Manchester United 4 Aston Villa 1 match report: Wayne Rooney's timely support act
England striker scores twice as United do their best to ease the pressure on manager Moyes but victory is unconvincing
From plane spotting to plain sailing. By the end, when Javier Hernandez contributed the fourth, there was even a glimpse of the instinctive Manchester United of old to propel them into the only remaining match that counts in their season – Bayern Munich on Tuesday. David Moyes allowed himself to linger a while, in the shadow of the Stretford End before vanishing away into the stadium. The response there confirmed that the fans who had hired a plane to make their feelings really did not reflect the majority view.
Moyes could afford a kind of defiance. For once his team repaired things having fallen behind – this being only the fourth time they have won in the 16 occasions their opponents have scored first this season – and there were signs of life in places where they have not often been seen. Marouane Fellaini added to the impression that he can add value to United, working box-to-box. Juan Mata finally – “he had been feeling it a bit he missed a chance in midweek,” Moyes reflected after the game. And in the combination of Mata and Shinji Kagawa there was promise of better days ahead.
The supporters whose dubious idea it was to commission a pilot to trail a “Wrong One – Moyes Out” banner across the sky as the game got under way were not covered in glory. The sight of a bookmaker’s own plane flying the same skies contributed to one of the less classy moments in the history of this place. Moyes’ decision to walk into the stadium before the players – an old Jose Mourinho device – was a bold one, designed to help affirm his view that most of the supporters are behind him. Gary Neville tweeted before kick-off that United fans should sing Moyes’ name – or boo – during the stunt and though his plea was not widely heeded, the gimmick seemd to draw support for the manager.
Moyes enjoyed his reception: “The support inside Old Trafford has been terrific and if ever there was a show of support for their football club and for their team, it was today.”
Moyes is in a cleft stick – yo-yoing between the argument that he posited again on Friday that this squad is not all it was cracked up to be and then affirming that they can deliver what they have in the past. In his programme notes he said that he and his backroom team were trying to encourage the players to rediscover their confidence, form and belief.
But Aston Villa, a side who had won only once here in the Premier League era, were a good match for the new United and it was no great shock when they took the lead. Ashley Young lost he ball to his former teammate Gabriel Agbonlahor, who drew the foul from Rafael that gave Ashley Westwood the free-kick he despatched into the net.
United’s half-time lead was more a product of good luck than judgement. They profited from more of Kagawa’s attacking thrusts than we have seen in this poor season for him, and he delivered the cross which Wayne Rooney, stationary and unhindered, headed home. But the side stuttered and stalled, engaged in the kind of struggle to make rapid, correct decisions that has characterised the season, while Villa displayed a defensive strength that looked able to cause them more frustration. For Villa, there was the assurance of Ciaran Clark, blocking Rooney’s dangerous early shot. For United, there was nothing of the sort.
And though Kagawa prodced the ball to Mata which brought Leandro Bacuna’s clumsy challenge and the penalty with which Rooney put United ahead, Villa continued to look just as likely to score. The scale of the victory does not reflect the dreadful five-minute spell early in the second half when United had Christian Benteke to thank for not plunging them into another calamity. Benteke found an air shot when Alexander Büttner allowed him to spring the offside trap and face down David de Gea in the six-yard box. Benteke immediately sent a firm header over de Gea’s crossbar after rising to Marc Albrighton’s pinpoint cross. “I can’t be too critical. He has scored some vital goals,” Paul Lambert, Villa’s manager, reflected.
This was not the first United team to ride some luck, even though the third goal needed another slice of it. The ball rebounded off the heel of Ron Vlaar after Büttner had headed it into danger, from where Fellaini navigated it into Mata’s path to score.
That margin allowed United to exhibit some belief. Rooney’s breathtaking control of a long diagonal ball created space, forcing a strong save Brad Guzan. The goalkeeper was helpless when Adnan Januzaj, a substitute, displayed immense pace down the left and crossed for Hernandez to score. Lambert reflected that “it was no three-goal swing” though the sight of a manager leaving this stadium making futile claims of daylight robbery was a reminder of United’s glorious past. There was no better preparation for Munich than this.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael (Carrick, h-t), Jones, Vidic, Büttner; Young, Fellaini, Fletcher, Kagawa (Januzaj, 68); Mata, Rooney (Hernandez, 75)
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Bertrand; Westwood, Delph, Albrighton (Lowton, 79), Weimann Benteke, Agbonlahor (Tonev, 71).
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Rooney (Manchester Utd)
Match rating: 7/10
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