Manchester United defended the Carling Cup with a hard-fought victory over Aston Villa at Wembley. Coming from a goal behind, Wayne Rooney scored the winner for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as the Scot picked up the 32nd major trophy of his Old Trafford tenure. It represented a calculated gamble by Ferguson who had left his top scorer on the bench.
The match began in controversy however, with Nemanja Vidic’s challenge on Gabriel Agbolahor earning the Midlanders a penalty in the third minute. Villa’s players complained bitterly that the giant Serbian defender was not shown a red card as United’s last defender.
Villa started the match positively against a United side missing Rooney, who has suffered a touch of flu in recent days.
Within minutes Martin O’Neil’s side was ahead with Agbonlahor beating Vidic for pace in the left channel. As the pair grappled, Vidic’s clumsy challenge took out the Villa forward, with Phil Dowd pointing to the spot. In-form James Milner stroked home the penalty, beating the recalled Tomasz Kuszczak in the United net.
Perhaps only Agbonlahor’s check, which allowed the Serbian to get goal side, saved the United defender from a fourth red of his Old Trafford career.
While Villa was much the brighter side in the opening minutes United equalised within ten as Dimitar Berbatov defied his critics to hassle Richard Dunne off the ball and enable starter Michael Owen to sweep home his ninth goal in 11 starts for United.
The goal brought more than 30,000 green and gold wearing United fans to their feet, with the Glazer family in attendance the subject of sustained abuse.
Ferguson’s revitalised side was now the dominant force, with Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park repeatedly cutting through Villa’s midfield prior to Rooney’s introduction in the 40th minute. Owen, considered injury-prone before his arrival at Old Trafford, limped out of the match with yet another hamstring injury.
It only galvanised United, with the lively Valencia’s low right-wing cross finding Park whose firm shot struck the base of Brad Friedel’s post in the Villa goal.
United began the second period as they ended the first, with Rooney cutting across the ball to volley wide and Carrick drawing a high-class save from Friedel as Ferguson’s side push for the winner.
The Scouser’s introduction introduced pace to United’s attack and forced Villa’s defenders onto their heels. But it was Berbatov who produced the best moments, first backheeling to create a chance for Park and then taking the Korean’s pass to create another chance.
Indeed, Villa didn’t create another opportunity until the 70th minute when Ashley Young firmly struck a shot into the deck and wide following Stuart Downing’s corner.
Almost inevitably Rooney won the game for United, brilliantly heading home man-of-the-match Valencia’s right-wring cross. The inch perfect finish matched Bebatov’s high-class layoff prior to the Ecuadorian’s involvement.
Within minutes Rooney almost added a third as the England striker hit the post with yet another header. It mattered little as United ran out the clock to claim a fourth league cup trophy that began in controversy but ended with only one side deserving the spoils.
Ferguson, who previously said the only good Wembley outing is a winning one, delighted in the win despite the early penalty setback
“I think it was the right decision, but we recovered,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“It was a bad start to the game really, we got caught on the hop. Michael Owen got a big goal and had a great first half, unfortunately he got a hamstring injury and he had to come off.
“Wayne comes on and scores the winning goal, the form he has been in we expect that.
“We’ve got a lot of big games coming up now – that’s why we didn’t play him today but he’s had 45 minutes.
“It gives everyone a boost, no question of that.”
With just 10 games to go in the Premier League season United will now benefit from the huge boost in morale that silverware brings. Tougher tests will follow of course but with Chelsea losing on Saturday it is now United that holds the momentum in a roller-coaster season.