Red Devils halt Villa revival
Manchester United continued their unbeaten quest for the Premier League title with a 3-1 win over in-form Aston Villa.
By Elliot Ball - follow me on Twitter @ballell
Last Updated: 01/02/11 10:34pm
Manchester United continued their unbeaten quest for the Premier League title with a 3-1 win over in-form Aston Villa as Wayne Rooney produced an instant response to Sir Alex Ferguson's demand to reach double figures this season
The Red Devils were pitted against a revived Villa outfit who claimed an impressive win over United's fierce title rivals Manchester City last time out.
In that game, Darren Bent announced himself to his new club with his first strike for the Midlanders since completing his £18million switch from Sunderland and the England striker was at it again on Tuesday night.
But that was after Rooney saw to his lean spell in front of goal to open the scoring within the first minute of the Old Trafford encounter.
Quick thinking from Edwin Van der Sar allowed Rooney to smash home his fourth of the season with just 49 seconds on the clock.
And Rooney had his second on the brink of half-time after being fed on a plate by Nani who fizzed in the cross of the match to allow his team-mate to claim a second.
Villa gave themselves brief hope early in the second-half when Bent tucked away Stewart Downing's pass but Nemanja Vidic assured the points for United after lashing Rooney's knockdown past an otherwise inspired Brad Friedel.
It was the first time Rooney has scored two in a game for almost 11 months and, in front of England coach Fabio Capello, took his seasonal tally to five.
By way of a side issue, the striker's efforts also ensured United matched the efforts of the 1999 Treble-winners by matching their club record 29 league games unbeaten and at the same time maintaining a five-point advantage over Arsenal in the title race.
Ferguson could hardly have timed his pre-match address better.
There were plenty who had wondered whether Javier Hernandez's recent goalscoring efforts might have earned the Mexican a starting berth alongside Dimitar Berbatov this evening.
That was clearly not part of Ferguson's thinking, choosing his programme notes to extol Rooney's wider contribution.
Yet, amid the praise was also a target for the 25-year-old to aim for. Some distance short of the 34 he managed last term but a significant improvement on the three he went into the game with.
And Rooney wasted absolutely no time in responding.
There were just 49 seconds on the clock when van der Sar launched a free-kick deep into Villa territory from just outside his own area.
Rooney took one touch to control, then belted the ball past Friedel, Richard Dunne's lack of pace having already been cruelly exposed.
With the exception of one Bent effort, which Van der Sar saved low to his right, United dominated thereafter.
Berbatov failed to threaten with a couple of close-range efforts. Nani got a bit closer, one attempt bringing a brilliant save out of Friedel, whose appearance gave him the title of the oldest player in Villa history.
Ryan Giggs also made the veteran American work with a mazy run and shot that forced a low save by the post.
Yet, as injury-time approached, United were still waiting for that crucial second which would have set their minds at ease.
Having started the half by finding the net, it was appropriate Rooney should finish it that way too but he would be the first to admit Nani deserved all the credit though.
Nipping about in that frustrating way of his, the Portugal winger looked up and saw Rooney at the far post.
The delivery was perfect, curling round the back of the Villa defence, too far out for Friedel to contemplate an interception, then dropping perfectly for Rooney, who tapped home with ease.
Yet what looked like an easy win, turned into a very nervous few minutes in the second half as Villa found some inspiration.
Ashley Young started it when he curled a 20-yard free-kick narrowly wide. The England man was at the hub of Villa's attacks and when Anderson, Patrice Evra and Vidic all failed to prevent him prodding a pass out to Stewart Downing, suddenly United were in trouble.
Downing took out Rio Ferdinand with an excellent cross and Bent does what Gerard Houllier paid that vast sum of money for, finishing with ease.
When Marc Albrighton smacked an effort goalwards from 30 yards, alarm bells started ringing amongst the home support, who could not have imagined who would turn up to ease their nerves.
Vidic is not noted for scoring with anything other than his head but, having nodded the ball on to Rooney from a Giggs corner, the Serbian hung around long enough to receive the return, striding on to it confidently before drilling past Friedel.
Berbatov should have scored near the end but inexplicably fired over from eight yards after Friedel had denied Nani.
The American was also called upon to repel Rooney's hat-trick bid before the final whistle, although after such a tortuous season, the England star could be pretty pleased with his contribution anyway.