05/04/2009 17:07, Report by Nick Coppack
United 3 Villa 2
opted for the experience of Ryan Giggs, while the bench was cluttered with youth, including hero-to-be Macheda.
But it was Villa’s front men who enjoyed the better of the opening minutes. Gabriel Agbonlahor looked sharp on the left, while John Carew was denied an early headed goal by a combination of Darren Fletcher and the post.
Despite the early nerves, United netted first. Brad Friedel was penalised for handling James Milner’s backpass and at the resulting indirect free-kick Ryan Giggs rolled the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo to curl a sweet effort beyond the wall and into the far corner.
It was a sublime finish – caressed rather than clobbered – and the perfect response to Villa’s lively opening. For Ronaldo, it marked his 19th goal of the season.
Only good Villa defending prevented Ryan Giggs from adding a second almost immediately, while at the other end Ashley Young had a wide free-kick saved superbly by Edwin van der Sar.
Shortly before the half-hour Gary Neville’s perfectly-timed tackle on Gabriel Agbonlahor drew a deafening round of applause from the Old Trafford faithful. But it was the visiting team’s supporters who next had something to cheer, John Carew heading Villa level on 30 minutes. Gareth Barry cut in from the right wing and Carew peeled off Neville to nod in his cross from eight yards.
The game then opened up a little: Ronaldo headed Nani’s free-kick into Friedel’s arms, Milner tested van der Sar from distance and Carrick fizzed a shot just wide. Despite the chances, scores remained level after an entertaining first 45 minutes.
Both United and Villa eased into the second period, the Reds just edging the early minutes. Darren Fletcher, who’d been superb in the first half, sliced a shot wide