At the Theatre of Dreams Ashley Young is beginning to attract an undesired reputation as a thespian. On seven minutes the winger cut inside the Aston Villa area and appeared to move his leg to Ciaran Clark's before going down. Mark Halsey pointed to the spot and for a consecutive weekend Wayne Rooney succeeded with a kick earned by Young to give Manchester United an early lead and calm their nerves.
Asked if Young was getting a reputation for falling too easily, Sir Alex Ferguson said: "Yes. In the last week or two, yeah. I've never seen that in him, it's not a habitual thing in him. He was brought down, he just made the most of it. I think he played for the penalty. If the player decides to put his foot in and doesn't stay on his feet and read the situation, he has fallen into the situation. But he's definitely taken him. It was a dramatic fall. He overdid the fall but it's a penalty, there's no doubt about that and I don't think they can have any complaint because he has taken him."
Others were less circumspect in their criticism of the player. "Ashley Young is an absolute DISGRACE. He's the biggest cheat in the league. His antics are a joke …" tweeted the Newcastle United defender Ryan Taylor in a post erased by half-time, but not before being serially retweeted and finding countless echoes on the site and other media in a charge led by former players.
Ray Wilkins, as a former United captain, was perhaps most damning. "Young is going to get himself a reputation in football because he's a man who goes looking for penalties. The defender tries to get his leg out of the way but Young goes searching for it. It was similar against QPR last week. Look at the dive [against Villa], the contact is never going to be enough to send him flying through the air like that. These young men have got to make it easier for referees," he said as a Sky Sports pundit.
Alex McLeish, the Aston Villa manager, said: "I didn't think it was a penalty. He had his foot planted firmly on the ground and tried to pull it away. I certainly felt it was a very soft decision. It's so difficult for refs because it happens that fast. It's a split-second decision for referees and a difficult job."
The dubious penalty last weekend featured Shaun Derry being shown red when Young fell under what appeared a light touch from the Queens Park Rangers' midfielder before Rooney secured another early lead – this time after 15 minutes – and Young added to his count of penalties won since the start of last season. This now stands at eight, three more than Luis Suárez, with five, and Theo Walcott's four. Asked immediately after QPR's 2-0 reverse what could be done to arrest theatrics Mark Hughes shook his head and said he did not have much of a clue.
Writing ahead of this game in United Review, Sir Alex Ferguson had echoed his fellow manager's bemusement when saying: "We have to live with mistakes. It's no worse now, though I do reject the idea that it's the big clubs that get the favourable decisions and it's difficult to see how things will improve. I think we all suffer, though as I say, things went our way against Queens Park Rangers. The fact that Young started his run from an offside position was completely missed, and that's before you get into a discussion about the actual merit of a penalty!"
Following the Rooney penalty against Villa, Young was roundly applauded whenever he trotted over to take a corner from the left and right, as happened on 35 minutes. Or when he displayed the pleasant side of his game, as happened when slipping a neat reverse ball to Danny Welbeck, who would score United's second just before the break.
But there were also boos from the Villa support who were having to swallow the double whammy of a former player doing damage against their club by what appeared foul means. When Alan Hutton was booked for a foul on Young early in the second half that had the United forward limping off before rejoining the fray some of the visiting fans may have thought a little bad karma was being exorcised.