Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1: Phil Jones seals narrow win
Phil Jones scored the only goal of a tight game between Aston Villa and Manchester United in the Premier League at Villa Park
Phil Jones struck in the first half to seal a vital three points for Manchester United as they stuttered to victory against Aston Villa.
The centre-half was on hand to meet Nani’s cross and produce a sublime finish past Shay Given to edge the visitors ahead in the 20th minute.
Villa manager Alex McLeish brought on Emile Heskey after the break in search of an equaliser but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side held on to extend their 16-year unbeaten streak in the Premier League at Villa Park.
The Red Devils’ win closes the gap on derby rivals Manchester City to five points in the table, after Roberto Mancini’s men thrashed Norwich City earlier on Saturday.
United suffered a blow within seven minutes at Villa Park when Javier HernÃ¡ndez was forced off after the Mexican twisted his left ankle as he changed direction to chase down a Nani pass.
But the injury spurred United into action as Nani moved further up front to partner Rooney. And the Portuguese winger left the Villa defenders in disarray after a dazzling run which culminated in Jones smashing the ball into the Villa Park stands.
United were piling on the pressure and made the breakthrough in the 20th minute.
Patrice Evra surged down the left wing before cutting inside and slipping a pass to Nani. Jones then met the winger’s cross ahead of Richard Dunne and deftly side-footed his shot past Given.
McLeish urged a reaction from his side but it was United who continued to press with the movement of Nani, substitute Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young causing the Villa defence problems.
Rooney collected a loose ball and released Valencia, who raced past Stephen Warnock and dinked a delivery into the box which was met by Nani – but his header lacked power, allowing Given to make a comfortable save.
Despite McLeish selecting a defensively minded five-man midfield, United were afforded plenty of space and the Villa manger was left livid after an unchallenged Valencia smashed a ferocious shot onto Given’s crossbar.
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper was substituted shortly after with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Brad Guzan.
With eight minutes of first-half stoppage time, there was still time for Jones to win a free-kick outside the Villa area after a ludicrous dive – but Nani’s subsequent set-piece effort smacked into the wall and rebounded out for a corner.
There was no change in momentum after the interval as United continued to dominate, with Rooney unleashing a speculative effort which whizzed past Guzan’s post.
McLeish opted to introduce Emile Heskey for the injured Jermaine Jenas as Villa looked to employ a more direct tactic.
And from Stilian Petrov’s corner, Dunne glanced a header towards Heskey at Anders Lindegaard’s far post – but the giant striker was unable to direct his effort on target.
United, who had failed to capitalise on their early dominance, started to falter under Villa’s aerial bombardment as James Collins forced Lindegaard into a save after his powerful header appeared destined to rustle the net.
The visitors responded by piecing together a slick move, with Rooney and Ryan Giggs combining to unleash Young, who smacked a fierce effort towards the Villa goal – but Guzan scrambled to make the save.
Substitute Danny Welbeck then thought he had sealed three points for the visitors as full-time approached with a tidy right-footed finish which beat Guzan. However, the United striker was denied by linesman’s flag.
Nevertheless, United clung on through stoppage time to re-close the gap on league leaders Manchester City to five points.
Aston Villa: Shay Given (Brad Guzan, 38), Richard Dunne, James Collins, Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock, Jermaine Jenas (Emile Heskey, 64), Chris Herd (Stilian Petrov, 59), Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent.
Manchester United : Anders Lindegaard, Patrice Evra, Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand (Ryan Giggs, 64), Ashley Young (Danny Welbeck, 79), Michael Carrick, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Javier HernÃ¡ndez (Antonio Valencia, 12).