Italian teenager Federico Macheda enjoyed a remarkable debut to English football as he curled home an injury-time winner that sent Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League with a thrilling 3-2 home win over Aston Villa.
It seemed United would have to settle for a point after Cristiano Ronaldo’s double had only proved enough to keep United level against a Villa side that thoroughly deserved a lead provided by John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor. But 17-year-old substitute Macheda, a former member of the Lazio academy who arrived at Old Trafford in 2007, was to have the last word. At exactly the same moment as Yossi Benayoun struck for Liverpool at Fulham on Saturday, Macheda turned onto Ryan Giggs’ low pass before unleashing a stunning shot that curled past Brad Friedel and sent Old Trafford into ecstasy. United, missing a host of players including Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, started poorly against an out-of-form Villa side who had gone eight matches without victory. However, a stunning piece of skill from Cristiano Ronaldo gave them a 14th- minute lead. James Milner and Friedel got themselves into a muddle, forcing the Villa keeper to handle a back pass. The resulting free-kick saw Ryan Giggs brush the ball to Ronaldo, who sent a fierce shot over the wall and into the roof of Friedel’s net in a flash. Villa were not to be denied and they drew level when Gareth Barry wriggled his way into space by the touchline and Carew crept between Gary Neville and John O’Shea to steer a deft header into the bottom corner of the net.
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The visitors then took a deserved lead on the hour mark when Ronaldo gifted possession to Stiliyan Petrov, who swept upfield unopposed. He found Carew, whose perfect cross was headed home by Agbonlahor. The goal stung United into life and they levelled with 13 minutes remaining when Michael Carrick exchanged first-time passes with Giggs on the edge of the Villa box, before presenting Ronaldo with a lay-off. The world player of the year did not have a lot to aim at but he found the one small gap Friedel was unable to cover. A draw would have been a fair result, but United poured forward and in the third minute of five added on minutes at the end of the match, Macheda delivered the killer blow to leave the defending champions a point clear of Liverpool at the top with a game in hand. Meanwhile, in the day’s other match, Everton moved to within one point of Villa in sixth position after a comfortable 4-0 victory over Wigan, courtesy of a double from on-loan Manchester City striker Jo.