Premier League

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Sam Wal­lace CHIEF FOOT­BALL WRITER

Manch­ester United moved to within a point of fourth-placed Le­ices­ter with their fourth suc­ces­sive league vic­tory, but As­ton Villa’s rel­e­ga­tion wor­ries deep­ened. Bruno Fer­nan­des (cel­e­brat­ing with Paul Pogba, right) opened the scor­ing and the other goals came from Ma­son Green­wood and Pogba.

By the end of the night Ole Gun­nar Solskjaer’s re­born Manch­ester United may well have crushed As­ton Villa re­gard­less of the de­ci­sion dealt by the fickle eye of the video as­sis­tant mon­i­tors, but the rel­e­ga­tion strug­glers will al­ways won­der if it might have been dif­fer­ent.

They never seemed to re­cover from the penalty call given against them in the first half – the like of which the con­cept of Var was surely cre­ated to cor­rect in the hope­ful days that pre­ceded its in­tro­duc­tion.

Yet when the mo­ment came, the big Var screen in the empty Villa Park only of­fered ref­eree Jonathan Moss its val­i­da­tion. For Villa, the penalty won and con­verted by Bruno Fer­nan­des, whose chief con­tri­bu­tion to it all was stand­ing on the leg of de­fender Ezri Konsa, was a blow from which they never re­cov­ered.

On the club’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter feed a pic­ture of the mo­ment of con­tact was posted, ac­com­pa­nied by the pon­der­ing face emoji, al­though if one was to de­scribe Dean Smith’s face in the min­utes fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion it would be right to say there was much less equiv­o­ca­tion.

Af­ter that, United were ex­cel­lent in the seventh win of a 10-game un­beaten run that has trans­formed their sea­son if not their league po­si­tion.

When they were jeered by their own fans at Old Traf­ford on Jan 22 hav­ing lost to Burn­ley, United were fifth, which is where they are with four games left to play, al­beit within one point of fourth-placed Le­ices­ter City.

was an­other goal from Ma­son Green­wood, his 16th of the sea­son, hit with a force that will make de­fend­ers won­der whether they dare let this 18-year-old swing a boot any­where in range. He is only the sec­ond teenager af­ter Wayne Rooney to score in three con­sec­u­tive Premier League games.

Over­all, United make sense again: a hustle to their at­tack­ing trio that cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties and a steady hand in mid­field, from where Paul Pogba stroked home the third of the night.

For Smith this may have been a game from which he never ex­pected a re­turn, but all the same, the de­ci­sion of Var Graham Scott to award the Fer­nan­des penalty means that the clouds refuse to part for Villa. They go into their last four league games with just two points from the pre­vi­ous 10. Even Bournemout­h are above them now in the ta­ble with the gap to 17th four points for Villa. The team so hastily as­sem­bled last sum­mer look to have lost what lit­tle faith they had.

By half-time, United’s for­ward line had found its ag­gres­sion and was pick­ing its mo­ments to

Pre­ci­sion fin­ish: Paul Pogba (left) slots United’s third goal at Villa Park last night

counter-at­tack – the sec­ond goal a mar­vel­lous piece of op­por­tunism, clin­i­cally fin­ished by Green­wood. But there was a point in the first half when Villa had their tails up, the bet­ter chances were theirs and then with the award of that penalty the game changed.

It was a bad orig­i­nal call by Moss, a sit­u­a­tion made much worse by the de­ci­sion by Scott to al­low the penalty to stand. In real time it looked like it might just meet the thresh­old. Fer­nan­des ran on to the ball and then, plac­ing a foot on top of it, with Konsa com­ing in to chal­lenge him, at­tempted to spin through 360 de­grees. There was con­tact with the Villa de­fender. But what was the con­tact?

That is the ex­am­i­na­tion of de­tail that Var al­lows, a con­sid­er­a­tion of whose im­pact af­fected who in those col­li­sions that take place in the blink of an eye. It was un­ques­tion­ably Fer­nan­des’s right boot com­ing down on the right an­kle of Konsa that was the mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment be­tween the two play­ers.

Yet this cru­cial part seemed to be missed, first by Moss and then by Scott. Hard to say how.

Fer­nan­des dis­patched the ball past Pepe Reina from the penalty spot and the game changed.

Be­fore then, Villa had worked United hard, chas­ing down the spa­ces that Harry Maguire and Vic­tor Lin­de­lof tried to pass the ball into and the away side strug­gled to move out of their own half. The Egyp­tian Trezeguet pinched the ball from Pogba af­ter 26 min­utes and strode for­ward to dis­patch a shot that clipped David de Gea’s left post. Jack Gre­al­ish, for whom there are hopes of a move to Old Traf­ford, had a chance at the back post on his left foot from which he should have scored.

A goal be­hind and the game changed – for a team like Villa it must have felt fa­mil­iar. Gre­al­ish strug­gled to make an im­pact and John McGinn would be sub­sti­tuted be­fore the end.

Ty­rone Mings was caught out badly in the cen­tre of the pitch, where An­thony Mar­tial forced him off the ball and United coun­ter­at­tacked. Green­wood sup­plied a fear­some fin­ish.

The Pogba goal came from Fer­nan­des’s cor­ner. The French­man picked his spot beau­ti­fully. United are now the first team since Liverpool in 1987 to win four con­sec­u­tive top-flight games by a mar­gin of three or more goals.

As for Villa, by the end they were nowhere and Smith was mak­ing sub­sti­tu­tions with Sun­day’s game against Crys­tal Palace in mind. If they are go­ing to sur­vive then they surely have to win that one.

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