Sunshine, four goals and three points. This was a treat indeed for Manchester United considering the heavy weather they have made of this season so far.
The only drawback for David Moyes is that one of his best results with this team comes with so little riding on the game. With Newcastle, in eighth, now eight points behind and fourth-placed Arsenal nine points in front, United are going nowhere.
Moyes’ charges, though, conducted themselves with purpose – unlike some recent entropic displays – and put together some attractive, effective passages of play with Wayne Rooney at the heart of it all.
Tuesday’s derby defeat to City was a bewilderingly poor performances in a season of new lows. Ahead of this one, there was that gnawing feeling of trepidation. What if things got worse than they did against City?
What transpired, a routine home win against one of the Premier League’s lesser lights, was once taken for granted around these parts but does not come as easily this season. That United managed to surmount this challenge after falling behind will be a boost to the esteem.
Before the teams emerged for the pre-match exchanges, David Moyes made the long walk from the corner of the Stretford End to his place in the United dugout. He was not running a gauntlet. There was warm applause for the United manager from fans who know that he hates what is happening at Old Trafford as much as they do.
That pathetic ‘fly-by’ protest barely registered inside the stadium. The 75,368 in attendance had better things to do than to fix their gazes skywards to look at an ill-conceived, ill-considered and unwelcome distraction.
If the minority who planned the fly-by protest had hoped that their efforts would gain some sort of kinship inside Old Trafford then they were mistaken. Moyes has had to put up with criticism, some of it admittedly warranted, but there was not a hint of that today.
His standing will have been bolstered by some good displays from his selections. Juan Mata played centrally in the United attack and looked more at home than he has done since arriving from Chelsea. There was a fluency in United’s play in the Villa half all throughout with three of the four goals coming from open play. That in itself is encouraging for Moyes as his team have looked one-paced and pedestrian this season.
Shinji Kagawa had his best game under Moyes. Mata his best in a United shirt. Together they stitched the play together from the disciplined duo of Darren Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini in central midfield to Wayne Rooney at the sharp end of the attack.
The England man is now the fourth-best scorer in Premier League history and took his season’s tally to 15 with a smart header and well-taken penalty.
“He’s a top player,” Moyes told BT Sport afterwards. “He’s been great since the start of the season. I said after the game if you keep scoring two goals a game then it’s going to give us a great chance of doing much better. His form and the way he’s playing has been great.”
Typical of United, they surrendered the impetus early and had to fight their way back into the game but from the moment they went behind they were purposeful.
It was Mata and Kagawa who combined before Rooney lost Ciaran Clark for the equaliser. From there United never looked back. A late flourish from Adnan Januzaj to assist Chicharito was a reminder of the talent which lies in reserve too.
“The fourth goal is the type I’ve been looking to score,” Moyes said. “Adnan [Januzaj] weaving away and it was a great cross. You want to be excited by the football you see and the fourth goal excited me.”
This result does very little in the bigger scheme of things. Moreover, Villa offered pitiful resistance. This was, however, just a little reminder to themselves if no-one else that United are capable of putting the ball on the ground, moving it quickly and scoring goals.
It was a performance and a result that could be slotted quite seamlessly into the oeuvre of Sir Alex Ferguson, who departed the VIP area afterwards with a hearty smile on his face.
United and Moyes won’t be getting carried away with this one; Aston Villa in an end-of-season kickabout is no preparation for a Champions League quarter-final against the best team in the world. It’s not results like this that Moyes will be judged on but any boost is welcome.