Vital Villa's Match Report: Villa v Man utd
Attendance: 40 538
As pundits and commentators queued up to talk, praise and gloat about all things United before the game, Paul Lambert got on with the job of sending out a group of players who were prepared to try and win it. On this showing, the team continues to move steadily in the right direction, having impressed with a resounding counter-attacking, high pressure tactical display that left Man Utd needing to pull something out of the bag.
In the end two Javier Hernandez predatory strikes either side of a Vlaar own goal sealed a Red Devils win that will have many Villa fans wondering if they will ever beat Man Utd on their own ground. Though for much of the game it looked as though the Villa Lions were finally starting to roar. At the centre of this performance was Christian Benteke, who demonstrated his potential with an outstanding personal display full of power, thump and technique that left United Defender Smalling bruised and bested throughout.
Indeed, it was Benteke's firm hold up play and use of the ball that led to the first goal. Smalling, having bounced of the giant Belgian, could only watch as the Villa striker teed up Weimann for the opener. The pacey Austrian once again showed why he is an asset to his club with a top draw strike that left De Gea floundering.
He wasted no time in the second half in adding another to the score sheet. Gabby Agbonlahor broke with pace down the left, beating his man to drive a teasing cross across the face of goal for Weimann who, having timed his run to perfection, could do know more than smash the ball home. Villa park has waited some time for this sort of attacking, team display to reveal itself and if it had been any other side this would surely have signalled the opening of the flood gates. Instead Sir Alex Ferguson drew on his deep resources to introduce Mexican hitman Hernandez into the fray- a player hungry to cement a first team place. Two goals and a shot rebounding of a Villa shoulder will probably remind his manager and new arrival Van Persie exactly what he can do. Hernandez demonstrated the sort of instinctual poaching that you just can't coach.
After receiving a beautifully weighted centre ball from Scholes, he was able to roll the ball under a Clark Guzan sandwich for his first, when the chance looked to have gone. He then took no time in netting his second. Having peeled away at the back stick he was left to volley a Rafael cross downward, which came back off Vlaar. Though not his goal, he will no doubt feel justified in claiming it. Had Van Persie not hit the bar twice it could easily have been 2-3 with time to spare. Instead United were made to wait until the 86th minute to complete their come back.
Once again, it was a set piece that was Villa's undoing. Enda Stephens, who put in a fantastic performance against chalk hugger Valencia, showed inexperience in losing focus just when it mattered. Having been awarded a free kick for an innocuous challenge, Van Persie obliged by sending over a tempting ball which Hernandez, having gained a crucial few yards on Stephens, headed home. Aston Villa, who are making good progress under Lambert, must eradicate their set piece blues if they are to move up the table. Questions might be asked as to why Stephens was left to mark the Mexican in the first place.
Villa will rue chances missed at 2-2 which might have guaranteed points though both Weimann and Benteke failed to register with good heading opportunities. Lambert however, will have nothing but praise for a young Villa team who went toe-to-toe with the table topping Red Devils. The likes of Westwood, Stephens, Lowton, Clark, and Weimann shined as they hassled, fought and drove at United. The future is certainly bright and the Villa faithful will buoyed with new found optimism. Of particular note is the tactical change to a 4-3-3 with Agbonlahor and Weimann swirling with pace and guile around the towering force of Benteke who has, on this performance, surely now announced himself in the Premier League.
Room for Improvement: Bannan.