The Northern Ireland international made a return to action at the heart of the defence with goals by James Wilson, Joe Rothwell and Saidy Janko keeping hopes of a top-four finish alive. There was much to admire from the Reds as only some fine saves by Bradley Watkins prevented a greater winning margin.
Janko saw a lot of the ball as a number of United attacks came down the right and he went past Watkins, only for the keeper to recover to gather. Charni Ekangamene, back in midfield, pulled a shot wide following a Ben Pearson pass as the hosts gained control and two goals inside four minutes emphasised their superiority.
Wilson won the ball initially and collected it again after Janko became involved in the build-up, arrowing a stunning left-footed strike into the top corner of Watkins' net. Another incisive move, featuring some good work by Andreas Pereira, resulted in Janko feeding Rothwell, who swept in a composed finish for 2-0.
United were rampant and Wilson sped onto a Pereira through ball to beat Watkins but saw his shot from a difficult angle cleared at the near post. Pereira ignored a call from Rothwell to scoop over the bar and, after Janko fired across goal, Daniel Johnson spurned Villa's clearest opening from a Graham Burke centre.
It proved costly as Janko claimed his maiden strike for the club soon afterwards, winning a header to free the overlapping Guillermo Varela and then smashing home in style when the Uruguayan laid the ball back to him. Watkins was in the firing line but, to his credit, kept the score down with a string of saves. Rothwell tried his luck from distance but the visiting keeper made a