A real Aston Villa love affair as Cristiano Ronaldo struggle showcases Dean Smith's brilliance

Kortney Hause’s bullet header, Bruno Fernandes’ stoppage-time miss, breaking a 12-year hoodoo, Dean Smith’s punch towards the jubilant away end, Emi Martinez’s Cristiano Ronaldo mind games and much, much more.

Villa’s win at Old Trafford had everything as the joyous Villa players celebrated with the 3,000 travelling fans, including Smith’s beaming mum Hilary who was smiling from ear-to-ear at full-time.

BirminghamLive’s Aston Villa writer Ashley Preece is still smiling now as he talks us through the big talking points after a fine – and much-deserved – 1-0 win over Manchester United.

SMITH MAKES STATEMENT… AGAIN

That victory was a big one. A big one knowing just how far Villa have come under the gaffer, Smith, who nailed his Old Trafford game plan as Cristiano Ronaldo and United’s superstars were kept quiet.

Mauling Liverpool, beating Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea last season, Villa are back competing and beating the so-called big dogs with a sweet, sweet three points at Man United.

“This club has suffered for too long,” Smith said in his post-match, knowing just how desperate the boss is to catapult Aston Villa back amongst the elite.

“The seeds of belief were sown at Chelsea the other week,” Smith added, with his group of players knowing they can beat anyone in the Premier League.

The manager deserves immense credit for pushing on once again – that’s despite losing a £100million player. This Villa squad is miles better than it was last season. The players have improved tenfold while the new additions have given Villa a different dimension, whether it’s Danny Ings up front or the exciting Leon Bailey who’s played just 85 minutes.

But what about the manager himself, Smith, who’s not even three years into the job at Villa. The boss proved once more that he’s amongst the shrewdest operators in the game, a manager who’s making a real name for himself in the Premier League now.

Smith deserves a huge pat on the back. He doesn’t get the plaudits – or respect – he truly deserves at times. He’s transformed Villa completely. It’s continual progress and that, in itself, is exciting.

READ: Our player ratings for Villa in Old Trafford win

READ: The live coverage as Villa end United hoodoo

A TRUE LOVE AFFAIR

To the team here and Smith’s built a culture that has made the Villa faithful simply fall in love with this group of players.

It’s all about the team now, the team shift where perhaps it wasn’t before.

You had Bailey cheering Villa’s every move from home on Saturday as he watched via his laptop. Douglas Luiz was in stitches at Fernandes fluffing his penalty. The scenes in the corner at full-time were just brilliant to see as John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and those in white shirts hugged, kissed and applauded the Villa support.

The Villa squad is such a likeable group of players and there’s nothing better than that of a proper team shift as we witnessed at Old Trafford.

Team spirit counts for an awful lot and Smith’s Villa have bags and bags of it which can only bode well from now until May.

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SPECIAL SET-PIECES

To the crooks of Villa’s victory now and a tip of the hat to Austin MacPhee. The Scot was an animated figure from the warm-up until full-time. The specialist set-piece coach dragged the likes of Ings and McGinn out of the warm-up while ushered pointers to Villa’s centre-backs.

It was no surprise then that Hause powered home from a set play as Douglas Luiz whipped it with venom towards David De Gea before Hause peeled off Edinson Cavani to bang it home.

Villa are such a dangerous side from set-plays now, with every throw-in, free-kick and corner all purposeful. United hadn’t conceded from a set-piece prior to Villa’s win which made it all the more funnier. What a job MacPhee is doing.

VILLA’S BRAVE BACK THREE

“I thought we were aggressive and brave against a front four of Ronaldo, Pogba, Fernandes and Greenwood and we stood resolute,” Smith beamed afterwards.

That’s some foursome, by the way, with Mings, Konsa and Hause saying, ‘Not today, lads’ with a brave showing.

The defending was incredible. The trio made 10 clearances, blocked nine shots and made six key interceptions. Ronaldo didn’t even muster a shot on target.

It was a shutout of the highest order and Smith was quick to heap praise on his back three at Old Trafford.

“I’ve got a back three and Axel who wasn’t playing today who are all good in the air, athletic and very rarely get beat in one-vs-one situations,” he said.

There’s not too many teams who boast a better calibre of centre-backs than Villa’s at present.

A word also for Martinez who’s work against United perhaps went unnoticed. Winding-up antics aside, Martinez was equal to everything. He was immaculate but it was his positioning that stood out. United were put through on numerous occasions but Martinez mopped up the danger as he played high behind Villa’s back three.

I spotted goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler afterwards and he’s another one, like Smith and MacPhee, who deserve praise. I was quick to congratulate Cutler who’s intricate work with Martinez and the goalkeepers can perhaps go unnoticed.

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