BY AARON COOPER
Manchester United have played out an entertaining draw against a 10-man Aston Villa in a tense affair at Villa Park. Goals from Christian Benteke and Radamel Falcao topped the highlights in a match that left both sides rueing missed opportunities.
It was 1996 when Villa last took maximum points at home against the Red Devils’, with the streak will now continue into its 20th year.
The draw ended United’s run of six wins, however extends their undefeated run into the upcoming busy Christmas period.
Michael Carrick once again partnered with Phil Jones and Jonny Evans in a back three formation after Marcos Rojo failed a late fitness test.
Radamel Falcao was rewarded with just his fourth start for the Red Devils, relegating James Wilson to the bench.
Darren Fletcher replaced Marouane Fellaini, absent through illness, in midfield for his first start since August.
Manager Louis van Gaal stated in pre-match that ball possession was an area that required improvement. As if the Dutchman was a fortune teller, United dominated possession in the opening period, obtaining over 75% in the first quarter-hour.
Villa’s plan to compress and restrict United’s passing game was evident from the beginning with defender Ron Vlaar regularly urging his fellow backs up to halfway.
Ashley Young was jeered by those clad in purple upon every touch. The ex-Villa Park idol created United’s first half-chance with a low cross unable to be directed towards the net by Robin van Persie.
Christian Benteke put the home side in front after 18 minutes with a superb left-foot strike curling inside the far post, leaving United stopper David de Gea glued to the spot.
A delicate through ball from van Persie created an opportunity for Radamel Falcao, however the limp finish left much to be desired.
The two measly half-chances were as good as it got for United as they headed to the sheds dominant in possession and territory, yet trailing on the scoreboard.
Darren Fletcher was replaced by young defender Tyler Blackett at the break, however Villa started the better as Benteke forced a brilliant reaction save out of de Gea merely seconds into the second half.
As Villa’s defence pushed deeper, United’s attacking prowess began to develop. First van Persie, and then Juan Mata minutes later forcing saves out of Brad Guzan.
United’s equaliser came in the 53rd minute after a barnstorming run and exquisite cross from Ashley Young, permitting Radamel Falcao to convert with a thunderous header.
The Colombian’s celebration was pure relief after succumbing to injury and a lack of match fitness throughout most of his stay in Manchester.
Angel di Maria replaced van Persie for the final half-hour producing three shots on target in quick succession, none beating Guzan.
Villa were then controversially reduced to 10-men for the final 25 minutes when Gabriel Agbonlahor lashed out at Ashley Young, much to the displeasure of many inside Villa Park.
It was the Englishman’s second send-off of the season, likely to lengthen the mandatory suspension.
A last-minute attempt from substitute James Wilson was as close as United came to snatching a winner.
United left Villa Park with a point, despite a late opportunity for the home side.
Up next for United is a Boxing Day clash against Newcastle United at Old Trafford.