Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United maintained a five point Premier League lead with victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford. The United striker lashed home a superb volley with less than a minute on the clock and then sidefooted a second before half-time for just his fifth and sixth goals of the season. Villa’s new £24 million man Darren Bent pulled a goal back on the hour before captain Nemanja Vidic drove an unstoppable shot past high into the top corner to seal United’s win.
The win marks a welcome return to form for United, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side labouring to wins over Blackpool and Southampton in the past week. In truth United had the tie well under control from the off after Rooney’s stunning opening goal on 56 seconds. Indeed, if neither the Reds nor Rooney have been at their best this season, then Ferguson’s outfit stepped up a level in front of 75,256 at Old Trafford.
“The man’s got a great appetite to play and everyone should remember that,” said Ferguson of 25-year-old Rooney.
“We remember that – he has a great appetite to work and fight and he gets his rewards eventually.
“You keep knocking off the games and if we can keep winning then eventually you run out of games. The aim for us is to keep the momentum going and keep the work-rate up like we did tonight against a good Aston Villa team and hopefully it gets us where we want to be.”
The United manager resisted calls to drop Rooney despite the striker’s paucity of goals this season. With Mexican Javier Hernández bagging two goals in the past week, supporters would have forgiven Ferguson for dropping his star man. Instead the 69-year-old Scot was rewarded inside a minute with Rooney controlling Edwin van der Sar’s 60-year-pass and lashing a volley past Brad Friedle in the visitor’s goal.
It was the perfect start for Ferguson’s men, who have come from behind twice in three days this week.
There was more to United’s play that Rooney’s early goal though, with the Reds far slicker in possession than has often been the case this season and Villa struggling to stay on terms. Indeed, Ferguson’s men were denied a clear penalty when Richard Dunne brought down Nani. The Portuguese then fired just over Friedel’s goal, before Patrice Evra and the outstanding Ryan Giggs each went close for the home side.
Far fetched as it seemed but Villa was on the cusp of making it to the break just a goal down and still in the tie. That was until Rooney ran on to Nani’s cross and slotted home to double his tally and United’s lead.
Yet it was to Villa’s credit that the Midlanders fought their way back into the tie, even if the pattern of the match changed little after the break. United had thrown away victories at both Everton and Fulham this season and when Bent headed home Stuart Downing’s cross on 58 minutes the Old Trafford crowd feared more dropped points.
However, any doubt about the result was dispelled in the most emphatic fashion just five minutes later, when man-on-the-match Rooney laid off to Vidic who smashed a stunning shot past Friedel. The Serbian will have scored no better goal in has career than this.
In total this was a hugely satisfactory victory over the newly in-form Villains, with Michael Carrick, Rooney, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov on another level to the visitors. Expansive in midfield, penetrative in attack and – mostly – solid in defence, United laid down a marker for the side’s rivals in the Premier League title race.
Chelsea and Arsenal matched United’s result tonight but United’s five point lead leaves Ferguson’s outfit in control of its own destiny. On the back of a seven match winning run and unbeaten in the Premier League the title is surely now United’s to lose.
Whether it is confidence in his squad or restrictions put in place by the Old Trafford paymasters, Ferguson’s decision not to invest in the winter market has been countered with more than £70 million of deadline-day spending at Chelsea. Even Villa, parsimonious under Randy Learner’s ownership until now, spent big on new forward Bent.
“There has been some amazing buys,” added Ferguson.
“I think there has been a chain reaction from Aston Villa paying £24million for Darren Bent because everybody thinks their player is 24-plus. But you can’t be surprised or amazing because this is the Premier division.”
United – 442 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher (Anderson 34), Giggs; Berbatov, Rooney.
Villa – 4411 – Friedel; Walker, Dunne, Collins, Clark; Albrighton (Heskey 69), Makoun, Petrov (Agbonlahor 74), Downing (Reo-Coker 80); Young; Bent.
Attendance – 75,256
Man of the Match – Rooney
Possession: United 50% – 50% Villa
Attempts: 18 – 9
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners: 5 – 5
Fouls: 6 – 6