Analysis: Aston Villa take step forward with Manchester United draw
Manchester United might be a long way from the force they once were but there should be no ignoring the importance of Sunday’s 2-2 draw for Villa.
Just the 10th point they have earned in the last 33 league trips to Old Trafford was also the most precious to date of their Premier League return, following the latest impressive showing by Dean Smith’s team against an established Premier League big gun - only this time with something tangible to take home for their endeavours.
Laudable performances against Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool had to this point yielded no points and for a couple of minutes yesterday it looked like being a familiar story, certainly when Victor Lindelhof rose at the far post to head home Fred’s deflected cross and put the home side 2-1 up.
That followed Marcus Rashford’s equaliser, after Jack Grealish had put Villa ahead in sublime fashion.
Between those two points it was Smith’s men who had been the better team but there was a sense, certainly when Lindelhof’s header crept inside the far post, they had once more thrown away the initiative.
But then Matt Targett chipped the ball into the box for Tyrone Mings to volley beyond David De Gea and for once the VAR gods were shining on Villa as replays confirmed Brandon Williams was playing the England international onside.
From there the visitors still had work to do to secure their point but despite several nervy moments, secure it they did.
The final whistle was greeted with loud boos from the home supporters, yet even louder roar from the 3,000-travelling supporters packed into one corner of the ground.
No-one is going to claim this United team is anywhere near the vintage of those which have tormented Villa on a continual basis at Old Trafford over the years. Trips to the stadium simply don't carry the fear factor so prominent a decade ago.
Yet points won here are still precious, especially so to newly-promoted teams looking to establish a foothold in the Premier League and perhaps prove a point to themselves after near misses against Spurs and the Gunners.
The significance for Villa is heightened by their own hapless record on the ground. All told, 26 of their previous 33 visits had ended in defeat. In that context, it is easy to see why this achievement should not be taken for granted. If you wanted a result to further fuel belief things might be changing for the better at Villa, this more than fitted the bill.
That was certainly the impression given at the final whistle by Smith, who saluted the visiting supporters with a series of fist bumps.
His team and their followers will continue to believe anything is possible while Grealish remains in such outstanding form.
In some respects it feels wrong to single out the skipper in what was a strong team showing. But then the quality of his goal really allows for little else.
The first-half in particular saw Grealish at his very best, comfortable on the grand stage and looking to create every time he got the ball.
But for a very marginal offside call, he would have helped put his team two ahead on the half-hour mark but Trezeguet's strike would ultimately not count.
United appeared to have no other solution to the Grealish problem than to foul him, something they did four times in the opening 22 minutes alone.
By then the 24-year-old had already produced his masterpiece, his third goal in five appearances ranking comfortably up there with his best for the club.
Villa broke down the right, Anwar El Ghazi flying down the flank before firing in a cross which eventually ran to Grealish on the other side of the box.
The Villa skipper took a step outside and used Andreas Pereira as a shield before curling a superb finish over De Gea and into the far top corner.
It was a strike which drew gasps and then raucous cheers from the the only downside for Villa an injury sustained by El Ghazi in delivering the cross which saw his day come to a premature end.
United looked a little shaken and their efforts to get back on level terms before Rashford’s equaliser extended to an Anthony Martial shot which was comfortable for Tom Heaton in the Villa goal.
That was what made the leveller, when it arrived, doubly frustrating for Villa, who would have been further ahead through Trezeguet but for a marginal offside call on Grealish in the build-up.
Mings waited too long to clear his lines and the ball ricocheted into the path of Rashford, who was denied by the quick thinking of Heaton, who came racing off his line.
Villa’s keeper could not avoid conceding a corner, however, and from there the ball was played to Pereira, whose viciously whipped cross was headed in by Rashford via the post.
Even then, the visitors almost retook the lead before the break when Trezeguet thundered a shot off the bar.
United’s attacks carried much more menace after the break and Heaton had to be alert to save after a Martial shot took a slight nick off Douglas Luiz and sat up awkwardly.
A frenetic few minutes then followed just past the hour mark. First, Grealish was close to restoring Villa’s lead when he stretched to meet Trezeguet’s cross but could only steer it wide of goal.
Instead it was United who went in front. Another short corner was this time played to Fred, whose inswinging cross flicked off the top of Villa striker Wesley’s head and perfectly into the path of Lindelhof, who headed the ball back across goal and inside the far post.
Yet no sooner had the celebrations died down then Villa were level, Mings atoning for his earlier error by volleying Targett’s chipped cross beyond De Gea, the goal being given following a VAR check which confirmed the Villa man was onside.
Both teams had spells of pressure as the clock ticked down though the biggest chance, prior to the final 10 minutes, fell to United, with Martial scooping the ball over from three yards out following a scramble in the Villa defence.
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