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Rasmus Højlund ends Premier League goal drought to seal Manchester United’s stunning comeback against Aston Villa


By Matias Grez, CNN

(CNN) — Rasmus Højlund scored his first Premier League after more than 1,000 minutes of action as Manchester United came from two goals behind to secure a thrilling 3-2 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

More calamitous United defending, a feature of the team’s dismal season so far, gifted Villa a 2-0 first-half lead thanks to set-piece goals from John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker.

Boos rang out around Old Trafford, now a common feature of United’s home matches, after Dendoncker’s goal and as the home side made its way to the tunnel for half-time.

However, an impressive display of character, something that has been sorely lacking in Erik ten Hag’s side this season, helped United turn the game on its head in the second half.

Two goals from teenager Alejandro Garnacho drew Manchester United level with 20 minutes remaining, before Højlund’s clinical volley eight minutes from time finally ended the Dane’s nightmare goal drought in the Premier League and secured three huge points for Ten Hag.

“You’re losing [at half-time] by two set plays so maybe we were not so focused,” Ten Hag told Prime Sport after the game. “But I think already in the first half we played quite well and we kept trying.

“I said at half-time: ‘Keep believing, keep doing what we’re doing, do even more. Then it’s possible. Cut it to 2-1 and then we’ll see what happens.’ I told them before the game that we’ve been competitive with Arsenal and Liverpool so if we play our best, we can beat anyone.

“So believe in that, even when you are two-nil down. It doesn’t matter. Keep going, show character and I think today they showed that. We have the personalities to do it and today was a very good team performance.”

United was on a wretched run of form going into Tuesday’s Boxing Day clash, failing to score in its four previous matches and picking up just one point from four Premier League games.

Even as United was fighting back, the team’s fragile defense meant Aston Villa had a number of opportunities to spoil Ten Hag’s Christmas. That the team was able to see out the victory, then, will have been of enormous relief, not least because David Brailsford was in attendance at Old Trafford.

Tuesday’s game was the first since British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe completed a deal to buy a 25% stake in the club and while Brailsford, a British cycling coach and the Director of Sport at Ratcliffe’s INEOS company, will no doubt be buoyed by the comeback, he will be well aware of the huge task in front on him.

Ahead of the game, Ratcliffe wrote an open letter to the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, emphasizing the “critical role of the fans” in the future of the club.

“I believe we can bring sporting success on the pitch to complement the undoubted commercial success that the club has enjoyed. It will require time and patience alongside rigour and the highest level of professional management,” Ratcliffe wrote.

“You are ambitious for Manchester United and so are we. There are no guarantees in sport, and change can inevitably take time but we are in it for the long term and together we want to help take Manchester United back to where the club belongs, at the very top of English, European and World Football.

“I take that responsibility very seriously.”

The partial takeover has been completed just in time for the January transfer window, though with Financial Fair Play regulations and the large sums United has paid for players such as Højlund, André Onana, Antony and Mason Mount, it’s unclear how much the club will be able to spend.

Ahead of the game, Ten Hag said he knows what Ratcliffe and Brailsford want for the future of the club and is “looking forward” to working with them.

The job at hand in undoubtedly a huge one, with United seemingly turning a corner on a number of occasions during Ten Hag’s tenure, but then regressing once again.

As well as improvements on the pitch, Ratcliffe will also reportedly fund the redevelopment of a dilapidated Old Trafford stadium that has come to reflect the club’s dire state.

While the road back to the club’s former glory days will undoubtedly be a long one, United fans, Brailsford and Ratcliffe can at least celebrate a winning first step.

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