Wayne Rooney converted the sixth-minute spot-kick and added another, with Danny Welbeck and Nani also on target as United responded in perfect fashion to Manchester City’s six-goal salvo on Saturday and re-establish a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Villa remain in trouble, six points clear of third-bottom Bolton, who also have a game in hand. But, with four games to go, the battle at the top is concentrating minds and the behaviour of Young is provoking ire.
Eight days ago, the former Villa man was at the centre of a diving row when he went down under minimal contact from Shaun Derry. As the FA upheld Derry’s suspension, Young’s behaviour was excused, even if his reputation took a knock.
Now there will be more questions about his willingness to bend the rules. Newcastle’s Taylor led the chorus of disapproval, branding Young “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter, adding: “He’s the biggest cheat in the league. His antics are a joke.” The comment was hastily removed, although not before reaction had flashed around the world.
In an era where forwards tend to go down under the slightest contact, Young’s theatrical fall did come after he was touched by Ciaran Clark. Not enough to tip the England man over, though, and the incident did Young little credit.
In the context of relieving the pressure in a title fight that has had new life injected into it by a combination of City finding their form again and United losing at Wigan, it was a present.
Rooney kept his nerve and sent Shay Given the wrong way. It was his 30th goal of the season and the tenth time he has scored against Given, now top of the list of his favourite keepers.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Young went looking for the penalty but believes a spot-kick was the correct decision. “I think he played for the penalty,” Ferguson explained. “If a player decides to put his foot in and he’s definitely taken him down then he’s fallen into that.
“I think it was a dramatic fall [by Young] and maybe he overdid the fall, but it was a penalty and there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think they can have any complaint, as he has taken him.
“Good defending has always been good defending. If they read the game and keep their feet in they should really cope with that.”
United dominated thereafter. Given’s reaction save denied Welbeck, recalled along with veteran midfielder Paul Scholes, who met two thunderous volleys perfectly. Given kept out the first, the second whistled wide at astonishing speed.
Though clearly limited, Villa did enough to keep their band of supporters interested and both Clark and Stephen Ireland went close during rare counter-attacks.
United needed a second to calm any remaining nerves and Nathan Baker duly provided a gift shortly before the break.
In allowing Patrice Evra’s low cross to run under his leg at the far post, Baker presumably thought the ball was heading out for a goal kick. He was mistaken. Instead, Welbeck slid in to nudge home from close range, his 11th goal of the season, but only his second since January.
It was a defensive lapse that has been so prominent in Villa’s season to date and clearly the finishing line cannot come soon enough. They do have some tricky hurdles to negotiate yet, though, including a home encounter with Bolton, and the loss of Clark, who was groggily helped off after trying to continue following an accidental clash with Patrice Evra, did not help matters.
His replacement, Emile Heskey, came closest for the visitors not long afterwards. But after his header was tipped over by David de Gea, Rooney spurned a golden opportunity when he mishit a ten-yard effort and sent it bobbling harmlessly wide.
It was not long before another chance came Rooney’s way. And this time it ended up in the net, thanks to a significant deflection off James Collins.
Before Villa could restart, Rooney was replaced by Dimitar Berbatov. With the clock ticking down on Berbatov’s mercurial United career, the home fans welcomed the Bulgarian enthusiastically.
Nani who had been introduced for Young after an hour, provided the final flourish, finishing Jonny Evans’ lay-off in cool fashion.
Despite moving further ahead of Manchester City, Ferguson denied his side are now favourites for the title. “There could be twists and turns yet, but the name of the game is to enjoy ourselves and play with expression like we did today,” he said. “You can never be too confident.”
Villa manager Alex McLeish, who has set a target of six points from the remaining fixtures, said: “I’m not disappointed from the view of the young players. They gave everything. United are a world-class club side and we’ve a lot of young players out there who haven’t played half a reserve season before now.”