ASTON VILLA 1, MAN UTD 2
Super-sub Scott McTominay’s late winner at Aston Villa catapulted Manchester United back into contention for a Champions League place.
The Scot’s eighth goal of the season – and fourth from the bench – earned a third straight Premier League win in the clash between fifth and sixth-placed sides.
Suddenly United find themselves only six points behind Tottenham, who are fourth, and five adrift of fifth-placed Villa.
In an absorbing contest, Rasmus Hojlund put the Reds ahead, Douglas Luiz equalised before McTominay, not for the first time, came up with the decisive late blow. No substitute has scored more goals in the Premier League this season than McTominay.
It helped the Reds maintain their remarkable record at Villa Park where thy have lost only once in their last 26 visits since 1999, and that was last season when they went down 3-1.
There was a return to winning ways against Villa and McTominay said: “Every game you win is massive for taking a step forward and confidence for the boys.
“It is all positive, but it is about repeating it and not getting too far ahead of ourselves when we win a few. We’ve got to repeat it now.
“We started really well, but they are a really good team and came back into it and caused us problems. The guys at the back were immense, particularly Harry [Maguire] and Raphael [Varane]. It was a top-level performance and a deserved win in the end.”
United manager Erik ten Hag added: “It is a massive win for us. We’ve got closer and that was the aim for today. That was absolutely our target and we’ve done it. The way we did it, I liked it.
“I especially liked the first 20 minutes when we controlled the game. At 1-1 we had to fight back, and we are really happy for today.Embed from Getty Images
“At 1-1 you always have to see how the game progresses and I think it was really high intensity and you could see how many players were fatigued by the end.
“It was so open and it could go two ways but we found the mentality and character to win the game. The subs also had an impact.
“Scott [McTominay] is great. He can score many goals. He’s always coming into positions to score goals.
“Scott is an example for many other players. Not many players can come from the bench and bring that energy.
“In training he does the right things and is ready for one minute or 90 minutes, and it is great to have such a player.”
Ten Hag continued: “We had problems, it was too much like a tennis match, we had problems in the counterattack. We knew Scott would get into the box and can score goals.
“The players were going for goals because they are offensive, but it was better in certain situations to keep the ball, drag players out and that was the idea to bring an extra midfielder into there.”
United made one change to the side that beat West Ham 3-0 in the Premier League last weekend.
Centre-back Lisandro Martinez suffered a knee injury against thSupere Hammers so Raphael Varane came in to partner Harry Maguire at the heart of the United defence.
Villa also made one change to the side that started in the 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round replay defeat to Chelsea at Villa Park in midweek, with Jacob Ramsey getting the nod in midfield in place of Youri Tielemans.
After an uneventful opening 10 minutes, the match suddenly sparked to life as United had three chances in quick succession.
Maguire headed over, Rasmus Hojlund’s effort was deflected over by Diego Carlos and Alejandro Garnacho fired narrowly wide.
And it was no surprise when United made a 17th minute breakthrough through man-of-the-moment Hojlund.
Bruno Fernandes’ corner was headed towards goal by Maguire with Hojlund slotting a low shot through the legs of keeper Emiliano Martines.
The Dane has scored in five successive league matches, a contrast to his failure to find the net in his first 14 league games.
It was also his 11th of the season in all competitions for the Reds.
Villa hit back and United keeper Andre Onana pulled off two huge saves in quick succession to tip over John McGinn’s shot and the dive bravely at the feet of Ollie Watkins who was making his 150th appearance for Villa.
United were forced to make a change at the break as Luke Shaw was replaced by Victor Lindelof.
Villa were unlucky not to draw level within three minutes of the restart when Wakins brought a fine reflex save from Onana from six yards after he latched on to a low Matty Cash cross.
The home side continued to dominate but were let down by the final pass in front of goal as some promising moves broke down time and time again.
The pressure eventually paid off as Villa drew level in the 66th minute.
Onana pulled off another fine reflex save from Clement Lenglet. The ball was recycled and Leon Bailey slipped a pass to Luiz who fired into the roof of the net from close range.
Suddenly the roof lifted off Villa Park as home fans sensed they could still emerge victors.
United produced a dangerous move as Garnacho cut in from the left and saw a drive flash past the upright.
The Reds’ second change saw Marcus Rashford replaced by Scott McTominay with 17 minutes left.
Garnacho had another great chance following a forward burst but fired weakly at Martinez.
With Villa pressing for a winner, United silence the home fans with an 86th minute winner from McTominay who found the net with a bullet header from Diogo Dalot’s cross, his eighth goal of the season.
It was a case of shutting up shop as in the second of six added minutes United took off Hojlund and Kobbie Mainoo who were replaced by Jonny Evans and Sofyan Amrabat.