Manchester United ground out an unspectacular 1-0 win at home to Aston Villa on Saturday, enough to provisionally move the Reds within a point of fourth place. Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of a poor game in the first half, mathematically ensuring Villa will be playing their football in the second tier next season.
United dominated the game throughout the first half, even if the opening goal took a while in coming. For all of the possession, Louis van Gaal's side struggled to create meaningful chances; a low Rashford cross was turned behind for a corner, before Juan Mata lashed wide from inside the area, but otherwise the hosts were impotent.
That was until just past the half hour mark, when a fine Wayne Rooney pass found its way to Antonio Valencia free on the right. His low cross was met in the middle by Rashford, whose shot squeezed past a defender and underneath Villa keeper Braz Guzan to give United the advantage.
Rashford was at the heart of most of United's excellent attacking play, and he almost added a second immediately after the restart. Unfortunately, he fired just wide after taking receipt of a smart Mata pass.
It proved to be little more than a brief flicker of goalmouth action in a second half in which excitement was few and far between. Villa were competent but nothing more; their lack of urgency characteristic of a condemned team. It took until past the hour for United to create another chance, though Mata was denied by Guzan at the near post on a Daley Blind corner.
United looked at risk of falling asleep as the game headed into the final few minutes, and Villa began to grow into the game. They went close thrice in quick succession late on, though were thwarted by Blind, the woodwork and David de Gea respectively. United hung on for the win, but it was hardly impressive.