Villa's kids denied by Vidic
Aston Villa 2 Man Utd 2
It must be true what they say, and they said it here first, that you never win anything with kids. An Aston Villa side barely old enough to shave held a two-goal lead against Manchester United with less than 10 minutes to go, yet were undone by a double substitution and the team that never gives up.
The cliches don't stop there either. This was the ultimate game of two halves. The first one was as soporific as the second was stupendous. Villa were playing out of their skins by the time the hugely promising Marc Albrighton put them two-up, but United know how to rescue situations and once they got stuck into the game they made their opponents feel presumptuous for assuming the matter was settled. The home side gave their fans an afternoon of rare promise and high excitement, though in the end they did not take enough of the excellent chances they created. United hardly created anything, yet managed to take something from the game by sheer force of personality.
"If you had offered me 2-2 at the start of the game, with the kids I had in the team, I would have taken it," Gerard Houllier said. "When you see the second half though, we should have won. We created chances but didn't put the ball in the net. I thought we had done enough to win, but two goals were not enough against United."
All smiles at the end despite a sixth draw in seven away league matches, Alex Ferguson was not about to disagree. "We could have conceded six goals in the second half, we were all over the place," he said. "We were running high on emotion at the end, the match was boiling up a bit and the referee let a few things go. We saw a great game today. Another five minutes and we'd have won."
The United manager was half right. It was a great second half. United were able to put a strongish side out, despite all their injuries and Paul Scholes' suspension, while Houllier had to raid his academy ranks for practically the whole Villa midfield. It was men against boys, but the kids did all right. It was United who looked callow and insipid for most of the game, failing to impose themselves on the young side Villa before raising themselves only when defeat stared them in the face.
The home side themselves were fairly anonymous and unadventurous at first, yet seemed to realise during the interval that United had nothing more to offer and went for the win. Albrighton missed a sitter at the start of the second half, missing the target with a free header, James Collins headed against the bar and Gabriel Agbonlahor struck a post before the Villa breakthrough came with a penalty.
For all their energy and invention, with Barry Bannan playing a couple of inspired passes and Albrighton going past Patrice Evra in style, Villa conspicuously lacked punch and belief up front. The second half was a different story, with Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Agbonlahor all stepping up. It was a Wes Brown foul to prevent Young reaching Agbonlahor's pass that earned Villa a penalty and the opening goal, then five minutes later Young and Downing combined on the left for the latter's cross to leave Albrighton a tap in.
That seemed to be that, except it rarely is with United. Ferguson withdrew both his ineffective strikers (Dimitar Berbatov completely missed the target with the best chance of the first half) and sent on Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan in their place. Almost immediately Albrighton had to clear off his own line from Rio Ferdinand as the United revival began.
Macheda latched decisively onto Darren Fletcher's back-heel to give United hope, then five minutes from the end, from a Nani cross, Nemanja Vidic stooped low to head an unlikely equaliser. With five minutes of added time, United still had 10 minutes to win the game, whatever Ferguson was wishing for, but Villa just held out. Their kids looked visibly older by the final whistle.