Ashley Young won another controversial penalty to send the hosts on their way as they restored their five-point gap over neighbours Man City with a commanding win over VillaWayne Rooney and strikes from Danny Welbeck and Nani were enough see off Aston Villa and restore Manchester United’s five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Ashley Young stirred up fresh controversy as he won the penalty which Rooney despatched to set United on their way, before Welbeck added a second from close range shortly before the break.
Rooney netted again fifteen minutes from time and Nani slotted home late on as the champions coasted to victory against a lacklustre Villa side.
United went into the match with the hangover of Wigan on Wednesday perhaps still on their minds. Sir Alex Ferguson recalled Paul Scholes to the heart of midfield after he was rested for the defeat at the DW Stadium, while Danny Welbeck was preferred to Javier Hernandez up front.
The visitors opted for a five-man midfield, with Austrian Under-21 international Andreas Weimann deployed wide on the left as new club captain Gabby Agbonlahor played the solo role up top.
It was Weimann who had the first chance of the match with just a couple of minutes on the clock as he beat the offside trap from a long ball, but his left-footed effort lacked power and it was a comfortable save for De Gea.
United were awarded a dubious penalty in the opening stages of last weekend’s clash with QPR and, with less than ten minutes on the clock, lightning struck for a second time at Old Trafford.
Ashley Young, who was criticised for his part in the dismissal of Shaun Derry last week, jinked his way into the Villa penalty area where he made contact with the standing leg of Ciaran Clark. Referee Mark Halsey pointed straight to the spot, and Rooney sent Shay Given the wrong way to put the hosts in front.
Replays showed that contact was minimal, but the young defender was always running a risk by leaving his leg trailing off the ground, and Rooney made no mistake in slotting home his side’s 47th home league goal of the season.
The hosts began to dictate proceedings, with the returning Scholes at the heart of the action, and United came close to adding a second with two good chances in the space of a minute as first Welbeck and then Rooney were denied.
The young England striker was proving a real threat for the hosts, and James Collins had to be alert mniutes later as he blocked another Welbeck effort over the bar.
Villa had offered little threat in the United half, with former Manchester City man Stephen Ireland’s curling shot the only effort to speak of as the hosts dominated proceedings.
Valencia and Rafael were causing some real problems down the Villa left, and they combined again before the former Wigan man fired the ball across the box to Welbeck at the near post, but Given was on hand to turn his first-time effort over the bar.
The Old Trafford crowd was becoming restless as a stout Villa defence began to frustrate the home side, but with just a couple of minutes to go before the break, Ferguson’s men grabbed that crucial second.
Carrick found Evra down the left after some neat interplay with Rooney, and the Frenchman’s cross was left by the whole of the visiting defence allowing Welbeck to slide in at the far post to divert the ball home.
The second half started as if both sides were resigned to the result, with little action to speak of until the hour mark when substitute Nani turned Valencia’s corner goalwards and it struck the arm of Nathan Baker, but Mark Halsey waved play on.
Villa had improved and De Gea was called upon to tip Emile Heskey’s header over the bar, before Rooney had a great chance to make the points safe but he scuffed his shot wide from 12 yards.
The visitor’s resurgence was short-lived, however, as the hosts finally made the points safe 15 minutes from time.
Rooney fed Valencia to the right of the penalty area, and the winger cut the ball back for the United talisman, whose stabbed effort took a nick of Collins before nestling in the back of Given’s net.
Dimitar Berbatov replaced the England striker for his first appearance in two months as United went in search of a fourth, with Given denying Welbeck and Valencia from close range.
Nani added a fourth in stoppage time, slotting home past Given following Jonny Evans' neat through-ball as the champions eased three points closer to a 20th title.