Substitutes grasped their opportunity
It had been a tough evening for Manchester United, although not quite as difficult as some reports would be claiming after the final whistle.
The Reds were not at our best and were pushed back by Aston Villa for a chunk of the second half, when the visitors twice had the ball in the net, only for the efforts to be disallowed. The Midlanders had also carved out a few chances in the first half, most notably when Oliver Watkins slammed a shot against the bar.
However, it would be remiss to not mention the fact that Ralf Rangnick's team also carved out opportunities after Scott McTominay's early opener. Indeed, the final stats showed the shot count was 19-13 in our favour and nine to four on target. Despite reading some reports claiming Villa dominated possession, we came out on top here and it wasn't even that close (54%-46%).
Nonetheless, this is Manchester United and it is hard to dispute the Reds needed some help getting over the line to clinch a fourth-round tie with Middlesbrough early next month.
Our interim manager turned to his bench to introduce Donny van de Beek for Edinson Cavani and felt the shift to a diamond formation helped change the flow of the game.
"It's not so easy to control the centre of the pitch and at the same time have our wing players involved and play with at least one central striker," he said at his post-match press conference. "For us, on the bench, that was a difficult job to find out how we could do that. In the end, we decided to take off Edi and had a diamond in midfield and have two fast wingers as the only strikers on the pitch."
Donny received his customary warm welcome from the United faithful and was busy in his outing, making tackles and harrying opponents during a pretty frantic spell after entering the pitch on 78 minutes.
It was a bright contribution and one that showed how desperate he was for United to hold out for the victory and remain on the road to Wembley.
Jesse Lingard and Anthony Elanga came on with only four minutes or so of regulation time remaining, although there was a decent chunk of stoppage time played, and it seemed like they were on the pitch for much longer!
Both managed to catch the eye in the closing stages to enhance their own starting claims.
Lingard managed to get on the ball and look confident, one rollback towards the touchline that foxed a couple of markers was cheeky and effective and drew applause from the crowd.
It was a glimpse of what the England international can do and a reminder of his ability on the ball.
Elanga appeared fearless and provided a welcome spark in taking defenders on and driving forward down the left flank. The youngster competed well in challenges and possessed fire and determination, which, again, was appreciated by the supporters. He even gestured to the Stretford End to raise the noise levels after winning a corner and made his mark on proceedings.
All three can be pleased with their input to a vital victory which keeps United on the FA Cup trail. It may not have been a vintage display, and we'll probably have to perform better to get maximum points in the league fixture at Villa Park on Saturday, but this was a step in the right direction.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.