Aston Villa 0-0 Man Utd
Rooney wasted a glorious opportunity to give United the lead
Manchester United remain eight points off the top of the Premier League after failing to break down Aston Villa in a lively encounter at Villa Park.
After Gabriel Agbonlahor hit an early chance straight at Edwin van der Sar, Ashley Young’s tackle prevented Ji-Sung Park from giving United the lead.
Villa wanted a penalty when Nemanja Vidic challenged Agbonlahor before Wayne Rooney miscued in front of goal.
Both teams created openings late on but could do nothing to break the deadlock.
Villa, who leapfrog Arsenal into fourth, will be pleased to have ended a run of 12 consecutive league defeats at the hands of United and claimed their first point against the Old Trafford club since 2002.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was urging his side forward at the end and he might reflect on two points dropped, despite Chelsea and Liverpool being held to goalless draws themselves.
Both teams came into the game with form and confidence from their most recent league outings, Villa having claimed a fine win at Arsenal and United following their home demolition of Stoke.
The pair were separated by just one point but there appeared even less to choose between them in the opening exchanges.
A Luke Young free-kick was headed by Martin Laursen into the path of Agbonlahor but the England striker poked his shot straight at Van der Sar.
At the other end, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped in from the left wing and unleashed a venomous drive that was clawed behind by Brad Friedel, making his 166th consecutive Premier League appearance to equal David James’ record.
United, boosted by the returns of Rio Ferdinand and Rooney, were initially frustrated by Villa’s 4-5-1 formation, which turned into a 4-3-3 when in possession.
But with United looking to get forward in numbers at every opportunity, the visitors’ slick passing soon enabled wingers Ronaldo and Park to get in behind the Villa full-backs.
On 38 minutes Ronaldo sent Park racing through on goal but, just as the South Korean prepared to shoot, Ashley Young slid in with a perfectly-timed challenge to avert the danger.
With Villa struggling to keep hold of the ball, United continued to flow forward and a sliding Park was inches away from converting Rooney’s enticing right-wing cross.
Villa were good value for their point, attacking and defending as one
United tried to make their superiority count before half-time, Vidic heading narrowly wide from a Ryan Giggs free-kick, but Villa held firm.
Martin O’Neill’s men looked vibrant after the re-start and Van der Sar was forced to concede a corner with Ashley Young’s intended cross heading towards the top corner.
Villa were beginning to play without inhibition and, on the hour-mark, felt they should have had a penalty when Agbonlahor was felled after out-pacing Vidic on the left, although replays suggested Vidic won the ball.
United wasted a glorious chance when Michael Carrick hooked over the Villa defence for Rooney, who found himself clean through but fired horribly high and wide from close range.
Ferguson replaced an out-of-form Carlos Tevez with Nani as United continued to probe from wide areas but clear-cut chances were not forthcoming and Villa reminded the reigning champions of their threat when Ashley Young’s drive was well saved by Van der Sar.
Vidic had to be alert to scramble clear after James Milner beat John O’Shea and crossed but in the end neither side could breach the other’s back four.
Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill:
“We tried to perform in the same way as at Arsenal. It is very difficult against United – they are great players who can turn games but we stuck at it and deserved something.
“These have been two big games for us after losing to Newcastle and Middlesbrough and will help to give the players great self-belief.
“It is exceptionally hard to break into the top four but we are aiming for that sort of thing. The players are improving and have a good confidence about themselves.”
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
“I thought we were the better team apart from a 15-minute spell after half-time when Villa got the ball into our box from free-kicks and corners and caused a lot of problems.
“Apart from that, we weren’t in danger. I was pleased with the effort we put in against an aggressive and determined team who defended for their lives.
“With the amount of possession we had at the end I thought another chance must come along but they held on.”
Aston Villa: Friedel, Reo-Coker, Davies, Laursen, Luke Young, Sidwell (Carew 81), Petrov, Barry, Milner, Agbonlahor, Ashley Young.
Subs Not Used: Guzan, Harewood, Knight, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo (Anderson 82), Park, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Tevez (Nani 71).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Welbeck, Evans, Gibson, Rafael Da Silva.
Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).