United take credit but away draws may be expensive

Aston Villa 2 Manchester United 2
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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney's return to Carrington this morning cannot come soon enough. Despite an unbeaten run of 26 games in all competitions, not even Sir Alex Ferguson's happy dance on the touchline at Villa Park can mask the fact that something is not right.

Six draws from seven away games, Dimitar Berbatov's return to anonymity after a brighter start to the season and another woefully average performance were far more indelible in the memory than Manchester United's admirable never-say-die spirit that somehow rescued a point on Saturday.

Darren Fletcher has insisted United have to find the solution to their travel sickness or face losing the Premier League title to Chelsea for the second successive season. The fixture at Stamford Bridge next month was always going to be pivotal but United are losing ground on the champions every time they leave Old Trafford.

The midfielder said: "It's more difficult to win away because the Premier League is getting stronger. But we need to start winning games away from home because if we don't it will end up costing the League. I think there have been lapses, we have been on a good run and we have come away with a draw from two matches this week. I think we have drawn two games but with dropped points away from home with the way the League has gone it could be crucial. It's going to be a case of losing a bit of ground to Chelsea. We are a little bit short at the moment."

United's continuing ability to save points from the most unlikely of situations certainly bodes well but Ferguson's side are in danger of ending the season unbeaten but out of the title race unless something changes. Gérard Houllier's upstarts, meanwhile, will have been kicking themselves all weekend for missing out on a deserved victory, of the sort that might inspire their new generation onto greater things.

Ashley Young's penalty and a close-range finish from Marc Albrighton had given Villa hope of securing their first victory over United on their own turf since 1995. But substitute Federico Macheda reduced the deficit with an emphatic strike nine minutes from time. Not quite as dramatic or meaningful as his debut goal against Villa in April 2009 but important all the same. Four minutes later Nemanja Vidic stooped to head in a leveller and earn a barely deserved point.

The future is certainly bright for Houllier, who was forced to field a bunch of kids due to an injury crisis but still basked in the best performance of his tenure at the club so far.

Jonathan Hogg, 21, was playing on loan at Darlington last season and overcame a hesitant start on his Premier League debut to impress, while midfielders Albrighton and Barry Bannan also excelled. Bannan appeared undaunted by the prospect of facing United and has admitted he had more fear taking his driving test than facing Ferguson's title challengers.

He said: "I've never got nervous on a football pitch. I don't know what it is. But with the driving test, I was shaking. I've never had a feeling like that. I've forgotten about it already. It just didn't go well. I failed. I just couldn't park the car. I'm not telling anyone when I'm taking it again.

"In a game like today, we've got nothing to lose as young boys. We've just got to get out there because all the odds are against us. There is not much pressure on us."

Match facts

Man of the match Albrighton Match rating 8/10

Possession Aston Villa 51% Man Utd 49%

Shots on target Aston Villa 5 Man Utd 3.

Referee M Dean (Merseyside) Att 40,073.