MANCHESTER, April 6 – Manchester United's new teenage hero Federico Macheda said he had a "dream day" after coming off the bench to score an injury-time winner in the 3-2 triumph over Aston Villa here on Sunday.
The 17-year-old Italian’s majestic turn and strike deep into stoppage time at Old Trafford returned champions United to the top of the Premier League table by a point from Liverpool and with a game in hand.
"I think this is the day of my dreams – to score a goal like that on my debut," Macheda told Sky Sports, having scored a hat-trick for the reserves against Newcastle on Monday.
United were without the suspended trio of Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney while Dimitar Berbatov was injured.
But Macheda more than made up for their absence and United’s club captain Gary Neville, back in the side after two months out with a groin injury, was suitably impressed.
"I’m just grateful to him really," Neville said. "In the first half we fell apart a bit defensively and I think I paid a little bit for not playing for a couple of months.
"But in the second half we played the right way – we never stopped, kept passing the ball and got stronger as the game went on.
"And the quality he (Macheda) has shown there for the finish at the end is unbelievable.
"It’s a massive win for us," added Neville after seeing United score twice in the last 10 minutes with Cristiano Ronaldo making it 2-2 after he’d given the hosts an early lead.
"Today we got our our job done," said the England full-back, who’d seen Villa score through headers from John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson did his best to keep Macheda’s goal in perspective.
"I said ‘well done’. It’s important to keep his feet on the ground. He’s going to get a lot of publicity over the next few days and he’ll need to handle that," Ferguson said.
Asked if he was always prepared to gamble for a win during the match or merely aim for a draw after falling behind, Ferguson said: "Gamble. Winning is the name of the game at this club.
"We play the right way, we deserved our result today because we tried to win the match. Yes, we take risks but risks are a part of football.
"This club has been this way for a long, long time and I love the thrill of it myself. I love to see that adventure.
"Yes, we take ‘terrible’ risks and we don’t defend properly. We didn’t defend well today but there’s always a goal threat from us, there’s always a chance we’ll win the match."
Ferguson said the winner of the Champions League quarter-final between Liverpool and Chelsea would pose the greatest threat to United’s hopes of a successful title defence.
"I look at the league differently from a lot of people," said Ferguson.
"A lot of people are screaming Liverpool. We accept that challenge, it’s fantastic, we are better in that situation.
"But, funnily enough I think the winner of the Liverpool-Chelsea European tie will be our biggest threat. So many times, it’s become such an emotional fixture between the two clubs. Whoever wins it, it will be a big step forward for them."
This victory stopped the league rot for United after their defeat by Liverpool and shock loss to Fulham.
"We’ve had our blip," insisted Ferguson. "We had seven, eight players missing today, four or five of the very top team but you can see that these young players are prepared to go right to the very end."
Defeat was another blow to Villa’s hopes of displacing one of the ‘Big Four’ and left them six points adrift of the Champions League place.
"It’s a real kick in the teeth," said Villa manager Martin O’Neill. "We were beaten and we didn’t deserve to be beaten."