Man United were wasteful, disjointed and inhibited against Aston Villa, but managed to eke out the win, courtesy of Scott McTominay’s early header and a generous decision from VAR
Through to the next round but far from convincing once again.
Manchester United and interim boss Ralf Rangnick needed a commanding display after their lamentable 1-0 defeat at home to Wolves a week earlier.
Instead, United fans were treated to more of the same – their team out-thought and outplayed although, on this occasion, they somehow managed to hang on for the win.
For a manager whose watchword is ‘control’, United have had precious little of it since the German succeeded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer six weeks ago.
A total of 41 per cent possession here, against Steven Gerrard’s technically superior and more ebullient side, told the full sorry story of United’s latest wretched performance.
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United were wasteful, disjointed and inhibited throughout, but managed to eke out the win, courtesy of Scott McTominay’s early header and a generous decision from VAR.
Danny Ings had the ball in the back of the net just after the break, only for it to be ruled out – after a three-and-a-half minute VAR review – for a dubious foul on Edinson Cavani in the build-up.
United’s prize is a fourth-round meeting at home to Middlesbrough, but Villa can count themselves unlucky they are not the ones hosting them, given their dominance.
Before kick-off, United fans in the Stretford End unfurled a banner with the word ‘Standards’, bearing the faces of Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, a timely reminder to the current squad that their under-performing ways will not be tolerated.
There was no Cristiano Ronaldo, nursing a muscle problem, but United began with urgency and purpose, although that early dominance was short-lived, despite going ahead.
They scored in the eighth minute, Fred curling in a fine cross which was met by Scott McTominay, whose pinpoint glancing header gave Emiliano Martinez no chance of keeping out.
John McGinn, imperious throughout, tested David De Gea with a fierce 20-yard shot which required the United keeper to be at full stretch to keep it out and preserve the home side’s lead.
De Gea’s opposite number, Martinez, produced a fine reflex save just before the half-hour mark to deny Edinson Cavani, whose angled shot had taken a deflection.
A miss-control from Lindleof on the half-hour allowed Watkins a route to a ball he should never have been allowed to win, the United defender receiving a let-off when the Villa striker’s effort thudded against the underside of the bar.
Villa continued to push for the equaliser, Jacob Ramey’s goal-bound effort moments later taking a deflection off McTominay and trundling just wide of the United goal.
Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
The visitors were deserving of a goal and it duly came through Ings, only for it to be ruled out. with referee Michael Oliver reviewing it on the pitch-side monitor before making his decision.
Villa had the ball in the United net again five minutes later, this time through Watkins, but provider Ings was correctly judged offside, as Gerrard’s side saw another goal chalked off.
Despite those two setbacks, Villa continued to torment United, Matty Cash forcing another fine save from De Gea, but Rangnick’s side held out for the win.
The two sides meet again in the Premier League on Saturday at Villa Park. Unless there is a marked improvement from United, Gerrard’s side will have every chance of registering the victory they deserved here.