Manchester United 2 Aston Villa 1: Swede dreams are made of this

The first day at the office had unfolded to a well-rehearsed script for Henrik Larsson. Greeted with wild acclaim by an expectant Old Trafford, its numbers swelled by dozens of pilgrims from Celtic Park, the venerable Swede responded as Martin O'Neill feared he would by illuminating their FA Cup reunion with vision and velvet touches, scoring on his Manchester United debut and taking his leave to a standing ovation. Then came the dawning that, no matter what is achieved over the next 10 weeks, the mantle of United's revered Scandinavian predator will always remain the preserve of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Stoppage time had just commenced and Sir Alex Ferguson had begun to ponder Aston Villa's possible team for the third-round replay when the Norwegian took possession of a Wayne Rooney pass on the angle of the opposition penalty area. At that moment someone stepped into the United manager's line of sight and obstructed him from what came next, although, with the 33-year-old poised, he must surely have known.

In 1999, Solskjaer struck in similar fashion to destroy Liverpool's hopes in the fourth round and grant United another 2-1 reprieve en route to their historic treble. Eight years on, and looking eight days older despite the stress of spending two years fighting to save his career from a serious knee injury, his ability to twist the knife at the most critical juncture remains undiminished. This time it was the turn of O'Neill and Villa, like Liverpool, Bayern Munich and countless more before, to rue not only Solskjaer's instinct but the luxury at Ferguson's disposal when he can replace one outstanding veteran striker with another.

"I didn't see the goal because someone blocked my view but when Ole is on the pitch you know you've always got a chance," Ferguson said. "To have nine goals so far [this season] is a phenomenal effort."

Although, as the United manager was forced to concede, it was only due to a calamitous response by Gabor Kiraly in the Villa goal that Solskjaer was able to stir the memories, and the Premiership leaders were spared a further examination of their Cup ambitions in the Midlands in 10 days' time.

Though Larsson and Solskjaer showed the clinical touch so many in red lacked, they were not the only European Cup-winning strikers on display. When Milan Baros equalised with 16 minutes remaining, finding the bottom corner of Tomasz Kuszczak's goal after receiving a mis-hit shot from Gary Cahill, the Villa ploy of containment and counter-attack looked set to succeed.

O'Neill's team would have scored minutes earlier had Isaiah Osbourne not poked his effort straight at United's stand-in keeper, but the Ulsterman must have suspected that, having prospered through Larsson's brilliance in Scotland, he would be the one to suffer for the Swede's enduring desire on his United debut. He was not mistaken.

For 55 minutes United laboured to add penetration to their play, as they had done at Newcastle on New Year's Day, although the blame could not be pinned on their debutant, whose movement, speed of thought and speed of touch slotted neatly into their style despite the fact he has not played a competitive game since mid-December. Instead, Villa's compact game plan, with Gavin McCann and Osbourne providing dual protection to the back four, their isolation of Cristiano Ronaldo for long periods and the performance of Wayne Rooney in front of goal were the principal causes of an afternoon of toil.

As always it was impossible to fault Rooney's endeavour but he lacks the ruthlessness of a Larsson inside the penalty area and allowed Villa to escape twice before the interval when he lingered too long on inviting passes from his new strike partner. Rooney's goal return stands at one in 12 games, and United must be thankful his creativity is not suffering a similar malaise.

Having wasted two good openings and had his one rapid reaction saved by Kiraly in the first half, Rooney provided Larsson with his first shot in a United shirt in the 16th minute, before Michael Carrick followed suit with a rare piercing pass over the Villa defence. On both occasions the on-loan Hungarian goalkeeper thwarted United's new No 17 but he was beaten in the 55th minute when Carrick, Ji Sung Park and Rooney combined to present Larsson with a half-chance he dispatched swiftly into the top corner.

"He's always capable of doing that," rued O'Neill. Unfortunately for the Villa manager, the same theory also applied to Kiraly and Solskjaer.

Goals: Larsson (55) 1-0; Baros (74) 1-1; Solskjaer (90) 2-1.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Evra; Park (Fletcher, 72), Carrick (O'Shea, 89), Giggs, Ronaldo; Rooney, Larsson (Solskjaer, 78). Substitutes not used: Van der Sar (gk), Heinze.

Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Kiraly; Hughes, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma; McCann, Osbourne; Agbonlahor, Petrov (Samuel, 66), Barry; Angel (Baros, 53). Substitutes not used: Olejnik (gk), Davis, Whittingham.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Aston Villa: Cahill.

Man of the match: Larsson.

Attendance: 74,924.

* The Bayern Munich general manager, Uli Hoeness, has stated that Owen Hargreaves, linked with a move to Manchester United since last summer, will not leave the club during the January transfer window. Hargreaves "will definitely not be leaving this winter", Hoeness said. "Beyond that, we will see." Meanwhile, the United right-back Phil Bardsley, 21, is set to join Aston Villa on loan and could make his debut in the home game against Watford on 20 January.

FA Cup fourth-round draw

Today's draw will be televised live on BBC2 at 1.30pm. The 45 teams in the pot, including the either/ors, are:

Arsenal; Barnet or Colchester (playing tomorrow); Barnsley or Southend (replay: 16 Jan); Blackburn; Blackpool; Bolton; Bristol Rovers; Coventry or Bristol City (replay: 16 Jan); Chelsea; Crystal Palace; Derby; Fulham or Leicester City (replay: 17 Jan); Ipswich or Chester (replay: 16 Jan); Luton Town or QPR (replay: 16 Jan); Manchester City or Sheffield Wed (replay: 17 Jan); Manchester Utd; Middlesbrough or Hull (replay: 16 Jan); Newcastle or Birmingham (replay: 17 Jan); Norwich City; Nottingham Forest; Oldham or Wolves (replay: 16 Jan); Plymouth or Peterborough (replay: 16 Jan); Portsmouth; Preston; Reading or Burnley (playing tomorrow); Southampton; Stoke; Swansea City; Tottenham or Cardiff (replay: 17 Jan); Watford; West Bromwich; West Ham.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
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

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor