Aston Villa 1-2 Man Utd: United close gap to fifth as McTominay heads winner
Super sub Scott McTominay’s thundering header secured Manchester United a late, hard-fought 2-1 victory away to fellow Champions League hopefuls Aston Villa.
This felt like a match that the sixth-placed Red Devils could ill afford to lose given Unai Emery’s men were a place higher in the standings and able to extend an eight-point cushion to an eye-watering 11.
In-form Rasmus Hojlund broke Villa hearts on Boxing Day and got United off to a dream start when scoring in a fifth straight Premier League match, but the hosts responded brilliantly and deserved Douglas Luiz’s second-half leveller.
The match was on a knife-edge from that point and McTominay made another key contribution, scoring his fourth goal off the bench four minutes from time to seal the points at Villa Park.
Emery may well be wondering how his side ended Sunday’s match without so much as a point as Erik ten Hag celebrates his first Premier League away win in charge against a side in the top eight.
Furthermore, this was the first time this season that United have managed to win four straight matches in all competitions.
Raphael Varane replaced injured Lisandro Martinez in the United starting line-up, but Ten Hag otherwise kept faith with the side that secured a clearly confidence-boosting win against West Ham.
United began with confidence and purpose at Villa Park, where Marcus Rashford’s roaring run from his own half ended with Diego Carlos stopping Alejandro Garnacho’s cross finding Hojlund.
Harry Maguire headed over a corner before Villa’s Brazilian centre-back produced another key intervention, blocking Hojlund’s shot from a cute Bruno Fernandes pass.
Garnacho flashed an effort wide from 20 yards and United’s pressure in the 17th minute.
Maguire rose above Boubacar Kamara to meet Fernandes’ set-piece, with his header falling for unmarshalled Hojlund to swipe home from close range in front of the hushed Holte End.
Only Nicolas Anelka managed to score in five successive Premier League appearances at a younger age than United the summer signing, who turned 21 last weekend.
The goal awoke Villa from their slumber. Jacob Ramsey and Leon Bailey had attempts before John McGinn’s 20-yard thunderbolt forced Andre Onana into a reaction save.
The United goalkeeper bravely raced out to deny Ollie Watkins soon after and, following some treatment, saw Ramsey strike wide.
Maguire blocked another strike by Villa’s home-grown midfielder, with McGinn trying to catch Onana out with a cheeky free-kick from wide on the right.
Victor Lindelof came on as a makeshift left-back in place of Luke Shaw at half-time and Villa immediately got joy down his flank, with Watkins meeting a cross with a strike straight at Onana.
But it was no longer one-way traffic. Rashford spun and underhit an effort at Emiliano Martinez before then and continued to look lively along with Garnacho.
Villa were causing problems at the other end without creating clear-cut chances.
Frustration could have built, especially after losing Kamara to injury, but the home faithful stuck with their team and were rewarded with a 67th-minute equaliser.
Onana stopped Clement Lenglet scoring an unorthodox equaliser from a corner, but Villa kept play alive and Bailey’s driven, deflected ball was turned home from six yards by Luiz.
The Holte End erupted but there was a sharp intake of breath just three minutes later when Garnacho cut in and flashed just wide.
Villa looked more likely to grab a winner and Diogo Dalot was fortunate to see his fluffed clearance met by a similarly mishit Luiz strike, with substitute Moussa Diaby wasting an opportunity.
Garnacho also had an effort as the clock wound down, with United digging deep to score a late winner.
Kobbie Mainoo showed great footwork and awareness on the right to lay-off for Dalot to hit a first-time cross that McTominay beat Matty Cash to, with the ball flying past Martinez.
Watkins and Cash had late efforts but United were not to be denied on the road.