Sir Alex’s men were playing their third match within six days and with most of the players down with the flu they brought back from Turkey, he had to play with almost the same squad that faced Manchester City midweek in a goalless draw. Scholes, who was suspended, was replaced by Hernandez and Rafael who got injured(dead leg) battling against Tevez and Silva was replaced by Brown. All in all, a tired United XI faced an injury hit Aston Villa XI.
It was a match that put together Gerrard Houllier and Sir Alex together on the same pitch for the first time after 2004. I am sure Sir Alex would remember that Houllier has been a difficult opponent having beaten him 5 times in a row from 2000-02.
Maybe that’s why he played two players up front and that move nearly paid off in the 15th minute when Chicarito Hernandez passed the ball to an unmarked Berbatov who managed to remain onside by inches and had the best chance of the day till then. But his left footed shot went wide off the goal. United dominated the game in the early stages of the first half and Chicarito nearly went across the defenders to get 1 on 1 with Brad Friedel only to be given offside. He could have been yellow carded as he continued to play even after the referee’s whistle but the referee didn’t give it. In the 23rd minute, a defensive error from Dunne saw United break with only Warnock in the defense who did pretty well to stop Berbatov and Park who could have been a threat. United also got a free kick in a potentially scoring area in the 31st minute when Nani and Evra combined beautifully to create a chance only to see Evra’s cross go out of the pitch.
But in the later stages of the half, it was Villa who enjoyed dominance on the game by keeping the possession of the ball. There were many attempts on the United goal just before the half time whistle, a long ball was beautifully controlled by Stewart Downing, whose touch took it away from a defender. His right foot shot took a deflection and with Edwin van der Sar beaten, the ball slid past the post. Richard Dunne found himself completely free but could only plant a weak header into the floor and then the arms of Van der Sar. Thus the first half ended with the score at 0-0.
The second half began and with it began United’s miseries. In the 51st minute, Nani was booked for throwing his arm across Warnock’s face. In the 53rd minute, the home team had their best opportunity. Stewart Downing, sent in a curling cross from the left wing. Evra was off guarded as Albrighton stole around the back of him. The young winger did the right thing by sending a header across Van der Sar, but watched his effort go wide past the post.
Hernandez got booked for a rash challenge on Albrighton. Then came a period of play where the Villa crowd saw their team’s efforts hit the post not once but twice first with a header and then from a close range shot by Agbonlahor.
Finally the constant pressure paidoff and Villa earned a penalty from a mindless challenge by Brown on Ashley Young who took the penalty himself and scored from the spot.Villa doubled their lead within 5 minutes when Macheda, who had just come on for Berbatov, lost the ball in Villa’s half and the home team had a chance to break which they did effectively. Downing’s cross was inch perfect, and with United’s defense stretched, Albrighton put in a perfect header past Van Der Sar.
It needed something special from the players if United were to remain unbeaten this season. And indeed, those 8 minutes were special within which Macheda and Vidic scored to bring the score to 2-2 and end the match on a high note for United. After a spell of constant pressure, Darren Fletcher picked the ball up on the edge of the area and produced a fantastic back pass into the path of Macheda, who sent the ball hurling past Friedel from just inside the Villa penalty area.
It was not “The End” for United, especially not for Nani who was comparatively quiet for the entire 84 minutes before sending in an inch perfect cross to captain Vidic, who had come forward in search of exactly that kind of a cross and did no mistake in sending the ball across Friedel to equalize for United.
The celebration showed how relieved the players were to snatch a point after a dismal performance.
The game that produced 4 goals in 15 minutes kept the full house crowd on the edge of their seats and both set of spectators can look back at the performance of their team with pride.
Next up for United is Wigan at home on Saturday at 15.00 GMT / 8.30 PM Indian ST on ESPN.
Update: Tom Cleverley will NOT feature at Old Trafford next week as there's a clause in his loan deal to Wigan which will dissallow him to play.
Till then, be proud and sing it loud.. “GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED”