Manchester United’s poor performances away from home continued as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side fought from two down to take a late draw at Villa Park. In truth, the Scot’s side could have been many more behind before captain Nemanja Vidic headed home in the 85th minute to earn the visitors an unlikely share of the spoils.
Gerard Houlier’s outfit twice struck the woodwork before Ashley Young scored from the penalty spot with 20 minutes remaining. Marc Albrighton added a second from close range before Federico Macheda lashed into the top corner to offer United hope. United’s comeback was complete when Vidic headed home Nani’s cross with time running out at a raucous Villa Park.
It was a stunning end to a game in which Ferguson’s side looked all at sea. Out-passed and too often out-thought by a youthful Villa side, Ferguson will no doubt de grateful to escape with another point on the road. It was United’s sixth away draw in the Premier League this season, with 12 points dropped away from Old Trafford already.
“We could have lost six goals in the second half. They hit the woodwork three times and Albrighton missed two great chances,” said Ferguson
“I think the emotions of the way Villa played kept them at a high boiling point. The tackles, some of it was fair, some of it wasn’t, but the referee allowed things to go and sometimes that makes a great game.
“I think we’ve seen a great game today. Great credit to Aston Villa for keeping that emotional aspect up for the whole game. They got stuck in, tackled, fought and the crowd kept them going.”
Indeed, United was as listless as Villa lively. The Reds began in sluggish fashion and failed to find any spark until the match was seemingly beyond Ferguson’s outfit.
Missing a creative heartbeat, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher paired in a midfield that offered function over flair, the visitors did not force ‘keeper Brad Friedel into a save before the 80th minute.
Yet Ferguson’s outfit fired the opening salvo, with Dimitar Berbatov shooting wide when well placed after Javier Hernández’ smart pass. The Bulgarian has now not scored in nearly two months since the hat-trick against Liverpool at Old Trafford in September. Gone, it seems, is the confidence that brought seven early season goals and the manager’s effusive praise.
The wasted chance mirrored United’s sloppy play to half-time as United often gave away possession, while creating few chances. Worst was to come with Evra whipping a ball across the six yard area that not a single colleague gambled on. A touch would have brought a certain goal but United’s attacking endeavour seemingly lacked any life.
The more United struggled the greater Villa’s confidence grew. The home side’s midfield averaged just 20 years-of-age but Albrighton, alongside Barry Bannan, Jonathan Hogg and – at 24 the comparative veteran – Stewart Downing, increasingly came into the match.
Edwin van der Sar saved from Young before Rio Ferdinand deflected Downing’s shot narrowly wide just before the interval. United’s play only deteriorated after half-time as Villa created half a dozen outstanding chances in the second period.
Albrighton headed Downing’s cross wide when just six yards out before the woodwork twice saved the visitors in quick succession. First defender James Collins headed against the bar before Gabriel Agbonlahor hit van der Sar’s right hand post with a thumping effort.
Villa then opened up United on the counter-attack, with Wes Brown clumsily bringing down Young inside the area. The defender was spared red but Young smashed home the spot kick anyway.
Within moments Villa doubled the lead, with Albrighton tapping in another Downing cross for the goal his play deserved.
Then came United’s late comeback as Ferguson replaced the ineffective Hernández and Berbatov with Gabriel Obertan and Macheda.
Finally United came to life, creating perhaps eight chances in as many minutes with the game drawing to a close. Too little, perhaps, but at least it was not too late to save a sixth draw in seven Premier League outings away from home.
Ferguson’s side remains unbeaten but as in last week’s win against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Scot’s outfit was more than a little fortunate.
“To be 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go you have to be pleased with that,” added Ferguson.
“With another five minutes we would have won the match, there was no doubt about that, but we waited too long to get there.”
In truth though victory for Ferguson’s side would have been a miscarriage of justice. That United created a flurry of chances in a breathless last ten minutes is testament to the side’s will to succeed.
That the Reds created almost nothing for the previous 80 is far greater substantiation of the deteriorating quality of Ferguson’s squad.
Villa – 442 – Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton (Lichaj 88), Bannan, Hogg (Herd 90), Downing; Young, Agbonlahor (Delfouneso 78).
United – 442 – Van der Sar; Brown 49, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Park (Smalling 86); Berbatov (Obertan 73), Hernandez (Macheda 73).
Attendance – 40,073
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: Villa 51% – 49% United
Attempts: 12 – 16
On target: 6 – 10
Corners: 9 – 7
Fouls: 11 – 9