Aston Villa’s Premier League relegation was confirmed as a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, again inspired by Marcus Rashford, sealed their fate.
Villa’s drop to the Championship has looked inevitable for much of the season but United’s triumph finally ended any chances of a miraculous escape, comfortably dispatching Eric Black’s men and keeping the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City.
Wayne Rooney – one of five changes to the United team – started for the first time in two months following a knee injury and played a pivotal role in the opener, picking out Antonio Valencia who in turn set up the lively Rashford for his fourth Premier League goal.
The 19-year-old, whose wondrous effort secured an FA Cup semi-final spot at West Ham in midweek, could have added a second just after the break when he shot wide from 12 yards, with Juan Mata also going close.
Though Villa hit the post late on through Rudy Gestede, as United failed to make their dominance count, the result was rarely in doubt and Villa’s Championship preparations will now begin in earnest.
A sense of inevitability was in the air as the visitors managed to ride an early storm, with Marcos Rojo wasting a decent opportunity in the 19th minute as the defender met Memphis Depay’s with a backheel which was deflected wide.
Mata was the culprit shortly after, darting into the right side of the penalty area following a fine interchange with Rashford, but slicing a shot all the way out for a throw-in from 12 yards out.
Villa’s resistance finally broke in the 32nd minute. Valencia latched on to a brilliant cross-field pass from Rooney and slid an inch-perfect cut-back into the danger zone for the in-form Rashford to direct past Brad Guzan.
The visitors did threaten on the break towards the end of the first period, but Jordan Ayew ultimately failed to outsmart Chris Smalling and United escaped unscathed.
A clever Mata pass set Rashford up for a fine chance at doubling his tally early in the second half, only for the youngster to drag his effort wide from close-range under pressure from Ciaran Clark.
The impressive Mata was then denied by Guzan at the near post just after the hour mark, United catching Villa napping with a quick corner.
Black introduced Gestede with eight minutes to go and he had an instant impact, almost bundling the ball over the line following a quick breakaway and then smashing against the post at a corner.
But it proved to be too little too late, as United – who hit the frame of the goal through Memphis Depay in stoppage time – held on to consign Villa to the second tier for the first time since 1988.
Key Opta Stats:
– Aston Villa’s is the earliest relegation from the Premier League since Portsmouth went downwith five games to go in 2009-10 (Villa have four left).
– Since debuting for Manchester United, Marcus Rashford has scored seven times in 12 games. No other United player has more than three goals in that time.
– Antonio Valencia provided his first Premier League assist since January 2015 (v QPR).
– Aston Villa have won none of their last 13 Premier League meetings with Manchester United (W0 D3 L10).