever.

O'Neill has experienced his first win at Old Trafford since he was managing Leicester – "I actually can't remember the day," he said last night – and has a taste for it.

Attendance: 75,130

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Man of the match: Cuellar

Match rating: 8/10

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week