BIRMINGHAM, February 11- Sir Alex Ferguson has defended Nani vigorously this season but even his patience will have been tested by the Portuguese's red card in Manchester United's 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.
Nani’s dismissal here at Villa Park on Wednesday ultimately cost champions United the chance of toppling Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Just after Nani produced his finest United display at Arsenal two games ago the winger will have infuriated Ferguson for the crude lunge on Stiliyan Petrov in the first half that was always going to leave the visitors facing an uphill battle.
Carlos Cuellar had headed Villa in front with the club’s first home league goal of 2010 before James Collins’s unfortunate own goal hauled United level.
But then Nani was dismissed for his moment of madness on Petrov – and he will now miss the League Cup Final against Villa.
Villa may have been going for a double over United but even a man down it was Ferguson’s side who looked more dangerous.
United’s last defeat at Villa was so long ago that BBC television pundit Alan Hansen infamously proclaimed "you win nothing with kids", on the opening day of the 1995/96 season.
And you would have to go even further back to, the 1954/55 campaign when Villa last secured a double over United.
However, United arrived on a revenge mission after they were stunned at Old Trafford in December, with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes both returning.
Nani had shown how he is repairing his reputation early on by forcing the first save, with a 25-yard free kick that was pushed out by Brad Friedel.
But Cuellar had already served a warning to the title chasers when he narrowly headed Stewart Downing’s free-kick over the bar.
And in the 19th minute he stunned Edwin van der Sar with a clever looping header as United’s defence failed to properly clear a Downing cross.
It was a short-lived lead, however.
Nani’s deep cross was volleyed across goal by Giggs and Collins just couldn’t get out of the way – the tenth own goal United have been gifted this season.
United had their tails up briefly but Nani ruined his reinvention with a needless lunge on Petrov a minute before the half hour and referee Peter Walton had no option but to show a straight red card.
But United still had the best chance of moving in front before the break with Friedel tipping over Michael Carrick’s fierce drive.
Ferguson was desperate for the win even with ten men and replaced Scholes with Antonio Valencia at half-time.
And the Ecuador winger blasted inches over from close range as United dominated despite being a man down.
Villa finally roused themselves and James Milner tested van der Sar with a low drive from just inside the area.
Martin O’Neill, the Villa manager, surprisingly replaced the impressive Fabian Delph with John Carew on the hour in search of a winner but both teams had to settle for a point.