BIRMINGHAM (AP) – Radamel Falcao’s second-half header rescued a point for Manchester United as its six-match winning streak in the English Premier League ended with a fiercely contested 1-1 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Christian Benteke fired Villa ahead after 18 minutes with a well-placed shot from the edge of the penalty area after he evaded his marker and turned, but United leveled when Falcao headed in from a cross by former Villa forward Ashley Young.
With the score tied, Villa was reduced to 10 men with 25 minutes remaining after Gabriel Agbonlahor was sent off for a late tackle on Young, an incident that incensed home fans and left Villa facing a tense finale to hold onto the draw.
Falcao’s goal was only his second for United, but he was unable to inspire a victory to extend its winning run and close the gap on leader Chelsea and defending champion Manchester City at the top of the league.
“Very frustrating,” United manager Louis Van Gaal said. “We gave two points away. We did not start well enough, and because of that they could score a goal.
“We kept the ball well in the first half, but we did nothing with it. The second half was better …
“I’m disappointed also because we were the better team, and when that’s the case you have to win.”
Falcao was recalled to replace James Wilson, and midfielder Darren Fletcher returned for the ill Marouane Fellaini.
Injury-hit Villa recalled defender Ron Vlaar and midfielder Fabian Delph to replace the suspended Kieran Richardson and Tom Cleverley.
United enjoyed the most possession in the opening period but against the run of play, Delph lofted in a free kick to Benteke, who took it on his chest, evaded Jonny Evans, and curled a shot into the top corner.
Villa was inspired, and United struggled to find creativity.
Fletcher was replaced at halftime by Tyler Blackett, and United equalized in the 53rd when Falcao met Young’s cross with a thumping header.
An acrobatic volley by Robin Van Persie confirmed United’s recovery, then United received a man advantage when Agbonlahor was sent off. It appeared to be an unavoidable collision, but referee Lee Mason produced an unexpected red card, and Agbonlahor was dismissed for the first time in his career.
Villa held on with determination. Jores Okore cleared a Michael Carrick header and, in the final minutes, Benteke was inches away from converting Leandro Bacuna’s cross as Villa almost snatched an heroic victory.