Last updated : 29 December 2004 By editor

'Siege mentality clearly becomes Manchester United. It is almost one of football’s commandments that no sooner is the drawbridge hoisted at Old Trafford than their players respond with an emphatic victory. The latest United state of emergency, self-imposed because of Wayne Rooney’s slap in the face of Tal Ben Haim, the Bolton Wanderers defender, generated the usual reaction at Villa Park last night.

A goal richly merited by the excellent Ryan Giggs was sufficient to beat Aston Villa and lift United to third in the table as normal service was resumed in the Barclays Premiership. The big three are now primed for their own private title race in the new year with United poised to advance on the strength of a determined run that has delivered 22 points from their past eight league games.

The absence of the injured Louis Saha and Ruud van Nistelrooy is negligible when United have Giggs in this sort of form. At 31, the Wales winger seems to have matured like a vintage wine. Little wonder the club is so keen to retain his services with the offer of a new contract, though Giggs believes the one-year extension on offer to be meagre.

His pace and movement were mesmerising throughout and Thomas Sorensen was required to make an excellent save to deny him in the 22nd minute. Indeed, at one stage, Sorensen’s goalmouth seemed under a constant barrage; it was only a matter of time before a shot hit the mark and, fittingly, it was Giggs who applied the finishing touch four minutes before half-time. Steve Davis might have intercepted the touchline pass from John O’Shea but, instead, his touch rolled the ball invitingly to Giggs, who took a stride and drove low past Sorensen from 16 yards.

But for a glaring miss by Alan Smith in the dying moments, the scoreline would have reflected United’s dominance. The forward smacked a close-range tap-in against the bar with an open goal gaping. The fans may rightly ask how he did that. Men on grassy knolls and another conspiracy theory may be unfolding in the United dressing-room.'