MAN UNITED 4, ASTON VILLA 0.
Manchester United produced a performance against Aston Villa which suggested they won’t relinquish their Barclays Premier League title without a fight.
Having seen their lead at the top cut from eight to two points in the past week, United restored a five-point advantage over their rivals from the blue half of Manchester.
Two goals from Wayne Rooney, which took his season’s total to 31, and further strikes from Danny Welbeck and Nani earned the Reds an emphatic margin of victory against a Villa side still not completely clear from the threat of relegation.
If there was any criticism, United ought to have triumphed by an even wider margin such was their superiority.
Sir Alex Ferguson was content with United’s display saying: “It was a good performance and in the first half we played well. In the end we won comfortably.
“Hopefully we will be alright, but you can never be too confident as there is always something to bite you on the bum.”
Ferguson was especially pleased with the way the players responded following the midweek defeat at Wigan Athletic.
“The players accepted we lost on Wednesday, played the game today and didn’t panic,” he said.
The Reds’ manager added that they are at their worst when careless citing Rooney as the chief culprit.
“He is at his best when he is playing on the edge,” Ferguson continued.
It was as though the malaise from midweek continued as United made a nervous start, Andreas Weimann forcing a save from David de Gea after only 28 seconds.
United made the breakthrough in the seventh minute when they were awarded a controversial penalty when Ashley Young went over the leg of Ciaran Clark as he cut in from the left.
There was minimal contact with Young’s tumble to the ground theatrical, though referee Mark Halsey pointed to the spot with Rooney confidently converting from 12 yards.
Ferguson was in no doubt it was a penalty, but admitted it was a “dramatic” fall from Young.
United went on to create chance after chance as they threatened an avalanche of goals, but lacked a cutting edge.
Rooney brought a good save from Shay Given then headed wide, Welbeck’s goalbound shot was well blocked by Danny Collins while he had another effort superbly turned over by the Villa keeper. There was also a 25-yard volley from Paul Scholes which whistled past the upright.
Villa also created chances as Clark glanced a header fractionally wide while Stephen Ireland curled a delightful effort just past the far post.
United finally doubled their advantage two minutes before the break when Patrice Evra fired over a low cross from the left and Welbeck, sliding in at the far post, converted after a terrible mistake by Nathan Baker who inexplicably stood over the ball instead of attempting a clearance.
There was a disappointing start to the second half which only flickered to life at the midway point.
United had a strong shout for a second penalty, this time for handball against Baker, turned down.
Villa substitute Emile Heskey had not been on long when he forced de Gea to make an athletic tip over following a left-wing cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor.
United added a third goal in the 73rd minute when Antonio Valencia cut the ball back to Rooney who fired home a shot from 16 yards low to the right of Given.
Welbeck might have added a fourth goal when his shot hit Given in the face and then Valencia saw a shot well turned over by the Villa keeper.
Substitute Nani provided the icing scoring a fourth goal in stoppage time after being released by Michael Carrick. His shot from the left of the box crept inside Given’s near post.