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Ten-man United outplayed Aston Villa for much of Wednesday’s game at Villa Park, but Sir Alex’s men, shorn of Nani’s attacking impetus for 60 minutes after the winger was sent off for a studs-up challenge, struggled to assert their dominance and had to settle for a point.
But the 1-1 draw – achieved courtesy of a James Collins own goal after Carlos Cuellar had put the home side in front – takes the Reds to within a point of Chelsea after the Blues lost 2-1 at Goodison Park courtesy of a Louis Saha double.
After that result at Everton, the Reds' draw at Villa may look like an opportunity lost: after all, a win would have sent United top of the league. But to come away from Villa Park with a point having played an hour with 10 men is no mean feat.
On a cold Birmingham night, the boss sent out a strong side to take on an Aston Villa team that had not lost in any competition since 2009. There was still no Nemanja Vidic (injured) or Rio Ferdinand (suspended) at the back, but in Wes Brown and Jonny Evans the manager has a second-choice centre-back pairing that would walk into most other top-flight starting XIs.
In midfield, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes started together for the third time in four games, while Ryan Giggs and Nani provided the width. The Portuguese winger was involved early on and his 25-yard free-kick drew a smart save from Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel –