Nemanja Vidic scored an 85th minute equaliser to rescue a point for Manchester United who displayed trademark resolve to rally from 2 goals down and escape from Villa Park with their long unbeaten run intact. With the club having recently celebrated Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24th year in charge, the team once again demonstrated that sometimes just the will to win can be the single most determining and thrilling attribute, in sports.
Aston Villa had taken a 2-0 lead in the 76th minute and were full value for that lead – but although there will be justifiable euphoria at the way the game was turned around, United fans will likely be given a sobering return to the ground as a Chelsea win tomorrow will open up a 6 point gap at the top of the table.
With both sides struggling through injury crisis’, the line ups were far from first choice. United were missing a handful of stars but to their credit started the game rather well. Dimitar Berbatov has had a terrible run in front of goal since his stunning Liverpool hattrick, and he missed a great chance to turn that around on the quarter hour after being put in by Chicharito.
Wes Brown almost converted a Nani free kick midway through the first half but after that Villa really turned up the pressure and dominated proceedings. Ashley Young had an effort that was easily saved on the half hour but that was merely testing the waters for a storming second half. Marc Albrighton has been one of the stars of Villa’s admittedly below par (by their standards) start to the season and he had a brilliant second half, almost scoring twice early on – the first chance, capitalising on a Vidic error to fire into the side netting, and the second, a header that glanced across goal that was begging for someone to convert.
One began to wonder if the hosts would live to regret their missed opportunities; that feeling only intensified midway through the second half when they hit the woodwork twice in a crazy 90 second spell. James Collins rattled the crossbar with a header and as United struggled to cope with the next wave of attack, Agbonlahor pounced to fire a shot against the post. The Red Devils couldn’t compose themselves but were fortunate further still when Downing’s effort on the rebound was deflected wide.
United’s respite lasted only 3 minutes, as Villa’s next attack finally paid off. Ashley Young fizzed a pass for Agbonlahor to race onto; Vidic remarkably kept pace with the lightning quick forward and got in to tackle, but the ball rolled into the path of the onrushing Young. The winger became the meat in a Ferdinand and Brown sandwich and the latter succumbed to temptation to pull off a clumsy tackle and concede a penalty. Young duly picked himself up and sent van der Sar the wrong way.
Ferguson’s response was bizarre; off came the admittedly terrible duo of Chicharito and Berbatov and replaced them with Kiko Macheda and Gabriel Obertan. The decision looked even worse just 2 minutes after the change when Villa scored their second; it was a stunning goal, the kind which United themselves have been renowned for scoring in the past. Macheda’s pass was astray and after receiving the ball, Young attacked like a savage cat through the heart of the defence, piercing it with a cute pass to Downing. Downing’s ball across goal was perfect and Albrighton got the goal he fully deserved with a finish at the far post.
One of the features of United’s season so far has been the surrendering of two goal leads; with their unbeaten record at the risk of evaporating, their pride was taking a battering. Performance wise they were second best; ability wise they were not giving a good representation of themselves. In these circumstances, it is a hallmark of Sir Alex’s teams that they at least persevere for some kind of result. Perhaps fearing a hairdryer, but more likely concerned by the manager’s startling removal of the front pair and the potential repercussion that nobody on the pitch was safe, the team responded like wounded animals.
Ferdinand was first to test the waters with a shot that was cleared off the line by the omnipresent Albrighton, but United were given instant cause for hope in the 81st minute when Macheda reduced the deficit with a fine strike. Fletcher dallied on the ball 18 yards out, and the young Italian almost demanded the ball from him and fired it into the top corner.
The goal in itself provided a direct symmetrical link with United’s last defeat; Macheda, as a sub, scored what turned out to be a consolation against Chelsea last season in a game officiated by Mike Dean. There was barely time to dwell on that oddity as, with 5 minutes left, Nemanja Vidic equalised. Nani’s own performance was typical of his season; frustrating for so much, but easily United’s most penetrative force, and so it was again here, after spending most of the game breaking out of anonymity only to argue with the officials, he teased Luke Young and flashed in a fantastic cross which Vidic could not fail to head home.
Fergie made his last roll of the dice replacing Park with Smalling and putting the expensive young defender up front. Unlike his other changes, it didn’t really pay off, but the other of the changes still did enough to knock on the door for a possible start next weekend. Obertan had a hat-trick of chances to win the game in injury time, 2 created for himself and one that was well saved by Friedel – typically with his face.
Despite United’s poor performance, they ended the game with credit, much as they did at Eastlands, as the team pushing for all 3 points in injury time. But even after another thrilling game this season, United can only look disappointingly at the single point they’ve taken from it, and try and decide at which point will it be that the points thrown away will start to become decisive.
Ratings : van der Sar 6, Brown 5, Ferdinand 6, *Vidic 7, Evra 7, Nani 7, Fletcher 6, Carrick 6, Park 6 (Smalling), Chicharito 6 (Obertan), Berbatov 5 (Macheda)