The Aston Villa striker scores his fourth goal in four seasons against the Red Devils as the Midlands club leaves Old Trafford with three points.
Agbonlahor the scourge of United again
Manchester United failed to produce any late heroics as Gabriel Agbonlahor's first-half goal earned Aston Villa their first win at Old Trafford since 1983. Sir Alex Ferguson described Federico Macheda's sensational injury-time effort in the corresponding fixture last term as the defining moment of United's season. It is too early for Agbonlahor's header to be described in the same way, but on a day when United were in action after Chelsea had stumbled unexpectedly on home soil, it was a poor result for the hosts. Although Villa headed north without a win for so long, they did have the confidence of victories against both Chelsea and Liverpool this season to fall back on. Martin O'Neill's teams tend to be regarded as solid and durable rather than exciting. But Stewart Downing's recovery from long-term injury has released James Milner into central midfield and, as Fabio Capello and Sir Alex Ferguson have noted, he can be useful going forward.
While Villa themselves might not have enjoyed the best of times against United of late, Agbonlahor has not done too badly. The England striker had scored in the past three seasons against the Red Devils, so he was completing a rather impressive four-timer when he nodded home Ashley Young's right-wing cross. Agbonlahor had already shown impressive strength to hold off Wes Brown, then spotted his opportunity after rolling a pass to Young, darting into the space where he expected the cross to come. Brown might be criticised for not sticking to his man, but Tomasz Kuszczak was equally culpable, edging four yards off his line and then stopping as he realised he had no chance of cutting it out.
The cross duly came and, with Kuszczak in no man's land, Agbonlahor steered his header into the net. It could quite easily have been two by half-time as Kuszczak's indecisiveness spread through a defence supposedly bolstered by the return of Brown and Nemanja Vidic. Agbonlahor harried Darren Fletcher off the ball after the Scot had received a pass he was not expecting from Kuszczak. Instead of going for goal himself he unselfishly tried to present Emile Heskey with a tap-in. This time Kuszczak redeemed himself. United were not exactly a muted force, it was just that their efforts tended to be half-chances rather than clear opportunities.
Antonio Valencia was a threat but was caught on his heels when Wayne Rooney flicked an inspired pass to the near post. Rooney was also booked for a blatant dive when he went down anticipating a challenge from Luke Young which never actually arrived. It was Rooney who saw his shot crash off the bar after a brilliant piece of close control when he received Patrice Evra's low cross. United's efforts were underwhelming enough for Ferguson to introduce Michael Owen at the break. Like Ryan Giggs, it was a rare off-day for Rooney, who failed to take a couple of those half-chances that kept coming United's way.
If that was not bad enough, after flattening Downing, Rooney raced at the Villa goal then woefully overhit a through-ball intended for Dimitar Berbatov. Not that the Bulgarian had anyone to blame but himself when Michael Carrick charged forward on the overlap and invited the finish with a precise cut-back. It looked certain to be the equaliser, but Berbatov failed to make a proper connection. Downing was perfectly placed to boot a Vidic header off the line with 10 minutes remaining as the game entered the phase where last year Villa's victory hopes were so cruelly snatched away from them. Carrick drove another late effort wide. * PA Sport