United march on against Villa
Wayne Rooney converted the sixth-minute spot-kick and added another, with Danny Welbeck and Nani also on target as United responded in perfect fashion to Manchester City's six-goal salvo yesterday to re-establish a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Wednesday was a blip, we just didn't turn up but today we put in a good performance," said United defender Rio Ferdinand. "We weren't thinking about City's result. The pressure is always on us, from within, from the fans, the manager, the pressure to win is always there.
"We played some good football today with some nice one-touch football. We want to win every game. We don't care where we win the title - it could be in the garden, as long as we win it."
Villa remain in trouble, six points clear of third-bottom Bolton Wanderers, who also have a game in hand. But, with four games to go, it is the battle at the top that is concentrating minds, and Young grabbing much of the attention.
Young was felled in the area by Ciaran Clark, and Rooney stepped up to convert from the spot on seven minutes. In the context of relieving the pressure in a title fight that has had new life injected into it by a combination of City finding their form again and United losing at Wigan Athletic, Rooney kept his nerve and sent Shay Given the wrong way.
It was his 30th goal of the season and the tenth time he has scored against Given, now top of the list of his favourite keepers. United dominated thereafter. Given's reaction save denied Welbeck, recalled along with veteran midfielder Paul Scholes, who met two thunderous volleys perfectly. Given kept out the first, the second whistled wide at astonishing speed.
Though clearly limited, Villa did enough to keep their band of supporters interested and both Clark and Stephen Ireland went close during rare counter-attacks. United needed a second to calm any remaining nerves and Nathan Baker duly provided a gift shortly before the break.
In allowing Patrice Evra's low cross to run under his leg at the far-post, Baker presumably thought the ball was heading out for a goal-kick. He was mistaken.
Instead, Welbeck slid in to nudge home from close range, his 11th goal of the season, but only his second since January. It was a defensive lapse that has been so prominent in Villa's season to date and clearly the finishing line cannot come soon enough.
They do have some tricky hurdles to negotiate yet, though, including a home encounter with Bolton, and the loss of Clark, who was groggily helped off after trying to continue following an accidental clash with Patrice Evra, did not help matters. His replacement, Emile Heskey, came closest for the visitors not long afterwards.
However, after his header was tipped over by David de Gea, Rooney spurned a golden opportunity when he mishit a ten-yard effort and sent it bobbling harmlessly wide. It was not long before another chance came Rooney's way. And this time it ended up in the net, thanks to a significant deflection off James Collins.
Before Villa could restart, Rooney was replaced by Dimitar Berbatov. It did not seem to be a change the striker was entirely in agreement with. However, with the clock ticking down on Berbatov's mercurial United career, the home fans did welcome the Bulgarian enthusiastically.
It was Nani, who had been introduced for Young after an hour, who provided the final flourish, though, finishing Jonny Evans' lay-off in cool fashion before a trademark somersault celebration.