When Scott McTominay met Diogo Dalot’s cross with the meatiest of winning headers, Andre Onana resisted the temptation to dance.
A short while before what is becoming a typically decisive intervention from McTominay, a smiling Douglas Luiz teased Onana with some sort of shoulder shimmy after finally turning a torrent of Aston Villa pressure into an equaliser.
But as the supporters in the Holte End who had barracked him throughout a compelling second half found out at the final whistle, it was Onana who had the last laugh. There was no shortage of significant contributions to this highly unlikely Manchester United triumph.
Dalot was impressive throughout, Harry Maguire’s renaissance has resumed after his injury break and, of course, McTominay produced the dramatic final blow. It also helped Erik ten Hag’s side that Ollie Watkins was unusually hesitant in the penalty area and he was not the only villain when it came to wastefulness in front of United’s goal.
But, for all its customary eccentricity, there should be no denying the importance of Onana’s performance. After all, he has had enough stick this season.
He is an entertaining watch, that is for sure – blending acrobatics with some unconvincing methods of clearing his lines – but there are distinct signs he is settling into one of football’s most scrutinised roles. Ten Hag’s unwavering faith in him might yet be proven to be well-placed.
In front of him, Maguire was the vintage of a couple of years ago. His return to leadership form is one of the feel-good stories of United’s season, this performance reminding Ten Hag of his value in both penalty areas.
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It might be an old-fashioned quality but his aerial strength is a key part of United’s defensive and offensive armoury. Maguire’s assist for the opener might have looked fairly basic but few players are capable of controlling the sort of header he put into the path of Rasmus Hojlund.
While Watkins was culpable for keeping Hojlund onside, the goal was a reward for a bright United start, notable for the directness of Marcus Rashford, in particular. The setback did stir Emery’s side but they went into the break in arrears because of Onana’s indisputable agility, Watkins’ surprisingly poor finishing and Maguire’s physicality in his own danger zone.
When Villa did get in behind Maguire and Raphael Varane – which was quite regularly, to be fair – Onana usually got in the way, not that he knew much about the save early in the second half when Watkins flicked a gilt-edged chance straight at the United keeper.
And that fortunate escape pretty much summed up proceedings, United benefiting from Villa’s surprising lack of composure while always looking modestly threatening on the counter-attack.
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The sheer weight of Villa opportunities meant the Luiz equaliser – cleverly turned home from a few yards after United failed to deal adequately with yet another corner – was no surprise but there was always a suspicion Unai Emery’s team might be made to pay for their profligacy.
And so it proved four minutes from the end of regulation time when Kobbie Mainoo cleverly found Dalot and his superb centre was given the emphatic finish it deserved by McTominay. Onana did not dance … but you would not have blamed him if he had.
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