Wayne Rooney scored two first half goals to help send Manchester United to a 4-1 win over a spirited Aston Villa on Saturday, temporarily lifting the gloom surrounding David Moyes’ dismal first term in charge.
Last season’s champions have looked a pale imitation of the sides that bossed the Premier League under former manager Alex Ferguson, and have slumped to seventh on the back of poor home form that includes consecutive 3-0 defeats to bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.
The Old Trafford crowd, many of whom booed a banner proclaiming ‘Wrong One – Moyes Out’ that was flown over the ground as the match started, had further cause to grumble when Ashley Westwood put Villa ahead with a 13th minute free-kick.
Rooney headed United level six minutes later before putting them ahead from the penalty spot just before halftime as he went fourth in the all-time Premier League scoring charts.
Christian Benteke missed two glorious chances to draw Villa level before Spaniard Juan Mata scored his first goal since his £37m move from Chelsea in January.
Mexican substitute Javier Hernandez rounded off the win in injury time as United moved to 54 points, nine off fourth-placed Arsenal in the final Champions League spot.
The win was a much-needed boost ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final against holders Bayern Munich.
“I’ve been saying all the time I’ve been here, the crowd have been great, they’ve been terrific to me as well because at times we haven’t done as well as we’d like,” Moyes told BT Sport after the match.
“We didn’t start the game well today once again, but I’ve got to say the crowd were brilliant, they were behind the team.”
Westwood provided an immediate setback when he curled in a perfectly-placed free-kick that keeper David De Gea could only help into the net, following Rafael’s rash challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor.
The goal was a wake-up call for the hosts, who drew level six minutes later when Shinji Kagawa found an unmarked Rooney in the box. The England striker headed home off the post for his 14th goal of the season.
Rooney and Kagawa continued to look lively, as did Mata, and while Villa posed a threat through Benteke and Westwood, the home trio combined to put United ahead just before the break.
Japanese international Kagawa threaded a ball through to Mata, who was cut down in the box by Leandro Bacuna, and Rooney gave Brad Guzan no chance from the penalty spot.
The goal took the 28-year-old’s Premier League tally to 171, behind Alan Shearer(260), Andy Cole (187) and Thierry Henry (175).
“He’s a top player, he’s been great since the start of the season and anything I say I’d just be repeating myself,” Moyes said of Rooney.
“I did say to him after the game that if you keep scoring two goals a game for us, that’s going to give us a great chance of doing better.”
Benteke missed a glorious chance to draw level soon after the restart when Westwood found him unmarked inside the six-yard box, but the Belgian failed to connect after cleverly bringing the ball down with his chest.
Five minutes later Benteke rose above Nemanja Vidic to meet a Marc Albrighton cross, but could not keep his header down.
Villa rued those misses when Mata scored, finishing from close range just before the hour after Marouane Fellaini held the ball up in the box, although Guzan denied Rooney a hat-trick.
Benteke missed a further opportunity before Hernandez added the final flourish, getting his foot on the end of Adnan Januzaj’s enticing cross as United won their first league game at home since late January.
Leaders Chelsea were playing later at Crystal Palace while Arsenal looked to keep their slim title hopes alive in the late kick-off at the Emirates against third-placed Manchester City.