The Doc's Diagnosis: Man Utd vs Aston Villa

Often, I've wondered what victory means to the "supporters" of the so-called big four. Is it something they take for granted? Do they really feel good when it happens? Do they feel genuinely hurt when it doesn't? Do they have any respect for those opponents who beat them fair and square, without resorting to criticism of the referee, the linesmen, the fourth official and everyone else in town?

Aston Villa played against at least twelve men at Old Trafford yesterday, with every Villan's push or shove resulting in a free kick to United, and every United push or shove resulting in a dramatic wave of "play on!".

And that's the first reason I'm proud of this Villa side. No team that can't play football will win at Old Trafford. No team that can't defend will win at Old Trafford. No team without fight will win at Old Trafford. But many are the teams that have been undone by the overwhelming atmosphere of the place, the huge pressure placed on the officials and the brooding presence of old gin-nose on the touchline.

Villa conquered all of that and won. And they deserved it. It may have been a rearguard action in the second half, and there will be some grudging observers who say that Villa lay too deep late on and invited trouble. To some extent, that may be true: but football at this level is a results game and the Rothmans Yearbook 09-10 will not contain any comments about Villa's second half tactics. What it will almost certainly say is that Aston Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in 27 years.


Now roll that around your head. Aston Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Now roll it off your tongue again. Aston Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. It tastes good, doesn't it?

And it was deserved. Deserved because it shows two sides of the "new" Villa which Martin O'Neill has constructed.

In the first half, our young side showed absolutely no fear of United whatsoever. I actually think United were startled. Very few teams have the bottle to go at United the way Villa did, leaving space behind them. But this Villa side has confidence in its back five (I include Petrov), and is prepared to go forward and play football. We did that to devastating effect in the first forty-five minutes, shocking United by putting them on the back foot, and clinically taking our chance when it came.

There isn't a single football pundit with an ounce of credibility who wouldn't have said that Villa were worth their half-time lead. And there isn't a single blogger with an ounce of credibility who wouldn't concede that the lead was earned through fluid, attacking football.

If Villa caused United problems in the first half through the movement, especially, of James Milner and Stewart Downing (who for the first 45 minutes was electric), then O'Neill knew that the second half would be different.

Anybody who has seen a team go one-up at Old Trafford in the first half knows what is coming. And any coach who sets a team up for the second half to "keep attacking" is living in cloud cuckoo land.

If you're a United player, one-nil down, with Fergie having given you the hair dryer treatment, you go for it. And if you don't, like Anderson, you're off. Fergie threw Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen at us - alongside Wayne Rooney - which by my reckoning would form a front three not far off one hundred million pounds (sterling).

Well, Villa weathered it. Yes - we sat too deep. And yes - we played the second half without any great ambition. And yes - United's movement and passing forced us deeper and deeper.

But Villa weathered it. And, tactically, I think it was deliberate. I don't think O'Neill wanted to attack in the second half - I genuinely believe he trusted his newly-constructed back four to defend the lead. And they did.

Of course there will be the football-illiterate cretins who would have liked Villa to have gone on the attack in the second half as well. That's exactly what Rooney and Giggs wanted, naturally. But thankfully, common sense prevailed and Martin O'Neill got men behind the ball and defended a deserved lead.

This, to me, was the complete team performance. Going to the toughest away fixture of all, showing no fear, playing them off the park in the first half, defending like lions and closing down space in the second. Brilliant all round.

I'll repeat what I said at the top (ish): you don't beat United at Old Trafford unless you're a really, really good team. We're a really, really good team.

Player Ratings

Friedel 8; Young 7; Dunne 7; Cuellar 8; Warnock 7; Young 6; Milner 8; PETROV 9; Downing 8; Heskey 7: Agbonlahor 8