Wayne Rooney inspired Manchester United to come from behind and beat Aston Villa 4-1 on Saturday in a game marked by fresh protests against United manager David Moyes.
A small aeroplane towing an anti-Moyes banner flew over Old Trafford shortly after kick-off and the under-fire former Everton manager then saw his side fall behind to an Ashley Westwood free-kick.
However, Rooney scored twice before half-time, with Juan Mata and Javier Hernandez adding further goals as the under-performing champions provisionally moved to within nine points of the Premier League’s top four.
There were fewer than two minutes on the clock on a sunny afternoon in Manchester when the plane, chartered by a group of disgruntled fans, made its appearance, trailing a banner that read: ‘WRONG ONE – MOYES OUT’.
It was a response to the pro-Moyes ‘THE CHOSEN ONE’ banner that has adorned the Stretford End since the beginning of the season, but the man himself received a warm reception when he emerged before kick-off.
Applause turned to silence, though, in the 13th minute when Westwood curled a delicate free-kick over the United wall and inside the left-hand post to put Villa ahead.
Villa centre-back Ciaran Clark then put a free header over, but Rooney equalised in the 20th minute when he exploited slack marking to convert Shinji Kagawa’s left-wing cross with a deft glancing header.
The England striker completed the turnaround shortly before half-time, burying a penalty into the bottom-right corner after Mata had been cleaned out by Leandro Bacuna.
Villa striker Christian Benteke gave United two big scares early in the second half, mis-kicking right in front of goal and then heading just over, but Mata’s 57th-minute strike gave the hosts breathing space.
After Marouane Fellaini tried to bundle his way through in the Villa area, the ball popped out to Mata, who thrashed home right-footed to claim his first United goal since his club-record £37.1 million ($61.2 million, 44.8 million euros) move from Chelsea in January.
Substitute Hernandez made it 4-1 in injury time, touching home an Adnan Januzaj cross to complete an encouraging display ahead of United’s mid-week Champions League date with Bayern Munich.