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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 December 2006, 16:58 GMT
Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd
By Howard Nurse

Cristiano Ronaldo
Two-goal Ronaldo was on top form
Manchester United returned to form with a convincing victory at Aston Villa.

Villa were unfortunate not to take the lead when Craig Gardner headed against a post before United took control.

Cristiano Ronaldo lashed home the opener after a great solo run before Paul Scholes crashed home an unstoppable 25-yard volley.

United, who started with Wayne Rooney on the bench, added a third when the impressive Ronaldo slid the ball in from a Gary Neville cross.

Before the game, former Villa manager Ron Saunders was given a standing ovation on his first return to the ground in over 20 years.

Saunders, 74, won the league as Villa boss in 1981 using just 14 players during the entire season but quit because of a contract dispute before the team won the European Cup a year later.

United, who were without the injured Michael Carrick, found life difficult as Villa started the brighter of the sides in what was the first of three meetings in as many weeks.

606: DEBATE
GE

The home side - with Gabriel Agbonlahor pushed up alongside Chris Sutton in attack - were unlucky not to take a 15th-minute lead when Gareth Barry's free-kick was flicked on by Sutton to Gardner, whose header came back off the post.

United defender Nemanja Vidic was rightly booked for an awful tackle on Agbonalahor before Park wasted a great chance when he mis-hit a shot when well placed.

After being slow starters, United gradually got into the game and the fit-again Patrice Evra angled a low drive at goal which on-loan Crystal Palace keeper Gabor Kiraly got down well to keep out.

Ryan Giggs then curled in a corner from the right which was met by Ronaldo but again Kiraly saved.

Villa came under more pressure when Giggs released Ronaldo into the left side of the penalty box. The Portugal winger cut inside Aaron Hughes but fired a shot inches wide of the far post with Kiraly beaten.

Ron Saunders
Saunders was honoured at half-time

New Villa owner Randy Lerner made a presentation to Saunders at half-time, but it was United boss Sir Alex Ferguson who was celebrating as his team took control in the second half.

They broke the deadlock before the hour mark when Ronaldo ran from the halfway line towards the Villa box.

He went unchallenged and saw his first shot blocked by Gary Cahill before lashing in the rebound past a helpless Kiraly.

Scholes then scored one of the contenders for goal of the month on 64 minutes when he brilliantly volleyed over Kiraly and into the net from fully 25 yards after a Giggs corner was headed out by Gavin McCann.

Villa then had to cope with the introduction of Rooney as United looked to turn the screw following their shock 1-0 defeat at West Ham last Sunday.

Scholes picked up his fifth booking of the season before Ronaldo had an effort correctly disallowed for offside as United finished on top.

They made it 3-0 with five minutes left when Rooney opened up the stretched Villa defence and found Gary Neville on the right and his slide-rule cross was turned in by man-of-the-match Ronaldo.


  • Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill:
    "We were playing very well indeed until they scored the first goal - which was very avoidable from our point of view.

    "We lose possession, they score. We've got a lot of young players in the side and that sort of experience will bring them on immensely.

    "You make mistakes against top quality sides and you'll remember them."

  • Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
    "It's a big result after last week's disappointment when we controlled a game we should have won.

    "But today the players got to grips with the game, played some great football and showed determination.

    "Ronaldo was unbelievable, he was a revelation today and he is as good as anyone in the country."


    Aston Villa: Kiraly, Hughes, Mellberg, Cahill, Barry, Agbonlahor, McCann (Angel 76), Gardner, Petrov, Davis, Sutton. Subs Not Used: Olejnik, Baros, Bouma, Ridgewell.

    Booked: McCann, Sutton.

    Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Park (Rooney 66), Scholes (Silvestre 88), Giggs (O'Shea 88), Saha.
    Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Brown.

    Booked: Vidic, Scholes.

    Goals: Ronaldo 58, Scholes 64, Ronaldo 85.

    Att: 42,551

    Ref: S Bennett (Kent).



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