Manchester United stages a rousing second-half comeback to beat Aston Villa 3-2

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Manchester United's Rasmus Hojlund, centre right, celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

MANCHESTER – Manchester United staged a rousing second-half comeback to beat Aston Villa 3-2 in the Premier League on Tuesday after conceding two goals inside 26 minutes at Old Trafford.

In the first game since British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe agreed to buy a stake of up to 25% of the 20-time league champions, Erik ten Hag’s team made a dreadful start and was booed by its own fans in the first half.

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But it completely changed the atmosphere with two goals from Alejandro Garnacho and a winner from Rasmus Hojlund.

“I think our fans they deserved it. They are always behind us and we’ve had so many setbacks. So I’m really pleased from the performance of this team,” United manager Ten Hag said. "What kind of team can handle and deal with the amount of setbacks we have had?

“They are resilient, they have showed character and their personality to turn it around."

United moved up to sixth place.

In front of the watching Dave Brailsford, who will become a director of United and is expected to play a prominent role in the running of its soccer department, Villa went ahead through John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker in the 21st and 26th minutes.

Brailsford, who is sporting director of Ratcliffe’s INEOS Sport, sat in the directors' seats at the stadium and would have heard loud jeers after Dendoncker doubled Villa's lead, while the away fans sang “Old Trafford is falling down” and goaded Ten Hag with chants of “You're getting sacked (fired) in the morning.”

United went into the game without a win or a goal in its previous four matches in all competitions, having lost three times during that run. Trailing 2-0 at halftime, the atmosphere was toxic and United’s defending was shambolic.

McGinn’s goal came direct from a free kick on the right as the midfielder’s cross was allowed to bounce in the area and carried on into the back of the net without anyone getting a touch.

Five minutes later Villa doubled its lead after more bad defending from United when, from a corner, Dendoncker stuck a foot out to divert Clement Lenglet’s header over the line.

Third-place Villa looked set to move up to second and level on points with leader Liverpool, but the game completely changed after the break.

Garnacho thought he had pulled a goal back just after halftime, only for his celebrations to be cut short when his effort was ruled offside by VAR.

He didn’t have long to wait before he got the ball in the back of the net again, however, as United piled on the pressure.

Bruno Fernandes played in Marcus Rashford on the left and he crossed to the on-running Garnacho to convert at the far post in the 59th.

Garnacho scored his second in the 71st and Old Trafford erupted. Fernandes was involved again, with a deflected cross that fell to Garnacho in the box. The forward’s shot then took another deflection as it beat Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Hojlund completed the comeback in the 82nd with a left-footed volley from a corner for his first league goal since his $82 million move from Atalanta in the offseason.

It sparked wild celebrations from the home fans and Ten Hag followed suit on the sideline.

“I am so happy that the strikers scored today, because that is what we needed," Ten Hag said. “I know they are capable of that, Rasmus and Rashford and Garnacho. They are all good finishers and we have more than that too. They have to show it every game.”


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