Whether you buy in to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s claim that Manchester United are improving inch by inch, this was a setback that arrived courtesy of a fraction.
As the ball was played in to the United area after an Aston Villa corner had been cleared in the second half, Tyrone Mings lingered long enough to sweep it in to the net. The Villa defender looked a mile offside and didn’t even care to celebrate as the VAR cameras took a close look.
Mings was wrong, though. He was indeed onside, played on by young United defender Brandon Williams, the only player in red not to have cleared the area as quickly as he should have done. As we said, it was a fraction but it was enough. A winning position had been surrendered and United were not good enough to get it back again the half an hour that remained.
Tyrone Mings celebrates with his Aston Villa team-mates after scoring in the second half to earn a point at Manchester United
Mings steered the ball home in the 66th minute, just two minutes after United had managed to take the lead
VAR was consulted after Mings' goal but it was allowed to stand after replays showed Brandon Williams played him onside
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left frustrated after he watched his side drop more points to fall to ninth in the table
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Bassaka 6, Lindelof 6.5, Maguire 6, Williams 6 (Shaw 78mins 6); Pereira 6.5, Fred 6.5; James 7, Mata 6.5 (Lingard 73mins 6), Rashford 6.5; Martial 7 (Greenwood 82mins 6).
Subs not used: Grant, Young, Garner, Tuanzebe.
Goals: Heaton og 43, Lindelof 63
Booked: Maguire, Fred, Williams, Shaw
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 6.5
Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Heaton 8; Konsa 6, Mings 6, Targett 6.5, Guilbert 6.5; Luiz 7; El Ghazi 6 (Trezeguet 17mins 7.5), McGinn 6.5, Hourihane 6 (Lansbury 80mins 6), Grealish 7; Wesley 6.
Subs not used: Nyland, Nakamba, Engels, Kodjia, Elmohamady.
Goals: Grealish 12, Mings 66
Manager: Dean Smith 7
Referee: Craig Pawson 7
Man of the match: Tom Heaton
A draw was about right, though, no matter how deep Solskjaer’s frustrations that his team had surrendered a winning position for the third time in a week. Villa were superb here and gave as good as they got. United may not be the team they once were but you still have to play well to get anything at Old Trafford and Dean Smith’s team played very well indeed on this occasion.
They led early on thanks to a superb Jack Grealish goal and were the better team for a long period. But United recovered from their own slow start to undo them either side of half-time.
First a Marcus Rashford header hit a post and then Villa goalkeeper Tom Heaton – once of United – to rebound in to the goal. And then, just after the hour, United defender Victor LIndelof crashed in a header of his own at the Stretford End.
It seemed a long way back for Villa at that point and had United organised themselves a little better at that corner, it may well have been.
Earlier United had started the game brightly, looking to use the pace of Rashford and young Daniel James either side of central striker Anthony Martial. But the home team were tripped up by the first piece of real ingenuity of the game.
Grealish had enjoyed a productive night as Villa beat Newcastle last Monday, running the game from his position just off the left of the midfield. This moment of magic was another level up, though.
Defender Victor Lindelof put United in front with a header in the 64th minute as United looked to return to winning ways
Lindelof celebrates with his United team-mate Marcus Rashford following his goal in the game at Old Trafford
Rashford celebrates after his header, which went in off goalkeeper Tom Heaton, make the score 1-1 just before half-time
Heaton, who was at United as a youngster, is left dejected after Rashford's effort deflected off him and went into the net
Picking up possession from a deep Anwar El Ghazi cross on the left hand side of the penalty area, Grealish cut back on to his right foot and appeared set to use his marker Andreas Pereira as a shield ahead of a cross to the far post. But Grealish does not lack confidence and the curled shot that he despatched across and over David de Gea’s left shoulder and in to the far top corner was absolutely perfect. It had to be.
So with only 12 minutes gone, Villa were in the lead and United were required to respond. For a while they didn’t. Villa played with a purpose and a clear strategy, using the width of the pitch and looking to hurt United in the pockets of space around the edge of the penalty area.
United had some moments of their own but were not