ASTON VILLA 2, MAN UNITED 3
Manchester United are perfecting the art of great escapes after conjuring yet another at Aston Villa.
The Reds were 2-0 down just short of the hour mark after being comprehensively outplayed on a ground where they last lost 17 years ago.
An inspired half-time substitution helped transform United’s fortunes as Javier Hernandez scored a sensational second-half hat trick.
He left the field clutching the match ball, though there was a debate as to whether he can claim the second which has initially been debited as a Ron Vlaar own goal.
Hernandez, otherwise known as Chicharito or Little Pea, extended United’s lead at the top to four points, albeit only temporarily overnight as Chelsea and Manchester City play on Sunday.
And remarkably this was the 10th time in 17 competitive games in the current campaign in which they have fallen behind only to subsequently win eight of them.
Another impressive statistic is that the three other times United have headed the Premier League after 10 games on each occasion they have gone on to be crowned champions.
Hernandez, invariably a substitute due to the form of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, can be content that he has nailed down a starting spot next weekend.
Sir Alex Ferguson paid tribute to Mexican Hernandez, who has now scored eight, may be nine, goals in his last five games, saying: “I was not happy with our first-half display.
“Chicarito made a difference with his movement and pace and can change a game as he has done all season.
“He has been fantastic and with this hat trick he picks himself for next week.”
Chris Smalling for the injured Jonny Evans and Paul Scholes for Tom Cleverley were the two changes from the team which won in Braga in midweek.
It was a laboured first-half display by the Reds and no surprise when they fell behind on the stroke of half time.
Christian Benteka barged Smalling off the ball in the corner and cut the ball back to Andreas Weimann for the 21-year-old Austrian to smash a shot from the edge of the penalty area into the roof of the net.
Hernandez replaced Ashley Young at the break only for it to get worse before it got better for the Reds who soon found themselves 2-0 down.
Gabriel Agblonlahor fired a ball from the left low across the face of goal for Weimann to ghost clear to fire into the roof of the net from four yards.
Cue the start of the great escape as Hernandez latched on to a Paul Scholes lofted through ball before wriggling free and poking a shot beyond keeper Brad Guzan.
Scholes also released Rafael down the right five minutes later and, from his far-post cross Hernandez’s angled shot flew into the net off Vlaar.
Rooney was then denied by a superb save by Guzan low to his left as United were now in overdrive.
However, Weimann was denied a hat-trick by a superb save from David de Gea to keep the game all square.
When van Persie was twice denied by the frame of the goal in quick succession it looked as though lady luck was going to smile on struggling Villa who had played so well for almost an hour.
With three minutes left, however, van Persie turned provider delivering a delicious free kick for Hernandez to find the net with a devastating diving header.