Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 3 match report: Goals from Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley get David Moyes' side back on track
The champions ended a run of four Premier League matches without victory
For a Manchester United team in need of a victory, there will always be the safe haven of Villa Park where, as everyone knows, United have not lost since the day when Alan Hansen wore that cream-coloured suit on Match of the Day and made a rash pronouncement about “the kids”.
So it was again on Sunday, even for David Moyes’ United team, with Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick among the injured, without a win in four league games, and hanging on desperately to the leaders at the top of the table. Confidence battered, it seemed they only needed sight of the claret and blue livery to start playing like Manchester United again – or at least the Manchester United of the last 20 years.
When Danny Welbeck scored the first for United on 15 minutes the away support responded with the chant, “We are staying up” which was, first of all, a good joke and secondly said something about how they regard the bulletins of doom about their long-term demise. On days like these it is hard to imagine anything other than United occupying the top or higher places in the Premier League although there is still more work to do.
When he was asked whether that was more like he expected from his players, Moyes replied “getting closer to it”. The two goals for Danny Welbeck were his first since the start of the season. The third by Tom Cleverley was his first for a year. There was also a late substitute’s appearance from Darren Fletcher, who last played for United on Boxing Day last year in his most recent comeback from the ulcerative colitis condition that has interrupted his career.
Even without Van Persie and Carrick, the pep was back among United’s players. By the final whistle, the home seats had all but emptied of those Villa fans who had seen enough of United’s 18th straight unbeaten visit to the stadium. Even the booing for Villa old boy Ashley Young, a late substitute, was half-hearted and as he left the pitch he obliged a young home supporter by hanging over his match shirt.
There was a fine first half performance from Adnan Januzaj, whose header against the post led to Welbeck’s first goal on 15 minutes. The winger is a remarkable talent and he incited a strange kind of rage in Villa’s dishevelled defence, especially Matt Lowton. Moyes was only too happy to seize upon a question about the 18-year-old to berate the referee Lee Mason and his fourth official Mark Clattenburg for what he regarded as a surfeit of unpunished challenges on his player.
Victory took United to eighth in the Premier League and they gained three points on the leaders Arsenal who are ten ahead of them. In this league season of small margins, the mood can turn in a game. The previous victory in the league was the win over Arsenal on 10 November but everything can plunge again when United face Stoke City away in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday night.
One would argue that Moyes is at last facing a run of league fixtures that balance out the formidable start to the season he had to endure. United play at home against West Ham on Saturday followed by away games at Hull City and Norwich City over Christmas before Spurs visit on New Year’s Day. So far they have been anything but predictable. “There has to be more consistency,” Moyes said as he reviewed the kind of performance one would expect to watch most weeks as a United manager.
As for Villa, it was one of those days when what little confidence this side has at home evaporated quickly. Paul Lambert acknowledged that the home support have been patient with a record of seven points at home all season. There was an undercurrent of booing at the end of the first half and at the final whistle but in general the home support simply took their leave quietly as a familiar story unfolded.
Villa did start brightly through their best player, Marc Albrighton, who was one of the few still trying to beat his man Patrice Evra – he did on a few occasions – even when all hope was lost. He had a shot on ten minutes and played a good ball through to Chrsitian Benteke on 12 minutes which Rafael Da Silva spotted early and intercepted.
Poor old, Benteke, back in the team because Libor Kozak, a late substitute, had a toe injury. The Belgian striker is bereft of confidence and has not scored since mid-September. There are problems elsewhere in this Villa side, not least in the error-prone defence that features an admirable number of academy boys, but Benteke’s lack of goals go a long way to explaining his club’s problems.
Welbeck scored the first when Januzaj’s header from Rafael’s cross came back off the post and the Englishman reacted the quickest. Two minutes later Nathan Baker lost possession and the ball went from Wayne Rooney to Welbeck to Valencia and back to Welbeck to score. Valencia might have got another before half-time when Welbeck played him in but he needed to hit the ball with his left foot which is not something he does readily.
Rooney, who was relatively quite given his high standards, had earlier shot wide from Valencia’s cut-back. There were standout performances from more than half the United team although there was no place in the side for Rio Ferdinand, although he was considered fit enough for the bench.
The second half got steadily more testy, beginning with a clash between David De Gea and Gabby Agbonlahor, which ended in both of them being booked – a one-match suspension follows for the Villa man. The third goal came seven minutes after the break when Cleverley intercepted a ball from Antonio Luna, exchanged passes with Rooney and picked his spot nicely.
By the end, United were settling in to a pattern they will have recognised over the years. The resistance was slowly trickling out of an opponent in a quiet, emptying stadium enlivened only by the away support. The United fans called for Moyes to wave to them and he obliged. This was a day when he could enjoy being the United manager although how long the uplift lasts was already playing on his mind before he had even begun the journey home.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Guzan 6; Lowton 4, Clark 4, Baker 4, Luna 4; El Ahmadi 5 (Bacuna, 86), Westwood 5, Sylla 5 (Weimann 5, 63); Albrighton 6, Benteke 3 (Kozak, 79), Agbonlahor 6.
Substitutes not used: Steer (gk), Bowery, Gardner, Tonev.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; R Da Silva 7, Jones 7, Evans 6, Evra 5; Cleverley 7, Giggs 6 (Fletcher 6, 70); Valencia 7, Welbeck 7, Januzaj 7 (Young 6, 70); Rooney 6 (Zaha, 84).
Substitutes not used: Lindegaard (gk), Ferdinand, F Da Silva, Buttner.
Booked: Aston Villa Agbonlahor, Lowton, Clark, Baker Manchester United De Gea, Welbeck
Referee: L Mason
Man of the match: Welbeck
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