On this day: Debutant Federico Macheda scores late Manchester United winner

Five years ago today, Manchester United's Federico Macheda comes off the bench to score a dramatic late winner against Aston Villa.

The majority of Manchester United's Premier League title wins under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson contained what could be looked back upon as a defining moment.

Be it Steve Bruce's two late headers against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 or the 4-2 comeback victory at Goodison Park in 2007, there was often a crucial point which swung the race in United's favour.

The 2008-09 campaign was no different, with the Red Devils locked in a battle with arch rivals Liverpool for the top prize. Rafael Benitez's side had taken a one-point advantage at the summit thanks to a late win over Fulham, meaning that there was plenty riding on United's home match with Aston Villa five years ago today.

The hosts had selection issues, with their usual centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic unavailable due to injury and suspension respectively, while Wayne Rooney was also absent.

Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Manchester United against Aston Villa or April 04, 2009.© Getty Images

It was the defensive omissions that would prove particularly costly, as Ferguson was forced to play Gary Neville alongside John O'Shea at the heart of the rearguard. From the first whistle, Villa's towering figure of John Carew pulled on to Neville to use his significant height advantage. The Norwegian went close early on, but his header was cleared via a combination of the post and Darren Fletcher.

After a shaky start to proceedings, United broke the deadlock with 14 minutes on the clock in fortunate circumstances. With a misplaced United pass rolling back to Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel, a panicked James Milner touched the ball towards the American, who then picked it up. An indirect free kick was awarded inside the area and after Ryan Giggs had rolled the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, he smashed his effort into the roof of Friedel's net.

The away team remained positive, though, and with 30 minutes on the clock, they drew themselves level. Gareth Barry worked himself enough space on the right flank to cross for Carew to head beyond a flat-footed Edwin van der Sar.

As the half wore on Ronaldo spurned a headed opportunity from close range, before Gabriel Agbonlahor doubled the visiting side's advantage in the 58th minute. Carew turned provider on this occasion, crossing for his strike partner to show great bravery to nod the ball in as Van der Sar advanced off his line.

Aston Villa players celebrate John Carew's goal against Manchester United on April 05, 2009.© Getty Images

Moments later, Ferguson handed a senior debut to 17-year-old striker Federico Macheda. The Italian had scored a hat-trick for the club's reserves last time out against Newcastle United, but he was untested in England's top flight.

His initial impact was a quiet one as United's main man Ronaldo once again produced the goods with 10 minutes left to play. Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick exchanged passes on the edge of the area, with the latter pulling the ball back for the Portuguese attacker to shoot into the bottom corner of Friedel's net.

Knowing that a draw would only move United level with leaders Liverpool, albeit with two games in hand, Ferguson introduced another youngster - Danny Welbeck - in the closing stages and the local lad had an instant chance to make himself a terrace favourite, but he struck his effort straight at Friedel.

Villa's veteran custodian was powerless, though, to prevent a moment of magic from Macheda giving United all three points deep into stoppage time. Having been picked out by Giggs 16 yards from goal, the youngster turned inside Luke Young sharply, which allowed him to bend his shot into the far corner of Friedel's net, sparking pandemonium all around Old Trafford.

Federico Macheda scores on his Manchester United debut against Aston Villa on April 05, 2009.© Getty Images

Speaking after the match, United's new hero said: "I have dreamed of a day like this. I just turned and shot and ran to my family. I was surprised to get a chance but now I just want to keep going."

His manager added: "I told him 'well done'. It's important to keep his feet on the ground. He'll need to handle lots of publicity over the next few days. It was a gamble but we deserved our result today because we tried to win. We take risks but risks are a part of football. We didn't defend well but there's always a goal threat from us."

Meanwhile, defeated boss Martin O'Neill believed that his players were deserving of much more: "I thought we were absolutely brilliant. We conceded an early goal but fought back to get ourselves in front. I do not think we deserved to lose the game.

"We will gain confidence from this performance. That might sound crazy because we are in the results business - but we were terrific today. We should have got something from the game and I actually think we should have won it."

MAN UNITED: Van der Sar; Neville, O'Shea, Evans, Evra; Nani (Macheda), Carrick, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Giggs; Tevez (Welbeck)

ASTON VILLA: Friedel; L Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Milner (Reo-Coker), Petrov, Barry, A Young; Carew, Agbonlahor

Danny Higginbotham in action for Manchester United against Watford on April 29, 2000
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