Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 on Sunday to restore their five-point advantage over crosstown rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
Former Villa player Ashley Young again came under scrutiny after appearing to exaggerate some contact with defender Ciaran Clark to earn a seventh-minute penalty, which was converted by Rooney.
“I think he played for the penalty,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “I think it was a dramatic fall. He overdid the fall, but it was a penalty, there’s no doubt about that.”
Young had won a penalty in United’s previous match at Old Trafford after also appearing to fall easily in the box for the opening goal in the 2-0 win against Queens Park Rangers.
“I don’t think it was a penalty,” Villa manager Alex McLeish said. “I thought Ashley threw his leg into Ciaran Clark’s leg. Ciaran was static. He planted his feet firmly in the ground and then he tried to pull his leg away. I certainly felt it was a soft decision. Ashley got away with that one today.”
Danny Welbeck hit United’s second in the 43rd minute, before Rooney scored again in the 74th and substitute Nani added a fourth in stoppage-time as United bounced back from the surprise 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic last week.
With four matches left, the win left United in prime position to secure a 20th league title.
“The name of the game now is for us to enjoy ourselves and play with the expression we did today,” Ferguson said. “You can never be too confident, my experience tells me that there’s always something that’s going to bite you in the bum, but hopefully we’ll avoid that.”
Villa almost shocked United in the opening minute when Andreas Weimann raced on to a through pass, but his bobbling shot was easily saved by goalkeeper David de Gea.
United hit back when Young won the penalty after gliding past Alan Hutton’s challenge on the left, cutting into the box and then appearing to fall over Clark’s attempted tackle.
Despite replays suggesting the England forward had exaggerated the contact, referee Mark Halsey pointed to the spot and Rooney sent goalkeeper Shay Given the wrong way with the penalty.
United hogged possession for the rest of the half, with Rooney forcing Given into a save in the 18th minute and glancing a header just over in the 23rd minute.
Clark headed narrowly wide from Barry Bannan’s 21st-minute free-kick, but Villa struggled to string passes together.
Welbeck, recalled in attack ahead of Javier Hernandez, had two early efforts blocked, before going close again with a point-blank effort from Antonio Valencia’s low cross that Given tipped over in the 33rd minute.
Welbeck increased the lead with a sliding finish at the back post after the Villa defense had failed to deal with Patrice Evra’s low cross.
With a comfortable advantage, United dropped the tempo in the second half and Villa substitute Emile Heskey forced De Gea to tip a header over in the 66th minute.
Rooney dragged his shot wide from Valencia’s cutback two minutes later, but eventually scored his second from an almost identical position soon after for his 24th league goal of the season.
Nani finished off Villa with a cool finish under Given just before the whistle to underline United’s dominance.