Javier Hernandez rallies Man United
Two-goal substitute Javier Hernandez inspired a dramatic Manchester United comeback against Aston Villa as the Red Devils won 3-2 to stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to four points.
Villa stunned United by taking a two-goal lead through Andreas Weimann in the space of five minutes either side of halftime.
But Hernandez turned the game on its head by scoring United's first goal, seeing his shot deflect off Villa skipper Ron Vlaar for the equalizer, and then heading a late winner.
Vlaar was credited with the own goal, but Hernandez said he will claim the hat trick.
"Of course," he said on Sky Sports 2. "I think I hit the target and the defender touched the ball. That's the decision of the referee but I've just seen the replay and that was definitely hitting the target."
It stretched United's advantage over nearest rival Chelsea with another of its famous fightbacks in the face of adversity.
But Sir Alex Ferguson will be concerned United again looked suspect defensively against a Villa side that had scored only eight times in its previous 10 league games.
"We were disappointed with the first-half performance, it has to be said," Ferguson said. "You had to give credit to Aston Villa, they never gave us a minute's peace on the ball. When they got the second goal we were up against it, but once we scored our first goal, you always felt they were going to do it."
But United never knows when it is beaten and after seldom posing a threat in the opening 45 minutes, the introduction of Hernandez sparked the team into life.
United dominated the second period and its persistence finally paid off as it took its goal tally to 29 in 11 league games.
Former Villa winger Ashley Young, who was booed every time he was in possession, then curled a 20-yard shot just wide.
Villa responded and, from the second of three successive corners, Benteke had a shot blocked by Young inside the danger area.
The home side found itself with a three-on-two advantage on the counterattack, but Weimann attempted to find Ireland rather than shooting and the ball deflected through to David de Gea.
Villa fans booed their United counterparts after only a small number clapped during the customary minute's applause for skipper Stiliyan Petrov, who is battling acute leukaemia.
Ireland flashed a dipping 25-yard drive just past the post after being teed up by Weimann.
Then, in first-half injury-time, a superb strike from Weimann put Villa ahead.
Weimann released Benteke, who shrugged off the challenge of Chris Smalling before spotting the run into the box of the Austrian Under-21 international. His rising first-time shot from just inside the box flew past de Gea into the roof of the net.
Ferguson brought on Hernandez for Young at the start of the second half but within five minutes Weimann had doubled Villa's lead.
The England striker's precise ball across the box was smashed home by Weimann at close range.
United reduced the deficit after 58 minutes when Hernandez took a flighted pass from Paul Scholes in his stride and slipped the ball past Guzan for his seventh goal of the campaign.
"I've been saying it for weeks, that he's such a great professional," Ferguson said of Hernandez. "He doesn't complain. We do prefer that one striker with one playing behind. It didn't work today in the first half but when Javier came on and Robin dropped a bit deeper, and Wayne (Rooney) went out to the left-hand side, you had a feeling that if we got a goal we would go on and win it."
Scholes headed wide from a van Persie corner while de Gea held on to Benteke's header from a Weimann cross.
But after 63 minutes an own goal from Villa skipper Vlaar brought United level.
"It doesn't matter who scored the goals," Hernandez said. "The most important thing is who is top of the league and that we came back from two goals down to win."
Hernandez was again involved as he got on the end of Rafael's cross but his shot deflected off Vlaar past Guzan into the net.
Villa still threatened danger and de Gea had to palm away Weimann's header from Barry Bannan's cross.
But the woodwork twice came to Villa's rescue in the space of 30 seconds with van Persie's header and dipping shot hitting the crossbar.
Rooney picked up an ankle knock and was replaced with 10 minutes left as United pressed for the winner. The injury could place a question mark over him being fit for England's friendly with Sweden in Stockholm on Wednesday.
It finally arrived in the 88th minute when Hernandez stooped down to head home van Persie's free kick.