11/12/2009 16:53, Report by Gemma Thompson
United 0 Aston Villa 1
United missed the chance to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea after a first defeat to Aston Villa at Old Trafford since 1983.
Gabriel Agbonlahor’s 21st-minute header was the difference on a day when United huffed and puffed, but never really hit top gear. Villa's win moved them to third in the table with Martin O'Neill's side having now claimed victories over three of the big four this season - Chelsea, United and Liverpool.
The Reds received a couple of welcome boosts before kick-off as news of Chelsea’s dropping of two points at home to Everton filtered through to Old Trafford and the return of Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic to the back four was confirmed. Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs were also back in the first eleven after missing the midweek Champions League victory in Wolfsburg. There was no starting place for hat-trick hero Michael Owen, however, who was named on the bench alongside fellow front man Dimitar Berbatov.
The opening exchanges were fairly even with both sides enjoying decent spells of possession. Rooney’s lovely dummy on five minutes afforded Antonio Valencia some space on the right wing to run into. The Ecuadorian cut inside and looked certain to strike one left-footed, but instead he tried to find Rooney and the move broke down. Four minutes later the winger had the ball taken off his toe by Richard Dunne just as he shaped to shoot from close range after a cross from the left.
United were beginning to slip into gear and should have made more of an electric break forward involving Rooney, Giggs and Valencia. The former two combined well to get in behind the Villa defence, but Rooney’s cross towards Valencia was intercepted by Stephen Warnock. The defender stepped in once more seconds later to prevent Ji-sung Park running through on goal after neat play again from Rooney and Giggs.
Despite the Reds’ bright start, it was Villa who made the decisive