riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Villa Park and Environs.
Aston Villa are caught in a whirlpool alright, a never-ending cycle in which United come to Villa Park; United win at Villa Park. United come to Villa Park; United win at Villa Park. United come to Villa Park; United win at Villa Park. It's the most predictable outcome in All Football. Look at Villa's home record against United since they won The Alan Hansen Game® in 1995: P21, W1, D6, L14, F13, A31. Look at it! The one win came in the League Cup against a team containing Michael Twiss, Luke Chadwick, Ronnie Wallwork, Michael Clegg, John Curtis and Jordi Cruyff. Should Villa beat United today, the following thunderclap will be heard: Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntro-
Kick off: Shatterday, 5.30pm.
Some much-needed succour for Villa: Paul Lambert's young team are on a three-match unbeaten run after suffering a slow start to the campaign.
Some barely-required succour for United: Sir Alex Ferguson's men have won all but three of their 16 competitive matches this season, and have scored 21 goals in the last seven. They are hot, baby. They're 7-4 on to win this game; hot. In other betting-odds news, Wayne Rooney is 10,000-1 to take a successful penalty.
Aston Villa hand a first Premier League start to 22-year-old Irish left-back Enda Stevens, with Joe Bennett ruled out through injury and Eric Lichaj suspended: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Stevens, Weimann, Westwood, Ireland, Bannan, Agbonlahor, Benteke.
Subs: Given, El Ahmadi, Albrighton, Holman, Delph, Bowery, Williams.
Manchester United shoogle their team about, with Jonny Evans and Nani nursing groin and hamstring injuries respectively: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young, Rooney, van Persie.
Subs: Lindegaard, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Cleverley, Fletcher, Buttner.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire). This dude almost guarantees some sort of action. In ten games this season, he's only shown two red cards, to Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in the Community Shield against Manchester City, and to Stoke City's Dean Whitehead at Reading on the opening day of the season. But look at the number of yellow cards he's been handing out! Thirty nine! Those include two eight-yellow hauls, a seven, and a six. He can't keep it in his trousers! He also seems to guarantee goals, for some reason: 3-2 to City in the Community Shield, 3-2 for United against Fulham, Arsenal's 6-1 thrashing of Southampton, a 4-1 win for Nottingham Forest at Barnsley, and that 7-5 between Reading and Arsenal in the League Cup. Kevin Friend: entertainment's pal.
The teams are out! Villa are in their stylishly Victorian claret-and-blue combo, United in their white-and-black away garb. "If this match-up deserves a Finnegan's Wake quote I hate to think what literary references you have saved up for the next El Clasico," worries Ian Copestake, somewhat unnecessarily, as when that game's on I'll be back home
furiously scribbling notes in the margins of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha while sitting on the toilet watching the game on television like the rest of you. And reading the MBM report, of course, being a second-screen kinda guy.
Remembrance Sunday ... is of course tomorrow. But the large crowd at Villa Park pay their respects to the country's fallen servicemen and women now, in an (almost) perfectly observed minute's silence. Only one or two mouthy eejits, a shame but statistically that's none too bad, so nothing to report here.
And we're off! Villa set the ball rolling, and hoick it long. They lose it. The home crowd will be hoping this doesn't form a pattern. "United have won an awful lot of games the last season-and-a-half without actually being any good. But we are not fooled - you can't kid anyone with wins, as Mr. Hansen almost said." Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Mac Millings. He's here all week. Luckily, it's already the weekend.
2 min: Ashley Young receives possession of the ball, and hits a wall of boos from the crowd. They're not happy he's gone, are they?
4 min: Scholes and Carrick tiki-taka along the front of the Villa area. The ball breaks right to Valencia, whose shot is deflected behind for a corner. The set piece is met by Carrick, who's clearly got his attacking head on today; his corner is aimed for the top-right corner, but claimed without fuss by Guzan. A bright start by the away side.
5 min: Young has started energetically, which might cause the home fans some discomfort, not least because they're clearly keen on keeping up their lusty jeering of the player. I hope they're well stocked up on Strepsils, or have hipflasks full of whisky in their coat pockets. Anyway, Young cuts inside from the left, and looks to curl one into the bottom right, but sets the thing too far outside the post. The crowd jeer, then start necking their Strepsils or (but hopefully not 'and') whisky.
8 min: Free kick to Villa down the right. Bannan whips a magnificent effort towards the back post, where Smalling eyebrows out for a corner. There's a brief pause as Evra receives some treatment, having come off worse in a 50-50 with Vlaar.
10 min: From the corner, coming in from the left, there's some head tennis. United neither clear their lines properly, nor come out to catch Villa offside, and the ball drops to Agbonlahor, level with the right-hand post, eight yards out. Scholes is over quickly to whip the ball off his toe to clear. That's the end of a decent period of pressure from the home side.
11 min: Scholes carelessly gives the ball away in the middle of the park. Ireland bombs forward, but with options left and right, plays a hopeless ball forward in the vague direction of Benteke, and a half-chance to trouble United is spurned.
13 min: It's been a lively start by the home side, all things considered. United look to settle the game down a wee bit by stroking it around at the back. A lot.
15 min: What a chance for Villa here. Rooney's on the edge of the Villa box, and shapes to shoot for the top right. His effort is blocked, and Villa break at speed upfield, Ireland releasing Weimann into the United half with a clever header. Weimann has men either side, with only two United white shirts back. But he hesitates fatally, and his eventual effort to thread the ball through for Benteke is blocked by a combination of Ferdinand and Smalling, who have pincered him perfectly. What a waste.
16 min: Villa really do have their tails up here, and United aren't looking particularly happy at the back. They're all over the place as Benteke suddenly finds himself clear in the area down the inside left. But again there's hesitation, and his eventual shot towards the bottom left from a tight-ish angle is parried out for a corner. Bannan's subsequent delivery from the set piece is a total embarrassment, and as I'm all about spreading the love as opposed to making people look or sound foolish, I'll not be describing it here.
18 min: United are all over the shop. Ireland is bossing the play from the middle. He sprays a pass out right to Agbonlahor, who zips clear down the wing. The resulting low cross isn't bad at all, but just a tad behind Benteke, who kicks fresh air at a ball that isn't there. Smalling is fooled into doing the same thing. Rafael eventually picks up the loose ball and scampers away from danger with it.
19 min: Villa Park rises for a standing ovation in support of the ailing, but hopefully ailing for not very much longer, Stiliyan Petrov.
22 min: United show up front for the first time in a wee while. Valencia sends Rafael scuttling towards the byline on the overlap, the Brazilian clipping a cross into the centre for Rooney, who can't get a header away from close range. United recycle the ball back out to the right, where Valencia lashes over wildly, and hopelessly it must be said, from a promising position as he enters the box.
24 min: Scholes is, not for the first time today, caught fannying around on the ball in the middle of his own half. Ireland makes off with it and slides it forward to Benteke, who is clear on goal. He's not given the opportunity to take a shot, however, as the referee rules that Ireland clipped Scholes on the back of his heel. A correct decision, but the dithering Scholes can nevertheless count himself very lucky that Ireland didn't pick his pocket with more elan. The United legend has the good grace to look slightly embarrassed as he gathers himself up before play restarts.
27 min: Benteke goes on a bomb down the right, reaching the byline then whipping a cross through the area at ludicrous speed. United aren't at all impressive at the back this evening. But Villa will need to score while their visitors are rocking, because United rarely act up like this for an entire 90 minutes.
29 min: United have been more fluent up front, though, and Young is this close to breaking clear into the Villa area down the inside right. Vlaar is having none of it, though, and engages him in a tussle the former Villa charge can't win. Free kick, much to the pleasure of the home crowd.
32 min: A lot of space for Valencia down the right, but Clark sweeps his low fizzing cross away spectacularly. United are beginning to up the tempo, after a very shaky few minutes.
33 min: Scholes has a shot from the edge of the area that balloons off Vlaar, 30 miles or so into the air. Guzan gathers it with supreme confidence, saving the corner.
35 min: A lull in what's been a pretty entertaining half of football, given that neither goalkeeper has had a save of note to make.
36 min: Ireland has been very impressive so far. Here he takes up possession in the middle of the park, nudges the ball forward, and unleashes a low screamer towards the bottom-right corner. De Gea knows full well that the effort is heading well wide, and acts accordingly in the casual style, but it's a decent whack by the former Manchester City man nonetheless.
39 min: Westwood isn't far away from releasing Benteke down the right with a sliderule pass between Smalling and Evra, but the centre back is having no truck with the idea, and intercepts. This has been a good effort by Villa, Paul Lambert will be happy with his young side so far.
40 min: Barry Bannan - the Scottish Paul Scholes, let us never forget - stands over a free kick in the middle of the United half. He sends a floater towards the left-hand post, where Vlaar is hanging around with intent, but the perceptive Smalling steps in to nut clear.
42 min: Lowton, Bannan, Ireland and Weimann push United back with a lovely flowing move down the right. From deep inside their own half they triangulate all the way upfield, from where Lowton eventually overcooks a cross. But that's some very pretty football. United have had the lion's share of possession - 70 percent to 30 for the home side - but the stat belies the even nature of this contest.
44 min: Rooney, who has been quiet but not as hushed as the nigh-on-invisible van Persie, sends a rising rasper goalwards from a position down the inside-right channel. Guzan is behind it all the way.
45 min: Stevens makes good down the left, and loops a dangerous cross into the middle, but there's nobody there to convert.
45 min +1: WHAT A GOAL!!! Aston Villa 1-0 Manchester United. United are on the attack, and refuse to put the ball out while Clark is prone in the area. They may regret their opportunism, because the move breaks down, and Villa scamper upfield, with United light at the back. Bannan sweeps a pass down the left for Benteke, who powers along the wing. He stops suddenly, then before twisting back, spectacularly shoulder-barges Smalling out of the way, a proper old-school bullying. No doubt there'll be complaints about the challenge, but they're all grown adults and there's nothing wrong with that. Benteke wastes no time in pulling a low ball across for the onrushing Weimann, who from the edge of the box sidefoots at full power straight through De Gea, beaten all ends up for pace. What a strike that was! A magnificent finish, but Benteke, dearie me.
HALF TIME: Aston Villa 1-0 Manchester United. And that's the last act of the half. Villa were excellent, and thoroughly deserve their lead. United have been all over the shop at the back. Fergie will be plugging in the hairdryer as we speak, with a view to turning it up to 11 or maybe even 17.
HALF-TIME ENTERTAINMENT: United will have the blues at the moment, that much is certain. So let's go back to the Seventies, with this surprisingly rifftastic number from Aberdonian singer-songwriter Martin Buchan.
Not sure who's behind the tinkling piano riff that Oscar Peterson would have been proud to play. Lou Macari, perhaps? I can certainly picture him sitting behind a Steinway, in dinner jacket and dickie bow, a long, tall glass of gin and cucumber sitting on the piano top, a cigarette smoldering enigmatically in an ashtray, smoke flitting across the dots.
And we're off again! Villa will be kicking towards the Holte End, but it's United who get the ball first, kicking off for the second period as they do. A change for the visitors: the pantomime villain Young is swapped for Hernandez.
47 min: United are dominating the early exchanges of this half, with van Persie scurrying around down the right and forcing Clark to head his cross behind for a corner, from which nothing develops.
50 min: GOAL!!! Aston Villa 2-0 Manchester United. What on earth are United's back four doing? They're all gathered in the middle of their own half, positioned on a small square of turf like the dots on a dice. It allows Ireland to spread a pass out left for Agbonlahor, who screams into the area before dragging a low ball into the centre, where the onrushing - and onside - Weimann sidefoots home from six yards. What a simple goal! What tatters United are in! And so much for their early dominance of the half!
53 min: United rock for a couple of minutes, Agbonlahor threatening to break clear down the left again. Then they press forward again, but Carrick and van Persie can't combine on the edge of the area, and Stevens clanks clear. Villa Park is rocking, much as you'd imagine it to be with the scoreline as it is.
55 min: Ireland is booked for a crude, late lunge on Smalling. He can have no complaints. "Villa's best hope was to not score and hope that United would sleepwalk the whole way through the game," suggests Niall Mullen. "The optimum time for them to score would be 100ms before the ref blew for full time. Now, though, they have awoken the Cracken." Well, they've been here before alright. Gerard Houllier's side were two up with nine minutes to play, two years ago almost to the day, before Federico Macheda and Nemanja Vidic earned United a draw. And of course there was that FA Cup tie in 2002. United will need to raise their game, though; they've been wholly poor today up to this point.
58 min: GOAL!!! Aston Villa 2-1 Manchester United. And so it begins? Scholes, in the centre circle, sprays a delightful ball down the inside-right channel to spring Hernandez clear. The striker lets the ball snag under his feet as he enters the area, but despite feeling pressure from Clark on his left shoulder, he manages to regain his composure and guide a scruffy effort through the advancing Guzan and into the bottom left. That's his fifth goal in six games - and the league leaders are right back in this!!!
60 min: United were dreadful for the best part of the first hour, but don't expect their final half hour to be so dismal now. Valencia makes good down the right and whips a ball across for Scholes, who isn't far off meeting the cross at the far post.
62 min: Villa have obviously decided that sitting back is a completely pointless endeavour. Agbonlahor has a whack from the left. Cleared. Then he makes off down the right, and sends one into the centre, Bentake heading straight at De Gea. They've 30 minutes to hold on, but...
63 min: GOAL!!! Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United. Yep, it had begun alright. Scholes sets Rafael free with an exquisite sliderule ball down the right. The full back crosses deep. Cutting in from the left, at a tight angle, is Hernandez - and the ball ends up in the net! It initially looks like a majestic finish, but not quite: the volley flashes across the face of goal and goes in off Vlaar. It's still wonderful play by the striker - what a connection, and what a substitution! - but it's not his goal, is all.
66 min: God knows how this will end. First Rooney takes a long-distance whack, Guzan doing well to palm clear a shot that was going into the bottom right. Then, up the other end, Bannan finds the head of Weimann with a curling cross from deep. Weimann's ten yards out, and powers a header straight at De Gea, who reflexes the ball back out to safety. This game will not end 2-2.
67 min: Disclaimer: our lawyers would like to point out that this game may still end 2-2.
69 min: United's players, so strangely subdued for so long, are strutting around with much more purpose now. Carrick, Scholes and Rooney swish the ball hither and yon, pulling Villa this way and that as they line up along the front of their area. Nothing happens for the visitors this time, but you get the feeling United really fancy this now.
70 min: Nevertheless, Villa don't plan to go away quietly. Benteke, 12 yards out, meets a right-wing cross, Smalling deflecting his effort out for a corner. Bannan fires the set piece straight through the box, a ball that looks dangerous before sailing harmlessly out of play on the other side.
72 min: Up the other end, and a corner for United from the left. Rooney swings it in. Van Persie meets it at the near post, six yards out, and hammers a powerheader off the crossbar. You can hear the twang back in Manchester.
73 min: If the crossbar was twanging 60 seconds ago, it's now slap-riffin' like the E string on That Bloke From Level 42's bass guitar. Van Persie cuts inside from the right and unleashes a preposterously clean effort goalwards, the ball heading for the top left. Unfortunately for the Dutch striker, it's about one inch off target, and, to the tune of The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up), wallops the woodwork.
76 min: Benteke makes off at speed down the right, and his cross isn't too far from finding Agbonlahor in the centre, but the wee man doesn't have his stacked heels on, and United clear. "You can tell that this is a poor Villa side (tautology?) because usually they can hold out until 80-85 minutes before capitulating completely," is how Niall Mullen has decided to twist the knife.
78 min: Scholes, incidentally, was replaced by Cleverley a good seven minutes ago, a fact I've only just remembered because Anderson has just come on for Rooney. But can you blame me? This match hasn't stopped. It's been grand entertainment.
79 min: El Ahmadi comes on for Ireland. "Is it me or does Gary Lineker have the look of Alan Partridge in this photo?" wonders James Riordan. In his KMKYWAP years, indeed.
80 min: And another change for Villa, Holman coming on for the two-goal hero Weimann.
83 min: Villa Park is tense. A couple of minutes of Attack v Defence here. Villa can't get out of their own third. Crosses are flung in from either side. Then Rafael, coming in from the right, stupidly releases the pressure by looking for the top-left corner from 30 yards. The ball sails into a stand containing rather a lot of good people from the Birmingham area who are currently breathing quite irregularly.
85 min: Agbonlahor wins a free kick down the Villa left. Bannan sweeps a long diagonal ball to Benteke, on the right-hand corner of the United area. Benteke - who has been magnificent - brings the ball down despite being challenged by three United players. He slips it to Holman, who isn't far away from breaking clear into the area down the inside-right channel. But Smalling snuffs the move out, and Villa's brief sortie upfield is over. "Gary Lineker is not fit to lace Alan Partridge's boots," opines Simon McMahon. An opinion, of course, can also be a fact.
86 min: Delph comes on for Bannan.
87 min: SEEN THIS SCORELINE BEFORE? Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United. This was so simple. A free kick to United, midway in the Villa half down the right. Van Persie curls the set piece at pace towards the far post, where Hernandez guides the ball into the bottom-right corner. So clinical. He's turned this game around almost single-handedly. Villa have that familiar queasy feeling.
89 min: Villa are trying to respond, but the heart's not in it. They look totally deflated. They performed so well for the first hour, and now they're facing yet another abject home defeat at the hands of Manchester United.
90 min: There will be five added minutes. The away support have set the narrative arc of this match to song.
90 min +3: Holman shapes to shoot on the edge of the United area, but Evra blocks. Corner. Wasted corner.
90 min +4: United are sitting back, inviting a wee bit of pressure. Benteke sashays across the front of the box, left to right, but can't get a shot away.
FULL TIME: Aston Villa 2-3 Manchester United. But that's that. Villa were brilliant for the first 60 minutes, but United were even better for the final 30. And once again, the home side are on the end of another excruciating turnaround. O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the