What a game that was. Villa played a team that has been used to winning trophies virtually ever since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 and battled fantastically with a team full to the brim of youthful verve and exuberance in attacking areas, and it was almost enough to end Man Utd’s long unbeaten streak at Villa Park in the league.
With Stephen Ireland and Ciaran Clark the latest to go missing from the Villa team, it really did look like it was down to the bare bones for this one – and I’m sure everyone would agree that Man Utd wouldn’t be on the top of anyone’s list of teams to play during an injury crisis.
Aside from Barry Bannan releasing Stuart Downing early on there weren’t many other opportunities to create an opening as Villa made a nervous start.
Man Utd’s two best early chances came when Hernandez released Berbatov only for the enigmatic Bulgarian to shoot wide, and then when a very dubious free-kick was given just outside the Villa penalty area Evra was played through and fizzed a ball across the six yard box which failed to connect with anyone.
After the United team had failed to convert the early opportunities that came their way Villa’s extremely lightweight midfield grew massively in stature with Bannan pinging balls around the pitch and Jonathan Hogg getting stuck in very effectively.
Ashley Young had a tame shot saved by Van Der Saar, and Disco Stu managed to get another shot away that was deflected out by Rio Ferdinand before the half-time whistle blew.
This was when Villa really began to take the game to the team who are bossed by Britain’s most successful football manager in history.
Disco Stu then lofted a lovely ball that was inviting Marc Albrighton to just get the slightest touch to nod home. Unfortunately the contact he did get was just slightly at the wrong angle and it sent the header just past the post with the goal gaping.
The Villa faithful began to sense that United really could be got at here, and it must have rubbed off on the players, because with their next attack Villa hit the crossbar after Downing then sent in another delicious ball from the left which James Collins met perfectly but his headed effort crashed back off the crossbar.
Immediately after, Vidic tackled Ashley Young, which caused the ball to break loose to Gabby Agbonlahor, and he wholloped his effort off the woodwork too, the post it was that denied Villa this time though.
Just when it began to look as though Villa were never ever going to get what they deserved from the game, the breakthrough came. A pacey counter-attack resulted in Wes Brown upending Young, and the referee did the unthinkable…gave a penalty against Manchester United.
Ashley Young it was who dusted himself down to sent United’s Dutch ‘keeper the wrong way and put Villa into the lead. That celebration was great, although Young was booked in an ultimately confusing move by the referee considering that he failed to do the same when United scored.
It got even better before the game hit the 80th minute mark though, with yet another counter-attack ending with Downing putting in one more of his countless quality crosses today to provide Marc Albrighton with a tap-in to score his first Villa Park league goal and Villa’s second on the day. This was the moment when Villa Park believed that it’s Man United hoodoo would soon be over.
Soon after however, a quick-fire United double broke Villa hearts, first with Macheda (yes, him again) finishing well past Friedel to put them back in it, and then, four minutes later, a cross by Nani looked, in the sun at least, to have eluded everyone but Vidic scored with a diving header to level the scores.
When the fourth official’s board signalled five minutes of injury-time, every Villa fan feared the same thing, and Friedel had to make a fantastic save, but a defeat for Villa would have been harsh and, even though it was ever-so-disappointing not to hold onto the lead, there were a million and one reasons to be happy with, and proud of, Aston Villa today. Bring on Arsenal in our next game at Villa Park in a fortnight.
Brad Friedel 7
Could do nothing about the goals and made good saves when we needed him.
Luke Young 7
Showed his passion today and contributed well to the overall team play.
Stephen Warnock 8
Won almost every single tackle he made today, a great improvement on recent performances.
Richard Dunne 7
Marshalled the defence well with Collins but looked a bit shaky against Hernandez.
James Collins 7
Was unlucky with the header that hit the crossbar.
Marc Albrighton 7
Another good, tricky performance and it was nice for him to get his first home goal.
Stuart Downing 9
A masterful performance by the man I now want to refer to as Disco Stu. Almost every cross today was perfect.
Ashley Young 8
Showed good composure for the penalty but I still don’t like his moaning at Villa’s other players.
Barry Bannan 7
Didn’t look out of place against such a top-quality team which shows just how good he is already, looked a bit like Paul Scholes, dare I say it?
Jonathan Hogg 6
Understandably nervous start but did his job very well I thought.
Gabriel Agbonlahor 7
It’s amazing how much more of an attacking force we look with him playing.
Nathan Delfouneso 5
Didn’t really do much but didn’t really have the chance to either.
Eric Lichaj N/A
Not enough time.
Not enough time.