Manchester United produced yet another stirring comeback as they rallied from two goals down to beat an impressive Aston Villa 3-2 at Villa Park.
Villa profited from their strong opening to the match with a brace from the young Austrian Andreas Weimann. But United showed why they can never be counted out as substitute Javier Hernandez scored twice, sandwiching an own goal by Villa defender Ron Vlaar.
The win maintained United’s extraordinary record of not having lost at Villa Park since 1995 and also took them, temporarily at least, four points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Despite the contrasting position of the two sides in the standings, the home side started brightly and made the all-important breakthrough just before half time. Christian Benteke twisted and turned Chris Smalling as he marauded down the left, before outmuscling the United defender and producing a clever pull back into the path of Weimann who met the first time with a side-footed finish high into the net past David De Gea.
Not content with holding a one-goal advantage over the Premier League leaders, Villa increased their lead just five minutes after the break. United’s defensive problems that have plagued them for much of the season were again in full evidence. Stephen Ireland’s ball to the left found Gabriel Agbonlahor in yards of space and the pacey front man burst into the area before firing the ball across goal for Weimann to slide in and get his second goal of the game from close range.
But the comfort of a two-goal lead would not last for long as United pulled a goal back just before the hour mark. Paul Scholes, who was involved the last time United fell to away defeat to Villa, produced the sort of pass with which he has become synonymous over the years as he picked up possession on the halfway line and sent an inch perfect chip over the top for Hernandez. The in-form Mexican got a little lucky with his control but showed his instincts in front of goal to feed the ball low through the legs of Brad Guzan.
United have made a habit of coming from behind this season and there was little surprise when the scores were brought level in the 63rd minute. Scholes was again at the heart of the move, this time sliding an inch-perfect pass down the right for Rafael to run onto. The Brazilian did the pass justice with a first time cross to the far post where Hernandez met it with a side-footed volley that was heading across the face of goal before striking Ron Vlaar and redirecting into the net.
At that point, few would have wagered against United going onto claim the three points. Twice in the matter of a minutes Villa hung on courtesy of the width of a cross bar. First Robin van Persie struck the woodwork with a header from a Wayne Rooney corner before doing so in even more spectacular fashion moments later with a stunning effort from 25 yards.
The crucial third goal did eventually arrive, though, breaking Villa’s resistance three minutes from time. Hernandez, undoubtedly back to the lethal form of his debut season at Old Trafford, registered his seventh goal in his last five appearances as he stooped to head home Van Persie’s deep free-kick from just over six yards out.
Ferguson may again be left questioning his side’s defensive strength, but Manchester United’s ability going forward makes them a team that few fans will be able to take their eyes off this season.