Cautious United defeated by Villa
Aston Villa won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1983 to halt United’s charge towards the Premier League summit. Chelsea had earlier drawn with Everton but Villa inflicted United’s first home defeat of the league season. Sir Alex Ferguson bemoaned “just one of those days” but in truth it wasn’t good enough from the home side
The Villain’s began the match with intent, winning two early corners and causing United’s reformed defence far more trouble than Wolfsburg had in midweek. Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic, restored to the heart of United’s back-four, added experience but it was Ashley Young, pitted against makeshift right-back Darren Fletcher, who caused most problems.
Young was central to Villa’s opener, headed home by Gabriel Agbonlahor on 20 minutes. The England international beat Wes Brown in the air to score his fourth against United in as many seasons.
Surprisingly, Ferguson reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, leaving Wayne Rooney to lead the line, with Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia in support. It meant no place in the starting XI for Dimitar Berbatov or midweek hat-trick hero Michael Owen.
However, Rooney stoked controversy when he found the referee’s book for diving just minutes after the goal. The Scouser’s lack of protest served only to prove the referee correct.
United continued to create chances though, with Valencia wasting a good opportunity and Michael Carrick forcing a good save from Brad Friedel in Villa’s net. Rooney then went close with a shot thundered against the underside of the bar from six yards out.
At the interval Giggs made way for Owen but the former Liverpool striker lacked the sharpness demonstrated in the midweek Champions League victory. Berbatov and Darron Gibson soon joined the fray but United continued to miss chances as Martin O’Neill’s side defended doggedly.
United’s final ball had been poor throughout but when Carrick found Berbatov six yards out the forward miskicked horribly to waste a good opportunity, before Brad Friedel pulled off a spectacular save to deny the Bulgarian international minutes later.
“Second half I think we deserved something,” Ferguson told ESPN.
“There wasn’t much in it first half, they probably just shaded it and deserved the goal. Second half we pummelled them, had a lot of good chances and didn’t get any. It’s just one of those days it wasn’t going in.
“It’s not an easy league. I say that time and time again. If we get to January within touching distance of the leaders then we’re in with a great chance.”
Nevertheless, United wasted a great opportunity to join Chelsea on 37 points and the manager must take much of the blame. Sir Alex’ decision to field a defensive formation, opting for Park instead of Owen or Berbatov, backfired spectacularly. While Gibson did little to impress after three matches in the side, the trickery of Gabriel Obertan may have offered the penetration United lacked on the day.
It was Villa’s first victory over United in a decade. More tellingly, perhaps, it was United’s fourth Premier League defeat this season.
Team: Kuszczak, Evra, Brown, Vidic, Anderson (Gibson 68), Giggs (Owen 46), Park (Berbatov 63), Carrick, Fletcher, Valencia, Rooney