Much hype was made before this match about whether or not Villa would pose a threat to a Manchester United team unbeaten in 24 league games. Before Villa’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford last year, you had to go back to 1983 in order to find another victory against the Reds on home soil. Regardless, with their new £24 million signing Darren Bent, and their first back-to-back wins of the season, Villa were going to prove a tough nut to crack.
Nonetheless, this theory was blown out of the water within 49 seconds, when Wayne Rooney latched onto a mammoth free kick taken by Edwin Van Der Sar, from his 18 yard box. Free from the challenges of former City captain Richard Dunne, Rooney instinctively smashed the ball past the helpless Brad Friedal. This excellent finish showcased his world-class touch, strength and finishing which gave United the perfect start to the match. This moment of magic from the goal-shy Englishman sent Old Trafford into delirium, just moments after the kick-off. I must say that while I was pleased for Rooney, it was the distribution from VDS on the free-kick which left me both in awe of the old man’s awesome skill, but worried as to how United are going to fill such a large void next year (as discussed in the departures section).
Has Rooney Re-Found His Goal-Scoring Form?
In a manner very typical of Man Utd this year, we then sat back and allowed Villa into the game. A fairly lively first half ensued, with a Nani penalty claim (this one was actually rather legitimate) that was not given, and a head-on collision for Darren Fletcher meaning he had to be replaced on the half hour mark for Anderson. However, it appeared that the half would fizzle out, until a moment of brilliance from Nani on the stroke of half-time when he out-muscled and bamboozled the young Villa left-back Ciaran Clark and sent in one of the finest crosses you will ever see; in the gully between last defender and goal-keeper. Wayne Rooney duly obliged with a finish and doubled both his and United’s tally.
United started slowly in the second half and paid for it. A complacent start was punished when Villa grabbed a goal just before the hour. With Vidic getting caught up in a tackle near the centre-line, and Evra still returning from one of his many adventurous runs throughout the evening, Stuart Downing was able to break away, leaving Rio Ferdinand stranded in the penalty box. Calmly, Downing slid a ball past him to his new, £24 million team mate, Darren Bent, who coolly slotted past Van Der Sar without hesitation. United restored their two goal advantage just four minutes later when Giggs was offered a second chance to cross after a corner. Brilliantly, he floated a ball to the far post where he found Nemanja Vidic who played an aerial one-two with Rooney, before he blasted a shot into the top of the Villa net (with enough power to rip a hole in it). For the third time in the night, Brad Friedal stood motionless, unable to do a thing.
That goal effectively ended the match as a contest, with Villa’s only effort of note subsequent to this a curling shot from the English winger Ashley Young. After a mazy run, under the watchful eye of Fabio Cappello, his venomous shot cannoned off the bar. Houllier pushed for more and bought on Heskey, a managerial master-stroke, but at that point I think many United fans knew the game was in the bag Despite conceding three goals Brad Friedal, who became Aston Villa’s oldest ever player tonight, was their stand-out performer, and he did well to stop Nani from adding to Utd’s tally with 5 minutes to play.
Overall it was an important win for United. The confidence in which the ball was stroked around the field bodes well for the rest of the season, as we seek to extend our 24 match unbeaten league run, in search of our 19th title which would finally see United overtake the Scousers as the most successful club in English domestic history.
While it will undoubtedly be Rooney covering the back pages tomorrow, credit must go once again to the irrepressible Ryan Giggs. He offered yet another master class in crossing, perfectly weighted through balls and even slide tackling (one of which should probably have earned him a yellow card). While Rooney, Nani and John O’Shea were all excellent, it is the 37 year-old Welsh Wizard who walks away with my MOTM accolade.
Note: Ryan Giggs was today declared Man United‘s best ever player, to go along with his appearance record, after the results of a fans vote were finally published.