Scott McTominay kept alive Manchester United’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four as the midfielder scored a late goal to seal a vital 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Erik ten Haga’s side desperately needed a win at Villa Park to close the gap in the race for next season’s Champions League spot.
United took an early lead through the in-form Rasmus Hojlund before Douglas Luiz equalized in the second half.
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That set the stage for United’s second late winner against Villa this term when McTominay came off the bench to score just four minutes from time.
United remain in sixth place after their fourth straight win in all competitions, but are now just five points behind fifth-placed Villa and six behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
“It’s a big win for us. We came close and that was the goal today. I liked the way we did it,” Ten Hag said.
At 1:1 we had to fight and we are very happy about that. It was as open as a tennis match. It could go either way, but we found that mentality and character win.
“Scott is great. He’s a role model for a lot of players these days. He’s always ready to step up and make a difference.”
Villa boss Unai Emery added: “We played well against the mighty Manchester United, but we failed to score some clear chances.
“The result is difficult for us and difficult to accept, but this is football. We played as we planned and we deserved more.”
Although a top-four finish is still a tough ask for United, they at least gave themselves a chance with their cruel success in the West Midlands.
The important thing is that they are finally thriving in attack after misfiring for much of the campaign.
Hojlund’s winner against Villa on Boxing Day started a run of six goals in seven games for the Danish striker.
After failing to score in any of his first 14 Premier League games, the 21-year-old became the second-youngest player to score in five consecutive appearances in the competition, behind Nicolas Anelka for Arsenal in 1998.
Hojlund now has 11 goals in 29 games in all competitions in his debut season since signing from Atalanta, his latest coming in the 17th minute.
Harry Maguire headed in a Bruno Fernandes corner, and Hojlund calmly slotted home past Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from six yards.
Villa responded strongly when John McGinn made a great save from Andre Onan with a powerful shot.
Ollie Watkins squandered a golden chance to equalize when he pounced on McGinn’s pass before firing straight at Onana.
Victor Lindelof replaced Luke Shaw at left-back for United at the break and Villa immediately attacked the Swede out of position.
Onana kept United in front with an instinctive save to save Watkins’ close-range shot from Matty Cash’s low cross.
A poor touch from Jacob Ramsey created a golden chance to equalize after Leon Bailey’s pass had ripped through the United defence.
Fernandes should have done better than wildly pouncing on Alejandro Garnach’s shot.
This proved to be a crucial miss as Villa deservedly equalized in the 67th minute.
United failed to get a corner and when Clement Lenglet’s close-range shot was saved by Onana, Raphael Varane only deflected the ball towards Bailey.
The Villa striker picked out a perfect pass to Luiz and the Brazilian fired home from five yards before celebrating sumptuously in front of Onana.
Garnacho almost restored United’s lead with a great run and strike, but Martinez saved him at full stretch.
Onana took some revenge for Luiz’s provocative celebration when he saved the midfielder’s shot.
And United grabbed three priceless points in the 86th minute when McTominay rose to the occasion to meet Diogo Dalot’s cross with a thunderous header that whizzed past Martinez.
(This story was not edited by News18 staff and is published from the Associated Press Agency – AFP)