Aston Villa 1, Manchester United 4: Odd couple star for United in latest command performance

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The Independent Football

After a midweek in which they travelled almost 24,000 miles between them to play for their countries – 20,226 for Carlos Tevez to Caracas via Buenos Aires and back, 3,156 for Wayne Rooney to Moscow – came the clearest sign yet that the bold partnership between the two strikers is coming together. Maybe it agrees with their metabolisms which, given they play away in the Champions League to Dynamo Kiev tomorrow evening, is a relief.

Rooney scored twice, to bring his total to six in five games, including two for England, and should have had a hat-trick while Tevez could have matched that as Manchester United recorded what Sir Alex Ferguson regarded as their "best performance of the season". Having scored just seven in eight league matches, United now have eight in two.

It was also, according to Rio Ferdinand, an emphatic display to explode the myth that Rooney and Tevez can't play together. "It's been put to bed finally," the defender claimed. "We knew that as a team but I think they put it on show and their movement and awareness around each other was unbelievable. Wayne is 21. He can't be tired at that age. His enthusiasm to play football is great. His body is made for that. He has got a fantastic will to play."

Victory at Villa Park was hardly a rarity – it is six straight wins at the venue for United now and 23 meetings and a daunting 12 years since the claret and blues have tasted success against them – but it was the manner of it that set down a marker. The home side railed against two dismissals, a penalty that probably should have been given against Ferdinand and various other injustices but they were well beaten.

"They are outstanding players," purred Ferguson. "Everyone has played their part but the special things were coming off Tevez and Rooney and Nani at times as well." Not quite. There was one absentee from his list and it's an absentee who England have missed since he quit international football three years ago. If Rooney is a cause for hope of what his country has, Paul Scholes is the embodiment of what they lack.

Nearly 33, the midfielder conducted proceedings against Villa and against two players who would love to emulate his achievements with England. In the end Nigel Reo-Coker was dismissed for two foolish yellow cards and Gareth Barry appeared simply exhausted after two international matches in a week.

"Gareth looked drained," admitted Villa manager Martin O'Neill. "Not the usual Gareth Barry we have come to know and enjoy. It wasn't because he wasn't trying. Good players can always play together. Rooney and Tevez. People might think they are a bit similar but once they come off you they can cause problems."

The key point there, as O'Neill well knows, is "once they come off you" and the error by his team to defend too deep, to sit off their opponents, proved their undoing. True, they were pushed back by the invention and complexity of United's passing but if they had maintained the conviction and momentum of the opening 20 minutes it could have been different.

In that time United fell behind, through a header from the relentless, whippet-quick Gabriel Agbonlahor, the first goal they had conceded in more than 10 hours of football, and appeared disjointed. Ferdinand, in particular, was at fault, clearly missing the injured Nemanja Vidic who, crucially, may not be fit enough for Kiev.

But it was another central defender, Villa's Zat Knight, whose wretched contribution swung matters. After Scott Carson had blocked from Tevez, following a sumptuous one-touch move, Knight stood day-dreamingly rooted as Rooney swept in Nani's low cross. Then Tevez cut in from the left and flicked a pass to Rooney who was afforded a breathtaking degree of space by Knight to stroke United ahead. In first-half injury-time, Knight added insult when – all 6ft 6in of him – he watched as Gerard Pique thudded in a header. Ashley Young scrambled it off the line, but Ferdinand hooked the ball goalwards and Craig Gardner's attempted clearance cannoned in off the bar.

Villa were shell-shocked. "Straightforward simple errors," said O'Neill. "So simple it was untrue. We have gifted a team like Man United goals. And they have been poor goals." Villa soon made even harder work of the task as referee Rob Styles sent off Reo-Coker. Having up-ended Tevez, the midfielder was late in tackling Anderson. Both United players made the most of it but the dismissal was, despite O'Neill's protestations, warranted. "It was a big moment," he said, "and was desperately harsh."

But the game was already up. It certainly was when Carson also went, for lunging with his legs at Tevez as he shaped to shoot. His replacement Stuart Taylor saved Rooney's low penalty and then blocked brilliantly from Tevez and substitute Cristiano Ronaldo. Rooney also side-footed against the bar but Taylor could do nothing after Ryan Giggs' shot took a double deflection to complete the scoring for a seventh straight victory.

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