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Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK

United back on top

David Beckham celebrates his goal with his delighted team-mates

Man Utd 2-1 Aston Villa

Manchester United's title challenge survived a missed penalty and a resilient display by the visitors at Old Trafford.

John Murray: "United win despite penalty miss"
Villa will look to a basic defensive error and a strange decision not to place a defensive wall to a David Beckham free kick, which cost them a chance of taking something back down the M6 motorway.

Beckham got the eventual winner in the first minute of the second half after Steve Watson's own goal had been followed by a Julian Joachim equaliser.

But Dennis Irwin spurned a generous opportunity to extend the lead from the spot when his kick was turned away by Villa's Michael Oakes, retained in the side following manager John Gregory's loss of patience over Mark Bosnich's contract.

And Villa certainly enjoyed more of the later play with United nervously awaiting the final whistle.

Villa intentions clear

As early as the first minute referee Burge had refused to give United an early penalty after Colin Calderwood's challenge on Paul Scholes.

Alex Ferguson: "I'm surprised they didn't build a wall when David took the free kick"
Villa's early intentions were clear - to get as many people behind the ball and try to break.

On 13 minutes Ian Taylor was booked for a trip on the halfway line on former colleague Dwight Yorke.

After 20, Steve Stone foolishly offered Beckham a chance at his favourite free kick from the left when he brought down Denis Irwin, but Southgate was back to clear it off the line.

Watson own goal

Seconds later United were ahead when Scholes pushed the ball across the six yard box as Yorke ran in towards goal.

The ball hit Watson, trickled towards the line and past keeper Michael Oakes, who left it to the former Newcastle defender to clear the danger.

Neither men reacted and Villa's plans to frustrate the home side were in some disarray.

However they responded well to the setback although United continued to enjoy nearly all the possession.

Too often the final ball was not up to their normal standard, as was the defending which led to the 33rd minute equaliser.

Joachim levels

Watson played a ball in to Stone's overlapping right wing run and the former Forest man zipped a fierce cross into the near post.

Joachim was there to turn the ball towards goal, off the covering Scholes and into the net.

Villa's confidence was inevitably boosted and Dublin might even have taken a lead when he acrobatically met a delightful ball over the defence from Merson, but his lob went wide.

United's momentum had been slowed by the equaliser and the flowing moves of the early part of the half were now more stuttering.

They even allowed Villa another chance when Merson was allowed to line up a long range shot which Schemichel saved.

But United finished the half stronger and Sheringham saw Oakes do well to turn a fierce effort wide.

Early winner

The second half saw them win an early free kick within Beckham's range, but Villa seemed to believe it was too far from goal to be a threat and did not bother with a defensive wall.

It was a strange decision given the England midfielder's reputation and he simply curled the ball over the crowded edge of the box, away from Oakes and into the top left-hand corner.

United continued to press without creating anything clear cut although Villa were offered another chance to score when Blomqvist clattered into Mark Draper on the edge of the penalty area.

Referee Burge have an indirect free kick for obstruction but Draper could not find Beckham's accuracy with the eventual shot.

Oakes save sets up nervy finish

Twenty minutes into the half United were offered a penalty by Mr Burge, when substitute Phil Neville went down as Stone challenged for the ball.

Irwin took the resulting penalty but his kick was superbly saved by Oakes diving swiftly to his right.

United would certainly have welcomed the two-goal cushion as Villa did most of the pressing as Alan Thompson and Darius Vassell were introduced into the action.

But they could not create a clear cut chance as United were put on the back foot almost constantly for the final 20 minutes.

Man Utd: Schmeichel, G. Neville, May, Johnsen, Irwin, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Blomqvist, Yorke, Sheringham. Subs: P. Neville, Brown, Wilson, Greening, Van Der Gouw.

Aston Villa: Oakes, Watson, Southgate, Calderwood, Wright, Stone, Draper, Taylor, Merson, Joachim, Dublin. Subs: Thompson, Barry, Vassell, Enckelman, Ehiogu.

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy)

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