With Vlaar still injured, Agbonlahor donned the captain’s armband once again this afternoon ahead of his 300th appearance for Aston Villa.
Lambert made four changes to the team last seen at Fulham. In the absence of the suspended Delph, who had picked up his fifth yellow card of the season at Craven Cottage last Sunday, Sylla made his way back into Villa’s midfield. After a disastrous day out at Fulham, Bacuna was benched and Lowton returned to the starting XI along with Albrighton, who was preferred over an out of form Weimann. Luna returned from injury to play at left-back but probably wished he had stayed in his sick bed as he was given a torrid time by Valencia.
The Villans began brightly and hopes were high that Lambert’s Lions could, finally, maul Moyes’ men from Manchester.
El Ahmadi offered hope of an early Christmas present, and banished thoughts of Christmas past, when he struck from distance after just three minutes but De Gea was able to catch the ball as it bounced in front of him.
Benteke then whipped the ball in for the industrious Albrighton, who shot from an angle and caused De Gea no problems.
With ten minutes played, Welbeck showed his acrobatic ability but Guzan was equal to his efforts.
Evra then played his team into trouble as El Ahmadi made an interception on the edge of the box, allowing Albrighton another shot on goal.
After fifteen minutes, Welbeck knocked the wind out of Villa’s sails by scoring his first league goal since the opening day of the season. He wasted no time in poking the ball home after Janujaz’s header sprang off the post.
Three minutes later, Welbeck had his brace. A poor pass from Baker presented United with the ball and Welbeck was able to stretch and convert Valencia’s low cut back from the right.
A promising run from Albrighton lifted the bumper crowd but hopes faded as his team-mates failed to support him.
Luna made life all too easy for Valencia on the left and clever play from United allowed Rooney a low shot on goal that swept just past the post.
Valencia’s ball in to Welbeck offered the young international the chance to grab a hat-trick but he mis-hit the shot and had to watch it inch past the post.
The first half ended with a scuffle between Lowton and Evra, following a terrible tackle from the Villa defender.
As the second half got underway, the Villans seemed desperate to get themselves back into the game and good team-work enabled Albrighton to whip the ball in for Sylla, who subsequently headed wide.
Agbonlahor raced to meet Guzan’s long ball, challenging De Gea who was trying to let it run out for a goal-kick. More handbags ensued and both players found themselves in Mason’s book. Agbonlahor will now be unable to play next weekend against Stoke, as the yellow card was his fifth of the campaign.
To say that Luna was totally eclipsed by Valencia is something of an understatement and, as he foolishly gave the ball away, the visitors soon had the game under complete control. Well-ordered interplay between Rooney and Cleverley led to a third goal, courtesy of Cleverley’s neat finish that beat the onrushing Guzan.
Albrighton, Villa’s best player by a mile, beat Evra and set up Sylla but, as much as he may love the Villa and as good as his position was, Sylla was only able to bash the ball over the bar.
Following a mix-up in United’s defence, a slanting shot from Albrighton then forced a smart save from De Gea.
After sixty-two minutes, Weimann replaced Sylla and the Villans attempted to salvage some pride but Villa fans had little to cheer about so took to sarcastic support of a period of possession before booing bad-boy Young as he made his way on to the pitch to replace Janujaz.
When Agbonlahor was fouled, El Ahmadi stepped up to take the free-kick just outside the box. Although his curler beat the wall, it could not beat De Gea.
Having failed to score in ten games, Benteke made way for Kozak with eleven minutes left on the clock but there was only time for Guzan to deny Cleverley once more before Mason blew his whistle.
Speaking post-match, Lambert expressed his disappointment about the way in which all three goals were conceded:
“I thought we started the game well, it was as well as we’ve started in a number of weeks.
What’s disappointing is the goals we’ve lost. The second and third goals we were in possession of the ball, they turned it over and the first goal you’ve got to stop the cross.
That’s just the basis of the game, but they’re clinical and you can’t give them a sniff at goal or that can happen.”