Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 3

Last updated : 23 December 2006 By Footymad Previewer
Sir Alex Ferguson picked up his usual gift-wrapped present from Aston Villa when Manchester United had little difficulty consolidating their top of the table position.

But it was significant that United only really came to life when Cristiano Ronaldo decided to give the capacity crowd a demonstration of his skill and shooting power.

Ronaldo currently holds the record as the player with most shots on target in the Premiership and it is this ability which makes him the most feared in the division as he demonstrated with two second-half goals.

But for much of the goalless first half he ambled around apparently disenchanted. The defining moment of the game occurred when he produced a close-range header from a Ryan Giggs corner straight at on-loan goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly.

From that moment Ronaldo was switched-on and Villa were to pay dearly for their inability to contain the man from Portugal.

He completely turned the game in the 58th minute with a superb display of ball control, pace and finishing to produce his seventh Premiership goal of the season.

United boss Ferguson must have been concerned with the first-half display but he could have no complaints with the second-half performance when they simply over-powered Villa to highlight the flaws in the Midlands club's line-up.

The United manager certainly attempted to freshen up his side with the surprise decision to put Wayne Rooney on the substitutes bench. It is the first time that Rooney has not started a game when available this season.

Rooney was replaced by Ji-Sung Park who came into the side after a three-month absence as a result of a broken ankle.

The South Korean was not as sharp at the England striker as highlighted midway through the first half when Darren Fletcher found Gary Neville with a through pass.

United's skipper astutely rolled a low pass into the path of Park, but he bumbled his shot wide of the post in what turned out to be a crucial stage of the game.

Villa, who surprisingly had their two most expensive signings, Juan Pablo Angel and Milan Baros on the substitutes bench, competed well and their changed line-up proved quite capable of testing United's far from secure defence.

Their best chance fell to Olof Mellberg when his close-range header from a knock-on from Chris Sutton hit the post and went straight into the waiting arms of Edwin Van der Sar.

As the game began to drift neither side could really get on top. The failure of Ronaldo to make any kind of impression was the main factor from United's point of view.

The second half was an entirely different tale just because Ronaldo was able to impose himself on the proceedings.

He produced the first goal entirely from his own effort when he collected the ball just inside Villa's half and then raced headlong at the opposition defence to end with a rasping shot.

The ball cannoned off Gary Cahill straight back to Ronaldo who gleefully hammered his shot home in the 58th minute.

There was an immediate feeling that the whole complexion of the game had changed and in 64th minute a Giggs corner was headed out by Gavin McCann to the lonely Paul Scholes, who volleyed the ball home from fully 25 yards.

This goal ended any hopes of a Villa comeback and United sealed their comfortable win when Ronaldo was on hand at the far post to tap home following a low right-wing cross from Neville.

Villa are to meet United on two more occasions over the next three weeks and following this defeat they have now gone seven games without a win.

If Martin O'Neill needed a wake-up call, this latest defeat was a warning he cannot afford to ignore.

Meanwhile, United are now unbeaten on their last 12 visits to Villa Park and Villa have not been able to score in any of the last four games against the Red Devils in this sequence.