cott McTominay’s 86th-minute header gave Manchester United a priceless victory at Aston Villa as they fight for Champions League qualification.
United appeared to be clinging on for a point as Villa created a succession of chances after Douglas Luiz cancelled out Rasmus Hojlund’s first-half strike.
But McTominay settled a thrilling contest when he got in front of Matty Cash and rose to meet Diogo Dalot’s right-wing cross.
United manager Erik ten Hag punched the air in delight as his side moved to within five points of their hosts, who remain fifth, and six adrift of Tottenham.
It was the Red Devils’ fourth successive victory in all competitions – their best run of the season.
The result was harsh on Villa, though. They were thwarted on numerous occasions by United keeper Andre Onana, and despite the urgings of the home support were unable to draw level a second time.
In the high-ability world of elite sport, confidence plays such a key part.
When Hojlund lined up for the reverse fixture between these sides on 26 December, he was yet to score a league goal and his overall contribution was coming under major scrutiny.
Wind the clock forward seven weeks and the 21-year-old is the second youngest player in Premier League history to have scored in five successive games, behind only Nicolas Anelka.
The Dane had already passed up one opportunity, created for him by Alejandro Garnacho, when he was given another by Harry Maguire.
The finish was not a tricky one, with Hojlund unmarked and only six yards out. But he needed a striker’s instinct to be in position to take advantage of Ollie Watkins’ failure to react to the possibility of Maguire heading Bruno Fernandes deep corner into the danger zone.
Hojlund now has 11 goals in all competitions and is on the kind of run Marcus Rashford was last season as he propelled United towards the top four.
After they dropped so many needless points over the first half of the campaign, it is going to take more than a single striker to steer them into next season’s Champions League.
McTominay is certainly doing his bit. Two goals to turn what seemed like a defeat against Brentford on its head, two more – including the winner – against Chelsea, and now this.
The Scotland midfielder had all the desire needed to dominate Cash in their aerial duel. Villa boss Unai Emery’s look of despair as the ball flew past Emi Martinez and into the roof of the net said everything about the importance of the goal.