A Phil Jones goal was enough to earn Manchester United all the points in a dreadful match
Aston Villa's home record against Manchester United is beyond pathetic. Since winning The Alan Hansen Game® on the opening day of the 1995/96 season, they've beaten United once in 20 league and cup games on their own patch. That was a 3-0 League Cup win in October 1999, against a team containing Michael Twiss, Luke Chadwick, Ronnie Wallwork, Michael Clegg, John Curtis and Jordi Cruyff.
Their overall record during that period? P20, W1, D6, L13, F13, A30. Beyond pathetic.
Last year, of course, Gerard Houllier's side played brilliantly for 81 minutes while establishing a 2-0 lead. The game, naturally, ended 2-2, Villa in the final throes desperate to hear the final whistle.
Still, let's give Villa fans something to hold onto. The last three times this fixture has been played: draw, draw, draw. That's something, isn't it?
Kick off: 5.30pm.
Aston Villa: Given, Hutton, Warnock, Dunne, Collins, Jenas, Albrighton, Bannan, Herd, Bent, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Ireland, Delph, Heskey, Petrov, Clark, Guzan, Cuellar.
Manchester United: Lindegaard, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Jones, Rooney, Young, Hernandez.
Subs: De Gea, Evans, Giggs, Park, Welbeck, Fletcher, Valencia.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
Charles N'Zogbia isn't in the Villa squad, you'll note. He's broken some club rule or other, and as a direct consequence, Alex McLeish is with the rage.
Something I've not noticed before: Chris Waddle has popped on a couple of pounds since retiring. Nothing wrong with that. Anyway, he's just been filling the ESPN screen before embarking on his commentary, and here's the thing: with his swept-back hair and new lived-in fuller face, he is slowly beginning to resemble Ferenc Puskas in the Hungarian legend's latter years. A pretty good look for a footballer, on the whole.
The teams are out. Aston Villa in their Victorian claret and blue, United in black-and-blue hoops. "Villa fans could also hold on to the fact that they will be outclassing United in at least one position, that being their keeper," suggests Brendan Large. "The problem possibly being that he will probably have to prove it for them to take anything from this game."
A minute's applause for the departed Gary Speed. It's as warm as you'd expect for a man universally liked within the game. On the bench, Speed's former team-mate Ryan Giggs looks very grim indeed. On the pitch, Shay Given is once again struggling with his emotions. "There's only one Gary Speed," chant the crowd towards the end of the tribute.
And we're off! Villa kick off, with the emphasis on kick, hoofing it long. The ball's battered up and down the pitch for the first few seconds. "Judging by how predictable the scores have been against the top boys today, I feel certain Villa will show their teeth and not just roll over like a cat before a great slavering hound from hell (or somewhere near the M56)," writes Ian Copestake.
2 min: The ball's played down the left by Evra for Young. The former Villa winger can't get near the pass, but that doesn't stop the Holte End booing a wee bit at their former charge. It's not loud, but it's loud enough.
5 min: No real shape to this match yet. And nothing much going on.
7 min: Nani cuts inside from the right, but his low ball towards Hernandez is cut out by Collins. However, Hernandez has gone down with nobody around him. It looks as though he's twisted his left ankle as he changed direction. He's shaking his head, waving to the bench, and is in some pain. He'll not be taking any further part in this game.
11 min: The stretcher is out for Hernandez. Your MBM reporter Dr Murray (not that one) has, of course, no idea whatsoever how serious this is, but there are splints being attached to his leg and the poor lad's holding his hands to his head. He knew something was wrong instantly.
12 min: Valencia comes on for the stricken Hernandez.
14 min: Young zips down the left - to another chorus of boos - but his cross into the area is hoofed clear by Collins. The Villa defender is on hand again to harry Nani about half a minute later, as the winger - pushed up front in the wake of Hernandez - tries to turn with his back to goal on the edge of the area.
15 min: Nani causes a lot of bother down the inside-left channel. He's looking very busy indeed all of a sudden. He lays the ball back to Jones, who nearly clears the Holte End with a dismal shot from distance.
17 min: Villa have done absolutely nothing up front so far. Manchester United are being allowed to play in the manner of a home team. Which, given their record here, is fair enough I suppose. "Looks aren't the only thing the Galloping Major shares with Chris Waddle," opines Gary Naylor. "Both speak a language impossible for non-natives of their homeland to understand."
19 min: Valencia wins a corner down the right. The ball's swung in, Vidic wins a header, and Smalling is allowed to turn and shoot. His effort is blocked the nanosecond it flies off his boot.
20 min: GOAL!!! Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United. This was so simple, yet a very good goal. Evra bombs down the inside-left channel, then slips the ball outside for Nani, who centres for Jones to sidefoot powerfully home from eight yards. It's his first goal for Manchester United. A really crisp finish. That goal had been coming. Villa Park reacts with a resigned sigh.
22 min: A corner for Villa down the right, Evra conceding it needlessly. No matter, Herd wins a header from it, but there's no pace on the effort and Lindegaard claims with a yawn. Villa have been absolutely diabolical so far, though in mitigation United have been passing it around very nicely indeed. Difficult to say how much of this is down to the home side's abject defeatism.
25 min: Dunne lets a ball bouncing down the middle of the park sail over his head. Rooney races onto it and slips the ball out right to Valencia, who dinks the ball into the centre for Nani to head straight at Given from 12 yards. Not a great attempt by Nani, in truth, but very simple, effective football from United otherwise. Villa are currently a shameful shambles.
27 min: From deep on the left, Bannan swings a free kick into the area. To the right of goal, ten yards out, Dunne wins a header, but can only guide it miles wide right. On the touchline, Alex McLeish dances a little jig of frustration, and throws his arms around in semaphore shapes for a while.
28 min: A minute or so's possession for Villa ends up with the ball being shuttled back to Given. For the first time in the match, the home side register their frustration with this nonsense they're being served up. Bannan tries to make something happen down the inside-left channel, but runs the ball out of play. At least he's giving it a go.
31 min: Valencia, 30 yards out, is given all the time in the world to size up a shot. He's not far away from dispatching a pearler into the top left. On the bench, Alex McLeish, I assume to ESPN's chagrin, emits a loud, rasping "FAACKIN' HELL!!!" before racing to the touchline and skipping around in a manner which suggests he's got the burners up to 11.
34 min: Bent requires some treatment on his right arm, which he's somehow jiggered while wandering around achieving nothing whatsoever. He's good to continue, but doesn't look happy.
37 min: Given rushes out from his area to hoof the ball upfield, and twangs his left hamstring while doing so. He'll not be continuing this match. He can't put any weight on his left leg at all. He tries to walk off, but stumbles around like a Saturday-night drunk, and has to be carried off.
39 min: Brad Guzan comes on for Given, the poor chap being loaded onto a stretcher pitchside.
40 min: There's no shape or rhythm to this now. United may as well have the cigars on, so comfortable are they. Despite the deficiency of quality in Villa's play, they've been very impressive indeed, without once having to move out of second gear.
42 min: Albrighton crosses deep from the right. Lindegaard, taking David de Gea's place for this exhibition match, punches clear. This can't be too different to sitting on the bench for him.
44 min: Albrighton breaks down the right, and swings a low cross into the area. But he's got nobody to aim for, there's nobody there. Albrighton and Bannan are the only two Villa players who have made any attempt whatsoever to propel their team forward, but it's a futile battle. "I've never seen a game where the words 'beaten before they start' fit better," writes Hubert O'Hearn. "Maybe it's United's jammy-like jerseys that are lulling Villa to sleep. I actually had hopes for the game when I saw those jammy-tops. I'd hoped they'd be like Liverpool's green change strip which they almost never, ever win in. Think I'll take a nap. Or continue watching. Same difference."
45 min: A couple of niggly fouls: Young on Hutton, Collins on Young. No real dramas. There will be eight added minutes in this half.
45 min +1: There's absolutely no atmosphere in Villa Park, save the pocket of United fans who are understandably happy enough. A real sense of a club drifting aimlessly, going absolutely nowhere. I wonder how long this Alex McLeish business will last.
45 min +3: Evra wins a corner down the left. Jones swings the ball into the mixer from that wing. Villa clear. Herd plays what looks like a long pass upfield, but the camera pans out, and the well-timed comedy reveal shows there's no Villa player upfield whatsoever. This is abject from Villa, a real shameful show.
45 min +5: Jones wins a free kick with one of the most ludicrous dives you'll see for a while. The set piece is right in the centre, nearly 30 yards from goal. Nani takes a shot. The ball balloons off the wall and goes out wide right for a corner. Nothing comes from it. This is little more than a training-ground exercise at the moment. United are strutting around like they own the place, which they kind of do.
HALF TIME: Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United. A very decent half of football from the champions, and a lovely goal by Phil Jones. But a shameful lack of ambition from Aston Villa, who should be better than this. Even if that's not possible, shouldn't they at least try to aim for the stars? Dear me. Villa are booed from the pitch by their own frustrated fans, and no wonder.
Apologies to United fans, but after that, your counterparts at Villa surely deserve a reminder of better times.
And we're off again! Hopefully two teams will come out to play this time. United set the ball rolling.
47 min: ESPN have taken to scrolling tweets across the bottom of the screen as the game is being played. FOR GOD'S SAKE. Is there no escape from effing Twitter and this have-your-say mania?
48 min: Rooney drags a low shot wide left from 25 yards. Villa are showing no signs of upping the tempo; they've hardly come flying out of the blocks.
51 min: Warnock drifts down the left but his cross can't beat the first man. Agbonlahor has a second go down the same wing, and wins a corner. Nothing comes of it. "Do you think Villa would be a decent candidate to pick up Johnny Evans next summer?" wonders Nick White. "They must have the ambition to be next summer's Sunderland, and mop up the poorer half of Man U's bench."
53 min: Rooney and Nani take turns to probe down the left wing. Nani swings a ball into the area, but there's nobody there in a blue-and-black shirt. This afternoon's game between Newcastle United and Chelsea was a wonderful show, the Premier League at its best. This is the league's dismal worst.
54 min: News of Hernandez: he's got ankle ligament damage.
55 min: Nani has a shot from the best part of 40 yards. I think he might be bored.
58 min: O lordy, this is appalling. Luckily, Peter Crosby has emailed in to while away a couple of minutes, albeit highlighting my hypocrisy (47 min) by doing so. "AHEM," he coughs, pointing towards the Twitter feed down the right-hand side of this page. Oh yes, that. Ha. Fiddling around behind the shop window as I am, I don't have to look at that, and forgot about it accordingly. I feel your pain. Could you cover it up with a post-it note?
60 min: Here's a fact: Herd is the only Villa player to have taken a shot on goal today. Alex McLeish isn't having any of that attacking carry-on, and so hauls him off, replacing him with Petrov.
64 min: Jenas is down now, having been felled by thin air, nobody near him. He's being stretchered off. He looked back as he fell, glancing at the pitch, as though he stepped in a hole, perhaps. This is becoming farcical. Heskey comes on in his stead.
65 min: Giggs comes on for Ferdinand, Jones dropping back into central defence. "One of my Dad's pet peeves at the moment is clubs overwatering pitches," writes Adam Timmins, "but with the amount of players that have been injured here, maybe he has a point?"
67 min: Rooney slides Young in down the left. Young flashes a low ball across the six-yard box. Valencia can't reach it, but no matter, as Young was flagged offside anyway.
70 min: For all Villa's lethargy today, they should now be level. Agbonlahor wins a corner when his looping shot from the edge of the area is deflected. From the corner on the right, Dunne wins a header, the ball reaching Heskey a couple of yards out, just to the left of goal. Heskey must get something on target, and probably should score, but does neither, sending a dreadful effort well left of goal from close range.
73 min: Valencia reaches the byline on the right, and dinks a cross into the centre. Somehow, Dunne and Collins combine to hack clear. The ball soon comes back at them, Young lashing a low shot just wide left of goal. "If I email in to say I agree with you about 'have-your-say mania', does that make me part of the problem?" wonders Mark Gillies. It's a philosophical condundrum, for sure. But I'm saying no, at least for now. First we take Twitter. Then maybe declare war on the bottom half of the internet. We can deal with any inherent inconsistencies in the MBM's position once those battles have been won.
76 min: Lindegaard has something to do, and he flaps at a cross. Corner for Villa. The keeper then redeems himself, Collins crashing a header towards the top-right corner which is brilliantly tipped over. Nothing comes of the second corner. "I don't watch a lot of Villa; and now I know why," writes Chris Caulfield. "If this was the Israeli second division I'd be disappointed."
78 min: A lovely flowing move by United: Rooney on the right, Giggs in the middle, Young cutting in from the left to sidefoot powerfully on target, but into Guzan's arms. "The arrival of Heskey is the definitive proof that McLeish is determined to curb Villa's attacking play," quips Ciaran McGowan, albeit without much cheer in his voice.
79 min: Young goes off, Welbeck comes on. The home crowd are so defeated by the turgid fare on display that they can't even be bothered to boo their former player any more.
82 min: There's no urgency from either team. To be fair to United, they're leading and under no obligation to push it.
84 min: Bannan sails a free kick into the United box from the centre circle. The ball flies over everyone's head.
87 min: Welbeck twists and turns down the inside-left channel, and into the area, and eventually out of play. A pretty run at the tail end of a very ugly match.
88 min: Rooney lashes an effort over the bar from 12 yards, after a crisp one-two with Carrick splits Villa open. "Is the fourth official allowed to subtract minutes rather than add them?" begs John Beaven.
89 min: Chasing a bouncing ball down the inside-right channel, Bent runs into the back of Vidic and claims a penalty. The referee is quite rightly having none of it.
90 min: Rooney runs and runs towards the Villa area. He finally slips Welbeck in down the left. Welbeck sidefoots into the bottom right, a lovely finish, but Rooney had delayed the pass too long, and his team-mate was offside. Very poor play by Rooney.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes of this. They will seem like 33. Heskey has a shot from the edge of the area. It goes out FOR A THROW on the left. God almighty.
90 min +2: This is the 100th of 101 minutes we'll never get back.
FULL TIME: Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United. That was possibly the worst game of football ever played. No blame attached to United, who did what they had to do, away from home. Villa, however, were nothing short of an ambition-free disgrace. Premier League football isn't cheap, and their fans deserve better entertainment than that. The home fans - the ones who could be bothered to stay until the end - boo their team off. To repeat a question from the first half: I wonder how long this Alex McLeish business will last?