MAN UNITED 1, ASTON VILLA 0
Manchester United at times rode their luck to win through to the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup by the skin of their teeth.
Scott McTominay’s early goal was all that separated the two teams after a pulsating tie against Aston Villa.
United played with far more spirit than in recent performances and there was unity on the pitch following fierce criticisms of the disharmony in the wake of the home defeat by Wolves.
Villa, who had already won at Old Trafford in the Premier League, will be reflecting on what might have been as they could easily have made it a double success.
Steven Gerrard’s side had two goals ruled out for offside – one following a lengthy VAR check – and struck the frame of the goal through Ollie Watkins.
But there were also positives for the Reds who kept a rare clean sheet at home – only their second in 20 matches to set up a fourth-round tie at home to Middlesbrough.
This was a 10th straight home win in the FA Cup, a sequence stretching back to 2015 when they were last beaten at Old Trafford by Arsenal in the quarter finals. In that run they have scored 21 goals and conceded only two.Embed from Getty Images
Interim manager Ralph Rangick said: “I thought there were quite a few pros today. We had a better structure, had good energy and moved the ball well, especially in the first half.
“I think we showed a reaction after the Wolves game, that is what everyone expected from us. We knew it would be very difficult against Villa. In the first half I thought we did well. It could have been 3-2 or 4-3 to us at half time.
“In the second half we were on the counterattack, and we could have made more of those situations. We took the wrong decisions at times but, when we changed to a diamond in midfield, we had more control.
“In the last 20 minutes we had more control. We fought well as a team together when it was important. In the end it was a good win. That was our goal, to proceed to the next round.”
And there was praise for matchwinner McTominay as Rangnick said: “He is an academy boy, and his energy is amazing. He is now also starting to score goals and also with some leadership skills. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple of years, he would be the captain of this team.”
United centre back Raphael Varane admitted: “It was a difficult match. We had to suffer a lot on the pitch, but I liked the spirit of this match.
“We had the opportunity to score more goals. When it was not possible to play higher up the pitch, we were compact and did not let them play easily.
“We had to be aggressive and as a result it is good. We are happy. We need more confidence, we need to be together, and I think we are in a good way.”
Gerrard said: “I have no complaints about the performance, but we go away frustrated we are out of the FA Cup and have to look at the reasons why.
“We created enough chances to score two or three goals and conceded a sloppy one from a set play.
“Nearly is not good enough and we have to close that gap to being good enough. We did enough to take it to extra time.”
Gerrard did not object to the VAR ruling but was critical of the three-and-a-half minutes for the decision to be made, adding: “We were in a good place, had rhythm and were pressing for an equaliser and that took a lot of sting out of the game.”
United made four changes from the home defeat to Wolves.
Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Fred and Marcus Rashford were in for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic and the injured Cristiano Ronaldo who was reported to have a muscle problem while captain Harry Maguire remained on the sidelines.
There were two alterations from the Villa side that lost at Brentford.
Tyrone Mings was recalled for Kourtney Hause while Ollie Watkins came in for Bertrand Traore. New marquee loan signing Philippe Coutinho was unavailable.
Ten of the team that won at Old Trafford in September remained, the one change Hause losing out to Emiliano Buendia.
McTominay, one of United’s few shining lights of late, quickly illuminated the tie.
The Scot made an eighth minute breakthrough shortly after forcing a save from Emiliano Martinez.
Fred delivered a delightful cross from the right for McTominay to glance home a header for his second goal of the season.
The goal stirred Villa and they quickly had two chances to equaliser as Ollie Watkins, sliding in, just failed to convert a Mings flick on from a Buendia corner.
Buendia then burst into the box from deep and fired wide when he ought to have squared the ball to Danny Ings who was better placed in the middle.
John McGinn then forced a flying save from David De Gea who also denied Buendia as Villa remained a threat.
United also carved out a decent opening when Bruno Fernandes released Edinson Cavani whose angled effort was beaten out by Martinez.
Villa ought to have been level on the half hour when Watkins cut inside Victor Lindelof and fired against the bar from six yards when he ought to have found the net.
And they went close again moments later when Jacob Ramsey’s shot deflected off McTominay and flashed past the upright.
Fernandes had a goalbound effort blocked by Matty Cash while Luke Shaw’s drive from 30 yards was well turned over by Martinez as it was becoming a pulsating cup tie.
Then in stoppage time, Rashford had an effort cleared off the line and McTominay fired over as the only surprise was the opening period yielded only one goal.
Villa thought they were level five minutes after the restart, but Danny Ings’ effort was ruled out after Cavani was deemed to have been impeded.
McGinn’s free kick was headed across the face of goal by Ezri Konsa before Watkins flicked it on to Ings who poked home a shot from a couple of yards.
VAR Darren England was unable to give a definitive ruling, so he sent Michael Oliver to the pitchside monitor and he deemed the goal invalid.
Villa had a second goal chalked out inside 10 minutes, but there was no dispute this time.
Ings was clearly offside when put clear before the striker clipped the ball beyond De Gea to Watkins who found the net at the far post.
De Gea had to be at his best to turn a drive from Matty Cash around the post for a corner as Villa remained on the front foot with United decidedly second best. They were clearly rattled as Fred, Shaw and Dalot were all booked in a four-minute spell before Watkins bent an effort past the upright. He held his hands in disbelief as he thought it was the equaliser when it left his foot.
United made their first change with 20 minutes left, Donny van de Beek replacing Cavani.
Mason Greenwood had a chance to double the lead when he broke away in the right before cutting inside and seeing Martinez beat away his shot.
There were two further changes with five minutes left as the out-of-sorts Marcus Rashford and Fernandes were replaced by Anthony Lingard and Jesse Lingard.
United managed the latter stages well with van de Beek an extra man in the middle which helped them control proceedings.