Aston Villa 1 Manchester United 2

5th January 2004
Villa Park, Birmingham

Paul Scholes was hailed as a "genius" by Sir Alex, but it was the introduction of two other players Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy - that ultimately led to Manchester United's comeback against Villa.

Both came on with ten minutes of the second half gone, and both made immediate impressions on the game. Keane's usual brand of snarling and shouting encouraged the team to move forwards at a pace, whilst his tackles inspired his team-mates to give their all, and follow his example. Ruud was an extra presence up-front, willing to accept the ball wherever he was, and causing the Villa defence a few more problems than Diego Forlan had managed thus far.

It was Paul Scholes' two impressive strikes that won him the plaudits, and both coming in the space of six minutes.

The game had started badly for United. Sir Alex had chosen to rest Rio Ferdinand for the first time since his missed drugs test, mainly in order to see whether the newly-fit Wes Brown was capable of defending alongside Silvestre. Despite a few shaky moments, Ferguson was pleased with the performance, and may well decide that he doesn't need to sign a new defender just yet.

Aston Villa took the game to United, and had two clear-cut chances to score before they finally did. Howard saved brilliantly against both Vassell and the in-form Angel, but was unable to do anything about Gareth Barry's strike. His long-distance shot from the edge of the area ricocheted off Wes Brown and slid into the bottom corner of the net.

United were stunned, and were unable to find a way through the Villa defence, or indeed find their usual quick-passing rhythm, until the second half.

The introduction of Keane and van Nistelrooy gave the Reds a new-found confidence on the ball. Scholes was allowed to run further forwards, and into the area. It was Keane who found Giggs on the edge of the area. His cross was met by Scholes who was left with a side-footed finish to bring the game to a stale-mate.

Just five minutes later, and with United very much the team that Aston Villa had expected to play, Scholes fired in his second of the match an outstanding strke from another Giggs cross, and the game was won.

Villa tried their best to trouble United, but had little or no chances to restore parity. Howard nearly fumbled late in the game, but had Villa scored, Scholes would have more than likely ran up the other end and grabbed another.

United are through to the next round.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, De la Cruz, Mellberg, Johnsen, Samuel, Hendrie (Hitzlsperger 45), McCann, Whittingham, Barry, Vassell (Moore 74), Angel.

Subs Not Used: Postma, Crouch, Ridgewell.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea (Keane 55), Kleberson (Fletcher 84), Butt, Scholes, Fortune, Giggs, Forlan (van Nistelrooy 55).

Subs Not Used: Bellion, Carroll.

Booked: Silvestre.

Attendance: 40,371.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).