Aston Villa vs Manchester United report: Radamel Falcao proves his worth as striker salvages a point against 10-man Villa

Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 1: Gabriel Agbonlahor was sent-off after Christian Benteke had put Villa ahead but Falcao secured a point for United

Click to follow
The Independent Football

It’s that time of year. The pantomime villain appears on cue, is booed to the rafters, and becomes involved in perfectly scripted mayhem. He exits, stage left, with a satisfied smile and the audience out of their seats, screaming. Tradition has been satisfied.

Ashley Young doesn’t need such seasonal employment, but his role at Villa Park was pre-ordained. His return revived memories of perceived treachery, because he had prevaricated for personal profit before moving to Manchester United in a £16 million deal that signalled the strength of his ambition.

Since he has been far from an unqualified success at Old Trafford, and has acquired a damning reputation as a diver, there was an ironic predictability in his involvement in the pivotal incident of a match of dubious quality but great dramatic intensity.

Booed constantly, he had already set up United’s equaliser when, with 25 minutes remaining, he contested an old-school fifty-fifty challenge with Gabby Agbonlahor. Contact was fractionally late, the product of rivals’ momentum. Referee Lee Mason, surrounded by United players as the Villa winger lay prone, produced a red card for the latter without evidence of malice aforethought.

“If that is a red card we may as well pack up,” protested Villa’s manager, Paul Lambert, who promised an appeal on the strength of a post-match conversation with his goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, who suggested that Young admitted his culpability in the challenge. “Work that one out,” added Lambert. “I’m not worried whether he made a meal of it. In the heat of the moment no one is going to spring up and say, ‘Don’t send him off.’ It would be a first in world football. It just doesn’t happen.”

Benteke scores a beautiful curling effort to put Aston Villa ahead

The ghost of Roy Keane lingered around Villa Park. He represents the standards United must regain to be regarded as title contenders, and those which Villa, the most recent subject of his ire, must attempt to attain if they are do more than merely make up the numbers.

Louis van Gaal, whose crash course in Premier League managerial etiquette led him to suggest he did not see the incident which led to the dismissal, admitted: “These are the type of games which could cost us the title.”

United had arrived on a six-game winning run with under- standable anti-  cipation of further success, having won their previous seven League matches against Villa, a run stretching back to February 2011. They left with another encounter, Villa’s 3-1 home win on the opening day of the 1995-96 season, echoing down the corridor of history. That United defeat that entered football folklore because it prompted Alan Hansen to make the immortal observation that they would “win nothing with kids”.

Benteke celebrates scoring the opening goal against Manchester United

They will win nothing without defenders, either. In another era, one in which that fateful collision between Young and Agbonlahor would have barely merited a mention, a defender of Ron Vlaar’s physicality and rigour would have been inconspicuous.

He would represent a readily recognisable breed, instead of being someone whose ability to impose himself on opposition forwards makes him coveted for his rarity value. Yet he is precisely the type of defender Van Gaal needs.

Vlaar would not have stood off Christian Benteke in the manner of Jonny Evans, who allowed the Belgian striker to take a 19th-minute free-kick on his chest and advance without being closed down before scoring with a whipped left-foot shot into the top corner.

He would have not made the elementary mistake of Phil Jones soon after half-time. Jones was facing the wrong way and unable to prevent Benteke connecting with a powerful far-post free header, which forced David De Gea to arch backwards, and palm the ball over the bar.

Van Gaal has had his “golden hello”, a raft of singings which have cost £150m. Defensive shortcomings will surely lead to an insistence on further investments in January, when Villa will be under more pressure to sell Vlaar, who is out of contract in the summer.

Manchester United players embrace striker Radamel Falcao after his goal

United have the option of signing Radamel Falcao for £43.5m next summer, but he had the pallor of a passenger before he equalised in the 53rd minute with what his manager called “a beautiful goal”. It was created, almost inevitably, by Young, who was allowed to fashion a left- footed cross under no pressure from the wing-back Matt Lowton.

Falcao (left) pulled off the shoulder of the covering defender and scored with a highlight-reel header. Young skipped across the penalty area with a backwards glance at the main stand, where the home fans were apoplectic at his impudence.

Little did the audience know it, but the show had only just begun.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Guzan; Okore, Vlaar, Clark; Lowton, Sanchez, Delph, Weimann (N’Zogbia, 79), Cissokho (Bacuna, 79); Benteke, Agbonlahor.

Manchester United (3-4-1-2): De Gea; Jones, Carrick, Evans; Valencia (Wilson, 73), Fletcher (Blackett, 46), Rooney, Young; Mata; Falcao, Van Persie (Di Maria, 60).

Referee: Lee Mason.

Man of the match: Vlaar (Villa)

Match rating: 6/10