Manchester United 3 Aston Villa 1
United could and should have at least doubled their advantage but some wayward finishing and a superb performance by Villa goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen made it a respectable result for the visitors.
While most of United's forward shone, Wayne Rooney had yet another frustrating game.
Without a goal in his last six games, Rooney tried harder and harder to break the spell but the more he tried the more frustrating it became.
He was denied by Sorensen from close range and one superb curling shot hit the bar, but his present form was better epitomised by his 76th minute booking for a needless foul on Villa striker Milan Baros.
Rooney's class is such that someone soon will be in for a hammering. Until then he can at least relax in the knowledge that those around him are scoring the goals.
Against Villa, Ji-Sung Park, Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo provided the goals.
Sorensen produced the first of several super saves when he tipped Henrik Larsson's fifth minute header from a Gary Neville cross away one handed at full stretch.
But the Red Devils had only six minutes to wait before breaking the deadlock when the exemplary Paul Scholes sprayed one of his trademark passes to Neville on the right.
Neville's cross caused panic in the Villa defence. Park pounced and, although his shot was blocked, Gary Cahill made a hash of his clearance and Park rifled in the rebound from 12 yards.
Two minutes later, Villa's defence again wilted under the pressure. Carrick found Park on the right and the South Korean beat Gareth Barry to return the ball to his fellow midfielder who scored with a crisp shot from 12 yards.
United's domination was rewarded with their third goal in the 35th minute when Villa's defending again resembled a farce.
Villa failed to clear a dreadful Carrick corner. Gavin McCann dwelt too long on the ball and was robbed by the spirited Park who worked the ball back to Carrick. The England man crossed from the right side of the box to the far post where Ronaldo darted in to score with a clinical downward header from six yards.
Villa boss Martin O'Neill brought on Jlloyd Samuel and Steven Davis for Wilfred Bouma and Aaron Hughes at the start of the second half and the visitors at last began to believe in themselves.
The unmarked Scholes directed a header at Sorensen from Neville's cross in the 51st minute but within a minute Villa were on the scoresheet.
Baros skimmed Nemanja Vidic as he raced down the right and along the byline before delivering a low cross into the centre which was stabbed home by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Although Villa threatened they created few real chances, while United missed a number of sitters.
The two best came when Sorensen saved well from Rooney's point-blank effort and Cahill cleared a Louis Saha shot off his own line in the 68th minute.
Rooney hit the bar six minutes later, but although it was not to be his day it was certainly United's.