MAN UTD 2, ASTON VILLA 1
What a crazy season as Manchester United’s victory against Aston Villa put them level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
A terrific run of 26 points from a possible 30 has lifted the Reds from 14th to second place in a campaign like no other.
Not many weeks ago Reds’ manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job appeared under thread after their worst start to a season in the Premier League era.Embed from Getty Images
In an incredible upturn in fortunes United, by virtue of a 10-match unbeaten league run, have catapulted themselves into as position as serious title contenders.
Goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes earned the Reds their fourth home win of the season and back-to-back successes after Tuesday’s home win against Wolves.
But credit to Villa who would have gone third in the table had they won this rip-roaring match.
There were 33 goals attempts, 14 from the visitors with David De Gea just as busy as opposing stopper Emiliano Martinez.
Solskjaer was pleased with the improved fortunes: “I am very happy with the position compared to where we were 12 months back and the difference.
“We are in a good position, but we need to improve and be better. If we win tight gamesd like that, we will be a better position at the end of the season.”
United’s manager thought his side should have won by a wider margin.
He continued: “We could have managed the game better on the last 10-15 minutes and been more clinical and finished the game off.
“United like to do the hard way, that is why I have grey hair. In the end we had to rely on a good save from David (De Gea) and brilliant block by Eric (Bailly).”
Aaron Wan-Bissaka added: “The win shows how much work we’re putting in, how much of a performance that was.”
“It means a lot, it shows where we’ve come from, from the start of the season.
“We’re just taking it game by game. It was a late start for us, we were in catch-up [mode], but we’re here now. No excuses.”
Villa manager Dean Smith was disappointed to lose to a “dubious” penalty.
Solskjaer made four changes from the side that eked out a 1-0 win over Wolves on Tuesday.
Martial came in for suspended Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani who began a three-match ban for a social media post containing offensive language.
Fred, Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw were United’s other three changes, replacing Alex Telles, Nemanja Matic and Mason Greenwood as United bid to extend a nine-game unbeaten domestic run.
Villa, meanwhile, made just one alteration from the side that drew 1-1 at Chelsea on Monday as Tyrone Mings returned from a one-game ban to replace Kortney Hause at the heart of the visitors’ back-line.
Jack Grealish skippered Villa against a United team that were heavily linked with his signature in the summer but there was still no sign of Ross Barkley, despite the England midfielder recently returning to training after shaking off a hamstring injury.
Before kick-off, everybody, including fellow Scot Sir Alex Ferguson, stood for one minute’s silence in memory of former United manager Tommy Docherty who died yesterday aged 92. The players from both teams wore black armbands he also took charge of the Midlands club during his illustrious career.
Both goalkeepers were called into action early on, Martinez athletically turning over a drive from Martial while De Gea denied John McGinn with a smart save low to his right.
Fernandes also set up Pogba who fired wide from an inviting position on the edge of the box before seeing a shot flash just past the upright after being set up by Shaw.
The deadlock was finally broken six minutes before the break.
Wan-Bissaka made a lung-busting burst down the right and his cross eluded Mings, who tried to clear at the near post, as Martial stole in behind him to head home his fifth goal of the season and only his second in the Premier League.
It ended a run of seven league games without a goal, his most barren spell.
Villa had a chance to equalise early in the second period when Ollie Watkins’ header was well turned over by De Gea. The striker pulled away from Harry Maguire to meet Grealish’s cross.
Anwar El Ghazi also fired agonisingly wide as Villa remained a threat.
Those warnings were not heeded when Villa equalised in the 58th minute when United were caught out by a quickly taken free kick.
Grealish was released on the left and his cross to the far post was slotted home by Bertrand Traore, his third goal in his last four Premier League matches.
United were back ahead three minutes later after winning a penalty following Douglas Luiz’s foul on Pogba which was confirmed by VAR and Fernandes scored his 15th goal of the season and 11th in the Premier League.
Since joining United at the end of last January, Fernandes has scored 19 goals, nine of which have been penalties, and provided 14 assists in 30 league matches.
This was quickly followed by Matic replacing McTominay as Solskjaer opted for a more defensive midfielder to shield the back four.
In a remarkably open game, El Ghazi brought a save from De Gea and Watkins glanced a header just wide.
United had chances to increase their lead when Pogba fired wide from eight yards when it looked as though he could not miss and then Martinez turned Fernandes’ long-range strike on to the crossbar and Marcus Rashford grazed the bar in this see-saw encounter.
Solskjaer’s second change with four minutes left saw the excellent Fernandes replaced by Daniel James.
And with his first touch, the winger forced a diving save from Martinez.
In the five minutes of added time, Matty Cash forced a decent stop from De Gea and substitute Keinan Davis had a goalbound shot blocked by Bailly as United, hanging on, replaced midfielder Fred with defender Axel Tuanzebe.