Højlund seals Manchester United’s thrilling comeback win over Aston Villa | Premier League

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What a time for Rasmus Højlund to break a 14-match Premier League duck: on 82 minutes, his left-foot volley pinballing in off Emiliano Martínez’s right post to bring sheer delight to the young No 9.

It caused relief for Erik ten Hag too and began the Sir Jim Ratcliffe-era of partial ownership of Manchester United in precisely the same fashion that preceded it: breathless and chaotic.

Højlund’s intervention came after Alejandro Garnacho had equalised on 71 minutes, via, too, his left boot. Before this boos greeted Aston Villa’s second strike and these plus the sight of a stony-faced Sir Dave Brailsford watching United’s opening 45-minute debacle threatened to surmise the very sorry tale of a fifth defeat of December.

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But Ten Hag and his men escaped, before the manager takes his shaky side to Nottingham Forest on Saturday. And as one to occupy a new place on United’s board, Brailsford’s report to Ratcliffe of this showing will surely inform the new 25% shareholder how Ten Hag’s players are still fighting for him, which may be key to his job security.

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Zero goals in their previous four games (in all competitions) and one point from their previous three league games was the damning record Ten Hag’s men hoped to halt. To that end, the most notable of his four changes from Saturday’s 2-0 loss at West Ham was a return for Christian Eriksen: a dearth of creativity has been a prime factor in United’s poor run, so to have his artistry back for the first time since the 1-0 win at Luton on 11 November might have predicated an upturn in fortunes.

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In the opening period it did not, as United veered into near-farce territory, lacking poise and basic football attributes. Diogo Dalot was an example when hoofing a crossfield pass straight to Villa as United fashioned a move from the back. This allowed Leon Bailey to ping a ball into the area and needed Bruno Fernandes to head clear. A lack of composure was evident, too, when Marcus Rashford intercepted near halfway and hammered the ball too hard for Rasmus Højlund to control.

After Saturday’s defeat Ten Hag repeated his mantra of “sticking to the plan”. What this might be remains difficult to discern so the eye, again, searched for one. Any blueprint seemed to rely on counter-attacking, as when Alejandro Garnacho broke and squared for Eriksen who turned the ball on for Rashford but the Dane’s radar was awry and the sequence fizzled out.

Emery is a coach whose touchline act is to mime how every move should play out. When Dalot – again – ceded possession, Bailey – again – could have punished the left-back but a poor pass allowed Jonny Evans to thwart the winger and Emery became a picture of hopping disgust.

Now, though, he turned into one happy man as McGinn scored, Onana yet again the culprit. From the right Villa’s captain swung in a free-kick as Bailey ran back from near United’s No 1 to get onside: the ball cleared everybody, bounced past a hapless Onana, and in. The VAR decided Bailey was not interfering and the goal stood.

Next, further disaster – plus shame – for Ten Hag and his not very merry band. McGinn this time dropped a corner from the right on to the glaringly unmarked head of Clément Lenglet at the far post. Back went the ball to Leander Dendoncker whose hooked backheel made it 2-0.

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This prompted jeers from the home congregation shocked by the shower before them. United’s response was to hurry upfield and illustrate how toothless they are as, by half-time, 426 minutes had passed since Scott McTominay – against Chelsea – last scored for them.

Rashford drilled into Emiliano Martínez’s hands. Garnacho stabbed the ball past Højlund in front of goal. Dalot slipped in along the left and could not steady himself. These misses were compounded by an unwitting ability to be caught offside – Fernandes and Garnacho guilty of this more than once.

The pair were instrumental in United beating Martínez as Fernandes fed Rashford who fed Garnacho but, on scoring, the VAR ruled he was offside. This brought joy to the massed Villa support and despair to Ten Hag who greeted the decision with a forlorn shake of the head.

United were in desperation mode. Rashford’s next act was to dart in for a looping Fernandes dink. Out rushed Martínez to punt away, taking the No 10 down with him. Ten Hag went ballistic on the touchline but a throw-in was the correct call.

But at last the drought was broken. Fernandes stole the ball and tapped to Rashford who rolled it over for Garnacho to slide in. Could United engineer more for what could be viewed as a rousing comeback? Yes, was the answer – thanks to Garnacho and Højlund.

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