Macheda sends United top
17-year-old scores spectacular late winner on Red Devils debut
By Richard Bailey. Last Updated: 05/04/09 6:36pm
Macheda celebrates winner
Federico Macheda sent Manchester United back to the top of the table with an injury time winner against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
The 17-year-old Italian made his United debut when he came off the bench after 60 minutes in place of Nani, and he spectacularly turned and fired home in the third minute of stoppage time to give the home side a 3-2 win.
Villa started the game brightly and seemed determined to put their recent poor form behind them but that did not stop them from going behind when Cristiano Ronaldo profited from an indirect free-kick after Brad Friedel picked up James Milner's back pass on 14 minutes.
Martin O'Neill's side were not perturbed and got a deserved equaliser when John Carew headed home when free in the box on the half hour mark.
Things got better for Villa when Gabriel Agbonlahor ended his goal draught by nodding past Edwin Van der Sar 13 minutes after the break.
Ronaldo then grabbed his second of the game when he drilled a low left footed shot from the edge of the area into the bottom right hand corner with ten minutes remaining.
But United weren't done there and Macheda earned a valuable three points deep into injury time.
Gary Neville's first appearance for two months was expected to come at right-back, so it was something of a surprise to see him line up alongside Jonny Evans in the centre of United's defence.
Carew's eyes certainly lit up, given his vast height advantage, which he duly exploited to the full.
Villa's performance in the first half belied their recent poor form and Darren Fletcher kneed a Carew header onto a post and Agbonlahor sped clear of Neville only to fail in his quest to find a team-mate with a low cross.
It is difficult to understand why a team that swept all before it for virtually three months should suddenly appear to be so poor.
Beyond question is the individual ability they possess, although the brutal nature of Ronaldo's 19th goal of the season still took the breath away.
Normally the kind of opportunity provided when James Milner and Friedel got themselves into a muddle, forcing the Villa keeper to handle a back pass, could be a bit of a negative given its proximity to the opponents' goal. Not on this occasion.
Ryan Giggs brushed the ball to his illustrious young team-mate, who sent it over the wall and into the roof of Friedel's net in a flash.
Showing the form that established them in the Champions League positions at Arsenal's expense by the end of January, Agbonlahor and Ashley Young terrorised the United defence.
Edwin van der Sar was called upon to keep Villa out on three occasions but there was nothing he could do to deny Carew when Gareth Barry wriggled his way into space by the touchline.
The Norwegian crept between Neville and O'Shea to steer a deft header into the bottom corner.
Ferguson responded by putting Neville back to full-back, giving up the unequal struggle of competing with Carew. He also urged the United fans to make more noise, indicating a fear that talent on its own was not going to be enough.
The response was patchy and failed to curb Villa's enthusiasm.
Ronaldo excels at many things. Chasing back is not one of them. And when he gifted possession to Stiliyan Petrov inside the visitors' half just before the hour, he allowed the Bulgarian to sweep upfield unopposed.
Agbonlahor hung around waiting for the cross Petrov presented Carew with the opportunity to supply, then rose majestically to find the bottom corner, just as his strike partner had done earlier.
Ferguson's response was to introduce 17-year-old Macheda, which in itself said something about United's plight.
It did however bring an immediate improvement and when Michael Carrick exchanged first-time passes with Giggs on the edge of the Villa box, he then presented Ronaldo with a lay-off.
The world player of the year did not have a lot to aim at but he found the one small gap Friedel was unable to cover.
Still, when Friedel denied Danny Welbeck two minutes from time, it seemed United would have to settle for a point.
Macheda, however, had other ideas.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Aston Villa|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|7||Shots on Target||6|
|7||Shots off Target||0|
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Ham United||35||37|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||33||33|