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BBC Sport's Ian Brown
reports from Villa Park
 real 14k

Man Utd's Roy Keane
"The confidence is good - the lads are flying"
 real 56k

Villa boss John Gregory
"United were in control and made us work hard"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 14:56 GMT
Man Utd late show stuns Villa
Nicky Butt
Nicky Butt battles with Aston Villa's Gareth Southgate
Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United

Manchester United tightened their grip at the top of the Premiership as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's late winner gave them a priceless win against Aston Villa.

Sir Alex Ferguson's pace-setters looked to have squandered two points as they wasted a succession of chances to eclipse a stubborn Villa.

And they were in danger of paying the ultimate price for their generosity in front of goal as they were grateful to goalkeeper Fabien Barthez for a brilliant second half save from Gilles de Bilde.

They showed yet again against us what an excellent side they are and their results this season prove they are much better than anyone else
  Aston Villa manager John Gregory

But in-form Solskjaer - who struck twice against Ipswich Town - struck the devastating Boxing Day blow the silenced Villa Park with a header side six minutes from time to earn United a deserved win.

United arrived at Villa holding a healthy lead at the Premiership summit - and should have stamped their authority on the game within the first three minutes.

Goalkeeper Barthez launched a long clearance which caught Villa completely off guard, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with only David James to beat.

Solskjaer had time and space, but after composing himself, the normally lethal Norwegian rolled his finish wide.

The first half was a tale of almost complete United domination, both in territory and possession, but Villa's renowned resilience kept them in contention.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Solskjaer - on target again
Ryan Giggs provided one of several early anxious moments for Villa when he fired in a fierce shot which James clutched gratefully at the second attempt.

Villa were under constant threat, especially from the pinpoint crossing of David Beckham.

The England midfield man was the provider, first for Solskjaer to head just wide, and then for Paul Scholes, who saw his header blocked on the line by James.

Villa's attempts to stem the United tide were hit after 35 minutes, when influential Turkish defender Alpay limped off with a hamstring injury.

He was replaced by Mark Delaney as Villa were forced into a reshuffle.

Villa's attacking response was muted, but Gareth Barry lifted the siege near half time when he tried a long range effort which flew over.

By New Year we will know where any challenge is going to come from but I don't think anyone in mid-table then can win the League from there
  Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

United made a defensive change of their own during the half time interval, replacing Mikael Silvestre with Phil Neville.

Villa adopted a more positive stance after the interval, with Paul Merson pushed into a more advanced role.

It was United who created the first opening of the second half, but Solksjaer's weak finish waste more good work by Giggs.

Merson finally exerted his influence on the hour, striking a crisp 30-yard drive just wide.

Ferguson was immediately forced to reshape his defence again when Denis Irwin limped off with a knee injury and was replaced by Ronnie Wallwork.

French World Cup and Euro 2000 winner Barthez came to United's rescue after 63 minutes as Villa grew in confidence.

Dion Dublin
Dublin had goal ruled out
David Ginola unlocked the United rearguard with a well directed cross, and De Bilde's header looked perfectly placed, only for Barthez to produce a brilliant one-handed save diving to his right.

It was the Belgian's final contribution, as he was substituted by Dion Dublin.

United were finding it more difficult to break down Villa's tight defence, but Nicky Butt escaped their attentions in the 72nd minute, only to find the side-netting.

Subsitute Dublin had the ball in the net for Villa, but he was given offside, a very borderline decision that may have been a lucky break for United.

United wasted another great opportunity to take the lead with twelve minutes left after a stunning counter-attack, as the action switched from end to end.

Beckham was again the creator, but Scholes failed to provide power of placement and headed wide.

The deadlock was finally broken with six minutes left - as Villa found out they could not continue to ignore the threat of Solskjaer.

Beckham, inevitably, made the telling contribution in the build up with another superb cross, and this time Solskjaer made no mistake as he scored with a header James touched, but could not stop.

It was a goal United deserved for their pressure, but Villa were left cursing after holding out for so long.

Aston Villa: James, Wright, Southgate, Boateng, Merson, Ginola, Barry, Alpay, Hendrie, Stone, De Bilde. Subs: Delaney, Dublin, Staunton, Vassell, Enckelman.

Man Utd: Barthez, Irwin, Brown, Gary Neville, Silvestre, Beckham, Butt, Scholes, Keane, Giggs, Solskjaer. Subs: Phil Neville, Van Der Gouw, Wallwork, Greening, Chadwick.

Referee: G Poll (Tring)

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