United's first game of the revamped Barclays Premier Reserve League ended in a comprehensive defeat, as Aston Villa winger Barry Bannan scored a hat-trick and inspired his side to victory.
The tricky Scottish winger curled home a sumptuous free-kick and cheekily chipped in Villa's third - either side of setting up Ciaran Clark for the visitors' third - in the first period, before adding a late penalty.
Nicky Ajose inspired a late rally from United by reducing the arrears with 10 minutes left, but the overriding positive for the hosts was a solid debut for summer signing Bebe.
The Portuguese winger completed all 90 minutes for the Reds, plugging away manfully on the right side of a front three despite regularly being surrounded by a flock of visiting defenders.
Villa's rearguard was superbly organised throughout, and it had to be to repel a string of dangerous crosses from Bebe, who regularly swapped flanks with Gabriel Obertan during the first period and appeared more than confident on either side. Fast, powerful and direct, the winger enjoyed an impressive bow.
Within three minutes, Bebe's pull-back found the onrushing Ravel Morrison, but the midfielder’s shot was superbly diverted behind by Clark’s block. Soon, the spotlight switched ends as Villa were awarded a dangerous free-kick, 20 yards from goal. Bannan took his chance magnificently, flighting the ball beautifully over the wall and inside Johnstone’s post, despite a full-length dive from the United stopper.
Villa's assuredness grew after the early goal, and Moustapha Salifou came within a yard of doubling the visitors’ lead with a speculative long-range effort. United hit back almost immediately, however, as Morrison took up possession inside the centre circle, plotted a course for goal and slammed a shot against the far upright.
As if to reassert his side’s early authority, Bannan came close to doubling the difference with a marvellous volley which arced towards Johnstone’s far post, but skidded just wide. Moments later, he curled a superb first-time effort against the top of the United crossbar.
Although the Reds slowly established a foothold in proceedings, the visitors’ menace only lay dormant. Bannan’s cross almost gave James Collins a