We go back seven years to when Liverpool were top of the table – until 17-year-old Federico Macheda enjoyed a dream debut for Manchester United against Aston Villa.
Manchester United 3 Aston Villa 2
United were struggling for form and fitness when they welcomed Aston Villa to Old Trafford. Villa had been beaten 5-0 by the Red Devils’ title rivals Liverpool last time out, while United were playing catch-up against the Reds, who had moved two points clear at the top of the table with a last-gasp 1-0 win over Fulham the previous day.
Sir Alex Ferguson had to do without both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for the first time in almost two years, so Gary Neville and John O’Shea were partnered together in central defence. The United captain had a nightmare and was put out of his misery soon after John Carew had cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener, with Jonny Evans moving inside and Neville returning to the more familiar surroundings of right-back.
Still Villa continued to cause United problems, and it was from United’s right that the cross came which Gabriel Agbonlahor headed in to put the visitors ahead.
Within three minutes, Ferguson threw Macheda on from the bench.
The 17-year-old had notched a hat-trick six days previously for United’s reserves against Newcastle and with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov both missing, Ferguson gave the Italian half an hour to help United chase the game.
Ten minutes from time, Ronaldo, who had been quiet since opening the scoring, dragged United level with a low shot from the edge of the box.
The impetus was all with United and Brad Friedel had to make fine saves to deny Darren Fletcher and young substitute Danny Welbeck.
Villa looked to have ridden the storm until Giggs collected a loose ball on in the Villa third as the 93rd minute ticked over. Giggs slid a pass into the inside left channel for Macheda, who spun Luke Young before curling a sublime shot around Friedel into the far corner to provoke bedlam at Old Trafford.
The victory got United back on track after successive defeats and took them a point clear of Liverpool with a game in hand. Ferguson’s side won their following six matches to stave of the threat of their Merseyside rivals and finish as champions by four points.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, O’Shea, Evans, Evra, Nani (Macheda 61), Carrick, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Giggs, Tevez (Welbeck 87).
Goals: Ronaldo 14, 80, Macheda 90.
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey, Milner (Reo-Coker 76), Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.
Goals: Carew 30, Agbonlahor 58.
What they said:
Macheda admitted he was not expecting to play but said the outcome was fairytale stuff.
“I have dreamed of a day like this.
“I just turned and shot and ran to my family. I was surprised to get a chance but now I just want to keep going.”
Ferguson was delighted with how his gamble paid off:
“I told him ‘well done’. It’s important to keep his feet on the ground. He’ll need to handle lots of publicity over the next few days.
“It was a gamble but we deserved our result today because we tried to win.
“We take risks but risks are a part of football. We didn’t defend well but there’s always a goal threat from us.
“This club has been this way for a long, long time.
“I love the thrill of it myself. I love to see that adventure. Yes, we take ‘terrible’ risks and we don’t defend properly but there’s always a chance we’ll win the match.
Martin O’Neill was full of praise for Villa, despite losing so late.
“I thought we were absolutely brilliant. We conceded an early goal but fought back to get ourselves in front.
“I do not think we deserved to lose the game.
“We will gain confidence from this performance. That might sound crazy because we are in the results business – but we were terrific today.
“We should have got something from the game and I actually think we should have won it.
“The defeat is a bitter pill to swallow because we came to Old Trafford and played so well. We took the game to them and I am very proud of my players.
“We will have to take this on the chin but we can definitely come back from this.”