Rasmus Hojlund’s long-awaited first Premier League goal completed a stunning comeback as Manchester United recovered from 2-0 down to beat high-flying Aston Villa 3-2 at Old Trafford.
Villa appeared to be heading level on points with league leaders Liverpool after goals from John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker put them 2-0 up inside 26 minutes, but United found a rousing response in the second half, with Alejandro Garnacho scoring twice before Hojlund won it in the 82nd minute.
The result was badly needed by Erik ten Hag after four games without a win or even a goal, and with INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford watching on from the director’s box two days after Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s imminent investment in the club – and control of footballing matters – was confirmed.
And the goal was badly needed by £72million man Hojlund, who had gone 16 games without finding the net in domestic competition, despite finishing United’s ill-fated Champions League campaign as their top scorer.
At half-time, boos had rung out around the stadium with United seemingly on their way to a 14th defeat of the season.
By full-time, there was an almighty cheer and United, who have rarely seemed far from a crisis this season, were up to sixth in the table.
Ratcliffe’s minority shareholding brings the promise of change but it is not the clean break from the hated Glazer family most United fans crave. Chants against their American owners surfaced almost immediately after kick-off.
Brailsford, due to take a seat on the football club board once Ratcliffe’s 25 per cent minority stake-holding is ratified by the Premier League, would have been worried by what he saw as Villa made scoring against United look all too simple.
The opening goal came 21 minutes in. United seemed too easily distracted by Leon Bailey standing behind Andre Onana as McGinn lined up a free-kick wide on the right and, as Bailey sprinted away, the ball curled its way through the crowd and into the net.
Barely five minutes later, the second goal looked even more straightforward as McGinn’s corner found Clement Lenglet unmarked at the back post, and he headed it back in for Dendoncker to score his first Villa goal with an almost lazy flick of the boot.
United belatedly stirred into action but could not score before the break as Marcus Rashford, starting for the first time since December 2, passed up two opportunities.
Two minutes into the second half Rashford teed up Garnacho, who rounded Emiliano Martinez to finish but VAR found the Argentinian had been a fraction offside.
United took encouragement though. Martinez was fortunate to just beat Rashford to the ball in the 54th minute, leaving the England forward in a heap.
Rashford was slow to get up, but moments later helped United get back into the game, racing down the left and playing the ball across for Garnacho, onside this time, to sweep home.
Onana had to make a smart save to deny Bailey an immediate response but United were now on top in what had become a frantic encounter.
The equaliser came after 71 minutes. Clement Lenglet could not properly cut out Bruno Fernandes’ cross, and the ball bounced kindly for Garnacho to hit a left-footed shot which deflected off Diego Carlos to beat Martinez.
Emery, frantically bouncing along his touchline in the first half, was now calling for calm. It almost worked for Villa as Alex Moreno sprang forward down the left and found McGinn, whose goal-bound shot was flicked clear by Jonny Evans.
Evans then played a role in the winning goal. The Northern Ireland defender got a flick on Fernandes’ corner, which then struck McGinn’s knee, bouncing up for Hojlund to hook home on the volley, delivering relief to all in United red.