Man Utd 3-2 Aston Villa

By Ian Hughes

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo scored twice as United beat Villa to go top of the table

Federico Macheda scored a stunning late winner as Manchester United regained top spot in the Premier League.

United took the lead when Cristiano Ronaldo scored from an indirect free-kick after a James Milner backpass.

Villa deservedly equalised when Carew headed in Gareth Barry’s superb cross and Gabriel Agbonlahor headed Villa in front from Carew’s left-wing cross.

But Ronaldo’s low shot made it 2-2 before debutant Macheda turned in the box and curled home to snatch victory.

It was an incredible finish to a match that twisted and turned – and had looked to be going the way of Villa rather than the Champions.

But after digging deep, and finding inspiration from an untried 17-year-old, United have leapfrogged Liverpool at the top of the table.

And they also avoided a third successive league defeat, which would have been more galling given that Villa were thumped 5-0 by Liverpool in their last match.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez said his side’s last-gasp 1-0 win over Fulham on Saturday had placed the pressure on United, and he he looked to be right from the way the champions started against Villa.

They struggled with an unfamiliar back four that was forced upon them because of Rio Ferdiand’s injury and Nemanja Vidic’s suspension.

Gary Neville, retuning from injury, was brought in to partner John O’Shea in the heart of defence, but that proved to be a costly mistake.

Carew quickly served notice that he would enjoy the mismatch against Neville when his header was scrambled clear via Darren Fletcher and the post.

And the visitors were in the mood to expose United’s vulnerabilities.

The pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor, back in the side for the injured Emile Heskey, and the poise and passing of Barry was causing United all manner of problems.

But United were handed a lifeline when James Milner passed the ball back to Friedel, who picked the ball up, and the resulting free-kick in the area was cracked in by Ronaldo after Ryan Giggs rolled the ball to him.

The goal settled United’s nerves and they began to stroke the ball around with more confidence, but without really penetrating.

And Villa remained dangerous on the break, particularly through Agbonlahor, whose speed was a big problem for Neville.

Ashley Young’s free-kick was tipped over by Edwin van der Sar as Villa threatened.

From another quick counter Villa deservedly restored parity, Barry’s excellent right-wing cross powerfully headed into the bottom corner by Carew as Neville stood by helplessly.

Shortly after, Neville was switched with right-back Jonny Evans – but it had been a half-hour to forget for the former United skipper.

He would have felt better if Ronaldo’s glancing header had gone either side of Friedel rather than straight at the keeper and given United a half-time lead.

Instead, Villa struck again on 58 minutes when Ronaldo was caught in possession and Villa moved the ball quickly to Carew, and his cross was headed in by Agbonlahor.

United’s response was to bring on 17-year-old Federico Macheda for Nani.

The young Italian, who hit a hat-trick for reserves recently, appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty after he fell under challenge from Curtis Davies.

Then at the other end Davies was close to converting Ashley Young’s free-kick.

United needed something special from somewhere and it came from Ronaldo, who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fired a low drive into the bottom corner to drag his side level.

The impetus was all with the hosts now and it took a fine save from Friedel to deny Fletcher from 12 yards.

Substitute Danny Wellbeck was next to be thwarted by Freidel as he saw his shot saved at point-blank range.

But United were not to be denied and substitute Macheda produced a moment of magic to win the game when he turned a curled a peach of a shot into the far corner.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, O’Shea, Evans, Evra, Nani (Macheda 61), Carrick, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Giggs, Tevez (Welbeck 87).
Subs Not Used: Foster, Park, Gibson, Martin, Eckersley.

Booked: Macheda.

Goals: Ronaldo 14, 80, Macheda 90.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey, Milner (Reo-Coker 76), Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.
Subs Not Used: Guzan, Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Gardner, Albrighton.

Booked: Milner, Ashley Young.

Goals: Carew 30, Agbonlahor 58.

Att: 5,409

Ref: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).