Tyrone Mings’ first Premier League goal secured a draw for Aston Villa and prevented Manchester United moving into the top five for the first time since 14 September.
Mings thought he was offside when he volleyed home two minutes after Victor Lindelof had given United their 64th-minute lead.
But the assistant referee kept his flag down and VAR proved he was correct to do so as Villa avoided defeat at Old Trafford for the first time since 2009.
Villa skipper Jack Grealish gave his side a deserved lead with a magnificent curling shot after 11 minutes only for United to equaliser against the run of play just before the interval when a Marcus Rashford header hit the inside of a post before bouncing in off the back of former United keeper Tom Heaton.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men pushed forward looking for a late winner but Anthony Martial failed to convert their best chance as United had to settle for a second successive draw against a newly-promoted team.
No improvement from United
Seven days ago, Solskjaer said he could have replaced all 10 outfield players after an especially dismal first half at Sheffield United.
The general feeling in the media room – from journalists, former players and staff alike at the break today – was that this performance had been no better.
There was no obvious benefit gained from Solskjaer’s decision to excuse his entire starting line-up, plus coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, from the draining midweek Europa League trip to Astana.
United’s equaliser came against the run of play and the lack of invention in midfield contrasted sharply with the threat posed by Jack Grealish.
There were sporadic boos for the home side at the final whistle but in a period where Tottenham and Arsenal have both sacked their managers, United are behind both in the table, putting Solskjaer under scrutiny, even if the United hierarchy remain supportive of the Norwegian.
Grealish a throwback
With his socks rolled down and his shorts pulled up, Grealish looks like a throwback to a different era.
He plays a bit like it too. Pulling wide to the left of a three-man support line to lone striker Wesley, the Aston Villa skipper seems a peripheral figure for much of the time.
But somehow, when Villa spark into life, he is central to it. United’s midfield were petrified every time Grealish ran at them. Most of the time, their only way of stopping the danger was to foul him.
For the goal, Grealish chased down an over-hit Anwar el Ghazi cross before fronting up Andreas Pereira on the edge of the penalty area, beating him with a deft feint to the right and finally sending his curling shot over David de Gea and into the roof of the United keeper’s net.
It was magnificent, way beyond anything produced by the hosts during another tepid 45 minutes.
Gareth Southgate was not at Old Trafford to witness it but it was another of those moments that makes you wonder how Grealish is still waiting for a senior England cap.
Had the 24-year-old turned home Trezeguet’s deflected shot shortly before Lindelof’s header, it would have been the first time he had ever scored twice in a game.
‘Multi-year squad evolution analysis’
With his best two midfielders, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay, both missing through injury, Solskjaer again had to rely on Andreas Pereira and Fred in his midfield.
Both have been heavily criticised this season as part of an underperforming squad containing players some feel are simply not good enough who have, nevertheless, been awarded new contracts in recent times.
Pereira signed a four-year deal in the summer. Phil Jones, the one man dropped from last week’s largely dismal draw at Sheffield United, was given a new four-year deal in February.
Both decisions seem odd. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward explained the principle in an interview with fanzine ‘United We Stand’.
“It’s a multi-year squad evolution analysis,” he said.
“It’s hard enough to get three players done in a transfer window. To get six or seven done is extremely difficult if you are getting proper talent. If you choose to churn every player because they are not good enough and you’re not extending contracts, you are putting yourself at risk of execution. Sometimes you have to take a broader view.”