Hosts squander two-goal lead at Villa Park...
The hosts went 2-0 up thanks to goals from Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton in the second half but late strikes from Federico Macheda and Nemanja Vidic rescued a point for the Red Devils at Villa Park.
The injury-riddled hosts began the match tentatively while United looked calm and composed so it wasn't surprising the first chance of the game fell to Sir Alex Ferguson's men.
A darting run by Javier Hernandez drew Villa’s central defenders James Collins and Richard Dunne towards him, leaving Dimitar Berbatov unmarked. The Mexican then toe-poked a pass through to the Bulgarian forward, and despite calls for off-side the flag stayed down.
Berbatov, who has suffered a lean spell of late, was one-on-one with Brad Friedel, but dragged his shot wide.
The close call seemed to wake Villa up and they drummed up two good chances to score before the half-time interval.
A long ball was beautifully controlled by Stewart Downing, whose touch took it away from a defender. His right foot shot took a deflection and with Edwin Van der Sar beaten, the ball slid past the post.
From the resulting corner, Richard Dunne found himself completely free but could only plant a weak header into the ground, which popped up into the grateful arms of the United goalkeeper.
The second period began in the same vein with Villa looking ever more likely to break the deadlock. On 53 minutes, the home team had their best opportunity.
Stewart Downing, bent a delicious cross in from the left wing. It bamboozled Patrice Evra who looked all at sea as Albrighton stole around the back of him. The young winner did the right thing by cushioning a header across Van der Sar, but watched his effort go agonisingly past the post.
United looked rattled, especially Nani who was being harangued by the crowd and nullified by Villa’s organised midfield and defence. After a number of niggling challenges the Portuguese was booked for throwing an arm across Stephen Warnock’s face. After Luke Young returned the favour by hobbling Nani, Hernandez let the heat get to him and a rash challenge on Albrighton put him in the book.
Villa were looking more like potential champions than United and on 66 minutes came closest to scoring. Another glorious ball by Downing picked out James Collins and his bullet header ricocheted off the bar with Van der Sar totally beaten.
A minute later it was the post that saved United. Good work on the left threaded a ball through to Ashley Young, he couldn’t control and Gabriel Agbonlahor, following up, hit a shot against the woodwork.
It was no surprise that Villa’s pressure finally paid off. A great ball down the right allowed Agbonlahor to stretch his legs against Nemanja Vidic. The Englishman beat the defender to the ball and managed to squirt a cross into the box.
As Ashley Young advanced, he was bundled over by Wes Brown. It was a clear penalty and Brown was lucky not to be dismissed. After all the dominance the situation commanded a cool head and Young provided that, slotting the penalty past Van der Sar.
It was the wake-up call for the match. Suddenly the game was stretched beyond recognition. For Villa, it was a blessing because they doubled their lead with the best move of the match and possibly the season, so far.
Macheda, who had just come on for the ineffective Berbatov, lost the ball in Villa’s half and the home team broke through Young. His run took him to the edge of the area, before he helped the ball on to the overlapping Downing.
His ball across the box was inch perfect, and with United’s defence stretched, Albrighton finally took his chance and planted his shot into the back of the net. It was only what Villa deserved.
This seemed to kick United into life for the first time in the match. After a spell of constant pressure, Darren Fletcher picked the ball up on the edge of the area. A fantastic piece of skill delivered the ball into the path of Macheda, who made up for his part in Villa’s second goal, by rifling a shot into the roof of the net.
Villa were shell-shocked, and United sensed their weakness. Eventually, this pressure told. A ball over from the left, from the otherwise quiet Nani, found Vidic at the back post, and he directed his header across Friedel for the equaliser.
It had been a bedlam fifteen minutes with four goals and end-to-end football. With both teams believing they could nick the game, the closing stages were as frenzied as the preceding quarter of an hour.
Neither team however, could break the deadlock, and as Mike Dean blew his whistle, both teams can look back with pride at their hand in what was a thrilling game.