Villa 1 United 1- Verdict

Last updated : 11 February 2010 By Manchester Evening News

On a freezing cold night in Birmingham the Wembley showpiece got a major fillip as the two contenders for the least cherished of the major prizes went toe-to-toe.

And while United had to accept the loss of two points in the Premier League title race, you would think that, if they can keep all 11 men on the pitch in London for 90 minutes, they will gain revenge along with the three-handled silver pot at the end of the month.

Nani won't be adding to his recently rising stock under the Arch after he put United under pressure by getting himself sent off at Villa Park. And while he will be hugely aggrieved not to be in contention to play thanks to a ban for a straight red, he will, no doubt, be thanking his colleagues on the way back up the M6 for ensuring his torment wasn't made worse by defeat.

Sir Alex Ferguson is now at pains to ensure some continuity in his selection and six of his XI at Villa Park have played the last four matches.

But there is still room for some freshening up and tactical manoeuvre.

Thus Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes replaced Antonio Valencia to beef up the midfield and scorer against Portsmouth, Dimitar Berbatov, was sacrificed as the 4-4-2 system was shelved for the time being.

Teenage Brazilian Rafael's youthful pace was favoured over Gary Neville in a bid to combat the lightning pace of Villa's left side.

The excess of personnel in United's engine room didn't really do the job initially as Villa were quicker, snappier and far more effective in the tackle - and it gave the home side the advantage.

It was from that base that Villa built and took the lead. Stewart Downing whipped in a 19th-minute cross which bounced off Rafael and looped up for Carlos Cuellar to loop an instinctive reaction header over Edwin Van der Sar.

Back in December when Martin O'Neill's side won 1-0 at Old Trafford, the champions were an uncertain unit low on imagination and such a setback was a mountain for them.

But two months on the Reds have topped up their confidence tank and Villa's goal was merely an irritation.

Of course, United have also had more than their fair share of luck where own goals are concerned this campaign - the Reds' second highest total on their score chart is in the OG column. That stat was swelled by a hat-trick of them from Portsmouth last Saturday and it grew even further as United forced James Collins into a panicked attempt at a clearance just four minutes after going behind.

A sweeping move deserved a reward and Nani's deep cross was met with a superb Giggs volley that Collins turned into his own net.

But just as you thought Lady Luck was riding alongside the Reds once again, she nipped off for a break.

Five minutes after drawing level and with Nani having been instrumental in the equaliser the Portuguese winger's brave new world came crashing down around his ears.

The 23-year-old has expressed his wish to be a story-maker for United, but he has written better scripts of late as a fresh black mark was penned next to his name as he suffered his second sending-off of his United career.

Back in May 2008 he ended his debut season at Old Trafford with a senseless head butt against West Ham that got him red-carded.


He looks a more mature character these days but, while the Reds' camp might argue with his sending-off last night, it was a reckless studs-up challenge on Petrov that was, at best, going to look foolish and, at worst, dangerous.


At normal speed it looked the latter and referee Lee Mason had no hesitation in pouring cold water on Nani's hot run of form.

He has been the unexpected back-up to a red-hot Wayne Rooney. His width, threat to defenders and improved delivery has been just what the champions had been searching for.

They have lost that now for the games against Everton, West Ham and, cruelly for the winger, the Carling Cup final against Villa.

A one-man disadvantage not so long ago would have been too much to cope with, but they gallantly battled the deficit against a side who have Champions League aspirations.

Indeed, United were the side most likely to win when Antonio Valencia came on for Paul Scholes at half time to replace the width lost by Nani's early exit and Rooney got his teeth into the lone task up front.

Both had glorious chances in the second half and left the home crowd frustrated that their team, who performed so well at Old Trafford, had so few ideas.

The fans' take on proceding wouldn't have given the Reds credit for a battling display that you felt would have secured three points had the rejuvenated Nani spent the whole game on the pitch.


Source: Manchester Evening News

Source: M.E.N.