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Rookie puts United back on top

TEENAGER Federico Macheda marked his Manchester United debut with an astonishing stoppage-time winner to give the Red Devils a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday and keep them on course for the English Premier League title.

The 17-year-old substitute, who replaced Nani after 61 minutes, showed tremendous composure to turn Villa defender Luke Young and curl the ball past Villa keeper Brad Friedel and give the champion the victory that took it back to the top of the table.

United has 68 points from 30 matches. It is one point ahead, with a game in hand, of Liverpool which had gone top on Saturday after an equally late and dramatic winner from Yossi Benayoun in its 1-0 win at Fulham.

Chelsea, which won 2-0 at Newcastle United on Saturday, is third with 64 points from 31 games.

United, with Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov injured and Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney all suspended, had lost its previous two league games to Liverpool and Fulham and looked to be heading for its third successive defeat with only 10 minutes to go.

Villa, looking for its first win in nine matches and first at Old Trafford since 1983, led 2-1 but the game turned against the visitors and left them hanging on to fifth place by a point from Everton, 4-0 winner at home to Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

Although Villa made the brighter start, United took the lead with a 14th-minute Cristiano Ronaldo goal following a free kick awarded for a James Milner back pass to Friedel.

Villa hit back with headers from John Carew in the 30th and Gabriel Agbonlahor in the 58th as it dominated the aerial challenges against Gary Neville, playing in the unfamiliar role of center-back.

United regained its early dominance when Macheda came on and Ronaldo brought it back into the game with his second goal to make it 2-2 with a low shot from the edge of the box.

Ferguson said he took a gamble on his defensive formation. "Gary hasn't played for two months and if I played him at right back it was asking a lot of him at 34 years of age. So I thought I'd start him at center-half and see how he coped with that but of course Carew is...a massive man.

"The best move I made was putting John O'Shea back to central defense, that helped win the match for us because he was marvellous and Gary, at right back, got better and better."

Villa manager Martin O'Neill said his team played superbly and did not deserve to lose. "It's all very well being involved in another fantastic game, but we've been beaten and we didn't deserve to be beaten."

Everton crushed Wigan with two goals from Jo and one each from Marouanne Fellaini and Leon Osman.


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