Manchester United gave embattled manager David Moyes something to cheer with a battling 4-1 win over Aston Villa.
Moyes was welcomed to Old Trafford by a flypast from a United fans' group calling for his head.
The unhappy Red Devils fans were given further ammunition as Villa took a shock lead through Ashley Westwood, but a brace of goals from Wayne Rooney, strike from Juan Mata and late effort from Javier Hernandez eased the pressure on the manager.
United made a slow start and were rocked on 13 minutes by a superb free-kick from Westwood.
The chance was crafted by Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose turn of pace proved too much for Rafael who chopped him down on the edge of the box.
Westwood needed no second invitation, and his whipped effort proved too hot for David De Gea to handle.
United’s consistent bright spot this season has been Rooney, and once again he rode to the rescue of his team with the equaliser on 20 minutes.
In truth, Villa were the architects of their own downfall as their marking was shocking. Shinji Kagawa cut in from the left and picked out an unmarked Rooney who glanced a header beyond Brad Guzan.
United continued to struggle to carve out chances, but on 43 minutes it was Rooney again—with his penalty following a foul on Juan Mata taking him to fourth on the all-time Premier League scorers’ list with 171 goals.
Villa had two huge chances to draw themselves level, but on both occasions Christian Benteke passed up the openings.
On the first occasion, the Belgian forward completely missed his kick with the goal gaping. The second big opening saw Benteke rise above Nemanja Vidic only to nod the ball wide.
Mata was Moyes' big January capture, and he grabbed his first goal in United colours on 57 minutes when capitalising on some more lax Villa defending to slot home.
United capped the victory when Adnan Januzaj teed up Hernandez to score in injury time, and they can now focus on their Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
With the chase for a place in the top four now only a mathematical possibility, victory in Europe's premier club competition is the only route back to the top table for the Red Devils next term.
|Manchester United Player Ratings|
|Player||1st Half||2nd Half|
|David De Gea||6||7|
Rooney felt United were full value for the win.
"Today was an important game after midweek and we had to respond and show what kind of team we are," Rooney is quoted as saying on United's official website. "It was difficult as we made a slow start, we went behind and it was difficult. We came through it, played some good stuff and got the win we deserved."