Manchester United survived an Aston Villa onslaught – including two goals being disallowed – as Scott McTominay’s early strike proved enough to send Ralf Rangnick’s team into the FA Cup fourth round.
United, who were without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, took the lead just eight minutes into the game as Fred sent in an inch-perfect cross from the right and McTominay glanced a header past Emiliano Martinez from close range.
Villa were celebrating what they thought was an equaliser just five minutes into the second half when Ezri Konsa headed a free-kick back across the face of goal for Danny Ings to bundle home from close range.
But after a lengthy VAR review, including Michael Oliver checking the monitor, it was disallowed after Jacob Ramsey was adjudged to have blocked Edinson Cavani.
When asked for his thoughts on the decision, Villa boss Steven Gerrard said: “How long have you got? The officials took three and a half minutes to settle that one. They have looked at two or three things in it.
“When VAR is there and they make a decision you have to accept it. There is nothing you can do to change it. The easy way out is to blame luck and the officials, we won’t do that.”
The frustration continued for Villa as Ings again saw celebrations cut short when he raced through and clipped the ball over De Gea for Watkins to tap home, only to see the offside flag go up for the summer signing’s initial run.
It was the story of the game for Gerrard’s side, who despite the early setback, responded well to going behind to McTominay’s early header.
They did everything but score as John McGinn’s long-range effort was kept out by David de Gea before Ollie Watkins rattled the crossbar after turning Victor Lindelof inside as the hosts got in at the break with their lead intact.
After the disallowed goals, Villa continued to push for a late equaliser, but it did not prove to be their night as United survived an almighty scare to reach the fourth round, where they will play Middlesbrough.
Rangnick: I saw progress but still things to improve
United boss Ralf Rangnick has spoken about the need for his side to take control of games, but there were still plenty of worrying signs as Villa dominated possession at Old Trafford.
However, United’s interim boss insists he saw progress from the defeat against Wolves last week.
“I think we showed a reaction after the Wolves game, that is what everyone expected from us,” Rangnick said. “We knew it would be very difficult against Villa. In the first half, I thought we did well. It could have been 3-2 or 4-3 to us at half-time.
“In the second half, we were on the counter-attack and we could have made more of those situations. We took the wrong decisions at times but when we changed to a diamond in midfield, we had more control.
“In the last 20 minutes, we had more control. We fought well as a team together when it was important. In the end, it was a good win. That was our goal, to proceed to the next round.”
When asked if he saw progress, Rangnick added: “Yes. To say that this was a perfect game, nobody would believe that of course, it was not. We still have quite a few things we can get better at but a clean sheet was important today and we worked together. Still a lot of things to improve but it is easier to do that with a 1-0 win.”
United flatter to deceive again
Sky Sports’ Oliver Yew:
“It was job done for Manchester United, but only just!
“Steven Gerrard will be left scratching his head on the bus home from Old Trafford, wondering how his side didn’t get something from this entertaining FA Cup tie.
“Villa were by far the better side as they passed their way through Manchester United time and time again, just as Wolves did in their win at Old Trafford in the Premier League a week ago as Ralf Rangnick’s side’s failings of the last few weeks appeared again.
“McTominay and Fred may have combined for what proved to be United’s winning goal in the opening stages, but time after time United were overrun in the middle of the park as Villa piled the pressure on the hosts.
“The frustrations of the home fans were evident as passes went astray and Villa continued to dominate the game, and on a different day, Gerrard’s men would have got their reward.
“However, it was to be United’s day as they held on for a much-needed win to ease the pressure slightly on Rangnick.”
Gerrard: We need to be more ruthless
Villa boss Gerrard has called on his side to be more ruthless in both penalty areas after they squandered an excellent opportunity to reach the FA Cup fourth round for the first time since 2016.
Gerrard said: “Very tough. We are out of the FA Cup and coming into this job I saw this competition as an opportunity to have a good run in it.
“The lads gave a lot in terms of performance but we need to learn and close the gap from a performance that was nearly good enough. We dominated for large parts but we were not ruthless enough.
“I’ve seen enough tonight in terms of the performance to know that I can get to where I want to get to but we need to learn and learn quickly. We need to be more ruthless moving forward, defending crosses we need to be tighter. We cannot be having people with free headers in our six-yard box. It is quite clear what we need to iron out and we will do it in the short term.”