Manchester United let lead slip again as Villa leave with a point

Victor Lindelof had put United ahead in the second half but that lead was only brief

Manchester United 2 Aston Villa 2

Manchester United would have closed to six points behind Chelsea in fourth if they had beaten Aston Villa. Instead, after a sluggish opening-half display, they and their visitors engaged in a kind of high-speed ping-pong following which a draw felt the right outcome.

The breathless fare made a fine spectacle but Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Dean Smith will hardly be happy at the time and space their teams allowed. Juan Mata was Solskjær’s sole change from the 3-3 draw at Sheffield United, the Spaniard replacing Phil Jones after not starting in the league since early October.

Smith’s XI was the same that beat Newcastle on Monday as he hoped to record a first Villa win here since December 2009.


Smith saw his captain, Jack Grealish, clattered by Andreas Pereira almost direct from kick-off, the latter operating alongside Fred in a midfield pair that would improve as the contest wore on.

Harry Maguire’s first action was to haul down Anwar El Ghazi along Villa’s right, the captain having been left trailing. Maguire was booked for this but worse was about to follow for his defence.

When Brandon Williams broke along the left he chose the correct pass to find a galloping Marcus Rashford inside. Suddenly Tom Heaton’s goal was his to find but the No 10 – as he can – miskicked badly. Now came Villa’s response. From the ensuing goal-kick El Ghazi crossed from the right and the ball sailed to Grealish on the left. As Pereira stood off, the No 10 moved inside and placed a curler beyond David de Gea, the keeper standing stock still.

If this brought cries of “Super Jack” from the Villa faithful, El Ghazi may have injured himself in the move as he was replaced by Trezeguet. United were stunned yet Fred showed a flash of class when dribbling out of a cul-de-sac along the right, motoring forward, then sliding Anthony Martial in. The No 9’s shot was straight at Heaton but here was some encouragement.

Defensively there was little, though. Grealish was running proceedings from his left-hand berth and when Maguire hesitated the forward hit Wesley with a ball virtually on De Gea’s goalline. Trezeguet finished the follow-up but this was ruled offside – Wesley appeared to be the guilty party – so United were lucky.

Villa were, simply, proving to be quicker and slicker. United’s issue was a lack of ideas and vision. Solsjkær had Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and James Garner warming up as half-time neared.

But Fred then took a short corner to Mata who relayed the ball to Pereira. His cross, from the right, was met expertly by Rashford and his header hit a post, the back of Heaton and that was 1-1.

Despite this Solskjær surely ordered his team to wake up in his interval chat. An attack that had Mata in along the left suggested so but soon Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a hash of a clearance and Grealish was swinging the subsequent corner in. Rashford booted this away yet De Gea was next to give possession up when finding Maguire was simpler.

The contest now became a relentless back-and-forth affair. United got hold of the ball and roved upfield, winning a corner. Pereira delivered towards Maguire but he fouled. Villa moved toward towards De Gea’s goal and the move foundered. A neat Mata back-heel teed up Fred but a 20-yard effort was scuffed.

United were in the marginally higher gear. Williams claimed the ball and passed to Daniel James. The Welshman’s sprint down the left was followed by a cross but no teammate connected.

This lack of edge in front of goal was costly when Rashford, Williams, Mata and Fred interchanged passes and the latter dinked Martial the ball. A quality first touch and he was in but this was absent. Better from the Frenchman came when dazzling feet had him in on Heaton and the keeper was grateful to save.

United had become a blur of red. Mata’s penalty shout was turned down when clashing with Frédéric Guilbert, James overhit a pass to Martial close to goal, and Wan-Bissaka warmed the keeper’s fingers.

From the corner United scored. It was taken short and when Fred pinged the ball in the unfortunate Douglas Luiz flicked on and Victor Lindelöf headed in.

Old Trafford erupted but within 180 seconds all but the Villa contingent were silenced. After a corner, Matt Targett chipped a ball to the unmarked Tyrone Mings and, with Williams keeping him onside, that was the equaliser.

Solksjær threw on Lingard for the close, then Luke Shaw and Greenwood a little later. And while they peppered Villa’s area Martial’s lob over spurned a golden chance and Villa might have also grabbed a winner via a late break. – Guardian