Wayne Rooney scored twice and Juan Mata got his first goal in Manchester United colours as manager David Moyes was given reason to smile rather than look to the heavens for a change.
Had Moyes done so during a 4-1 win over Aston Villa, he would have seen an aeroplane carrying a much-publicised banner:“Wrong One – Moyes Out.” The debate over the appropriateness of such a protest by United fans at Old Trafford will rage on, but for a while at least Moyes can be satisfied that Rooney and Mata were there to ease the pressure.
The day started in awkward fashion. Moyes took the unusual step of preceding his team out of the tunnel and received a standing ovation from the fans inside Old Trafford. In the sky above shortly after came the plane and banner, which received boos from some inside the ground.
More turbulence followed as Ashley Westwood curled home a superb free kick from the edge of the box to give Villa a surprise lead. However, Rooney soon equalised when left unmarked in the area and then converted a penalty — won by Mata — to put United 2-1 up at the break. The goal was Rooney's 171st in the Premier League, moving him fourth on the all-time scoring charts for the division since its inception in 1992.
Christian Benteke should have equalised when he got free in the area early in the second area but completely missed his kick, and Villa were made to pay when Mata seized upon a scrappy passage of play in the visitors' box to sweep home a low shot with his right foot. It was the Spaniard's first goal for United in his 10th match since joining from Chelsea for 37.1 million pounds in January.
Substitute Javier Hernandez stretched to reach a Adnan Januzaj cross in stoppage time to make it 4-1.
The plane had emerged just after the start of the game — and in the 11th minute United were behind.
Rafael barged over Christian Benteke on the edge of the box to earn a booking and Westwood responded by sending a dipping free kick over the wall and beyond a stretching David de Gea.
The home fans went silent. The only noise heard inside the ground game from the plane, which was still buzzing around above the stadium and the Villa fans, who proclaimed Moyes as a “football genius.”
De Gea fluffed a clearance thanks to a poor backpass from Alexander Buttner, almost allowing Benteke to double Villa's lead.
Then Rooney took the game by the scruff of the neck, finding space in the box and getting on the end of Shinji Kagawa's pinpoint cross to head past Brad Guzan.
The England striker would have a second soon after had it not been for a last-ditch tackle from Ciaran Clark and some impressing defending from Ron Vlaar.
United had increased the pressure on the away side, but they still lacked quality and imagination in the final third. Too often it was a case of hit and hope for Moyes men.
The game seemed destined for a half-time stalemate before Mata was brought down in the Villa box and Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot. Rooney held his nerve to power the ball to Guzan's left and the home crowd started to relax.
Moyes brought on Michael Carrick at half-time for Rafael. The England international slotted in at centre-back, with Phil Jones moving to right-back.
Carrick proved his worth at centre-back against West Ham last weekend and he did so again here, sticking his boot in to deny Benteke a milisecond after the Belgian completely missed the ball going for a volley.
Benteke missed another glorious chance soon after, heading over from six yards while unmarked.
The home supporters began to fear a Villa equaliser but they started to breathe easily again when Mata scored his first goal for the club.
Buttner's header found Marouane Fellaini in the Villa box and he clumsily worked the ball to Mata off two away defenders – and the Spaniard stabbed it past Guzan.
The sense of relief was clear on Moyes' face. He came to the edge of his technical area and clapped. The fans again showed their support for the manager by singing the Scot's name.
Moyes brought off Rooney with next week's game against Bayern Munich in mind. The crowd rose to their feet and clapped the striker off.
Benteke conspired to miss yet another sitter, this time shooting wide from close range, again unmarked, before Hernandez made no such mistake in turning home fellow substitute Adnan Januzaj's cross at the end.
Moyes was clapped off the pitch and he returned the favour, going out of his way to aim his applause towards the Stretford End after the final whistle.