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Danny Welbeck scored twice as Manchester United beat Aston Villa 3-0 in the Barclays Premier League to return to winning ways.
Back-to-back defeats against Everton and Newcastle United had left David Moyes' men ninth in the table, but they got back on track at Villa Park by securing their first win in five top-flight games. Welbeck had not scored for over two months and was without a league goal since August, yet the England striker struck twice in the space of three first-half minutes.
Tom Cleverley then scored his first Premier League goal for exactly a year early in the second half to end any hopes of a Villa comeback and Darren Fletcher made his first appearance since Boxing Day after recovering from a bowel problem on a morale-boosting afternoon for United.
Last year's champions have won their last six games against Villa and the latest victory ensures they leapfrog Southampton to move into eighth, 10 points behind leaders Arsenal. Villa have suffered six home defeats this season.
Fletcher was among the United substitutes and Moyes made four changes to the side who beat Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek as Antonio Valencia, Patrice Evra, Cleverley and Welbeck started. Marc Albrighton made his first Villa start of the season as Paul Lambert also made four alterations.
United were in front after only 15 minutes when Rafael da Silva got to the byline and whipped in an inviting cross. Adnan Januzaj headed against a post, but Welbeck slotted in the rebound.
Villa were stunned three minutes later as United doubled their lead. This time Antonio Valencia was the architect as he burst down the right before delivering the ball into the path of the onrushing Welbeck, who slid in to finish from close range.
Shortly after United had a chance for a third. Valencia played a one-two with Welbeck but was indecisive and failed to get his shot away after 27 minutes. Soon after, the winger set up Rooney and the England striker flashed a shot wide of the far post. Welbeck had a great chance to complete his hat-trick after only 33 minutes when he raced clear but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
United were out of sight seven minutes after the break as Rooney played in Cleverley and the midfielder tucked the ball inside the near post with a measured right-foot finish. Cleverley then showed his value at the other end as he produced a timely block to thwart Andreas Weimann, a substitute.
Fletcher was given a long-awaited run-out with just over 20 minutes remaining and Welbeck had another chance after 72 minutes, but his lob floated over the crossbar.
David De Gea palmed away Karim El Ahmadi's curling free-kick 14 minutes from time and Cleverley stung Brad Guzan's palms as United saw out a comfortable victory.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: “We started the game really well, as well as we have started for a number of weeks. We looked pretty decent at that point. What is disappointing is the goals we lost.
"For the second and third goals, we were actually in possession of the ball. They turned it over. We had ball possession. It's not like we were cut open. We have to be better in possession of the ball, especially against a team like that. But Man Utd are clinical. You cannot give them a sniff otherwise that will happen.
"There's no point feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to bounce back as quick as we can. I always say your home form has got to be good to have any chance. We seem to be doing it the other way around - winning away from home and then struggling at home. It's something we have to rectify."
Manchester United manager David Moyes: "I don't think there was an awful lot of difference [from the matches we lost], except we obviously scored the goals. We have not been scoring and goals change how it looks, mainly for the media, but we know we have to play better as well and we have to play better than we did today again. It continually has to improve and I will make sure it gets better over the coming months.
"We will play much better, I have told the players that is the least we can do and we have to keep going and win more games. It was a good job done, the players played well and the only thing I could be critical of was that we didn't score more goals.
"Antonio Valencia was very good and young Adnan [Januzaj] is still learning his trade and will be a really talented player in the future. We played well but were a little bit sloppy in the opening five minutes or so but after that I thought we played really, really well."
"Danny Welbeck is someone who we know he needs to keep scoring goals, he was good today and was a threat and could have had more today. It would have been nice for him to get a hat-trick but two is a good tally for him. Tom [Cleverley] has been playing okay and today he played really well, passed it well and took the ball and ended up with a goal from midfield as well."
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