THESE are just like the glory, glory days under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Manchester United’s homegrown are kids tearing it up – and they are enjoying bucket-loads of questionable penalties.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have been awarded a Premier League record of 13 spot-kicks this campaign – and 18 in all competitions – including the highly-controversial opener here.
Even during the halcyon days of Roy Keane and his mates haranguing refs like a pack of angry hounds, they never got this many decisions.
For the second time since restart, Bruno Fernandes conned referee Jon Moss into awarding a spot-kick.
The first time, in the dying moments of the draw against Tottenham, VAR identified the Portuguese midfielder’s dive.
This time – somehow – TV official Graham Scott failed to spot that Fernandes had planted his foot on that of Ezri Konta and fallen to the floor while twisting just inside the area.
Fernandes is a wonderful player, who has ignited United’s season, but if he now gains a reputation as a diver, it will be well-earned.
Yet if United’s first was dodgy, the second was sublime from United’s 18-year-old sensation Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood has many talents – he is rapid, direct and intelligent, with Elvis hips for a swift change of direction.
But his greatest ability is that, with extraordinary precision, he can absolutely wallop a football.
And when Anthony Martial fed him in first-half injury-time, Greenwood kitchen-sinked it into the corner of the net before Pepe Reina could even move.
The most natural finisher he’s ever seen, says Solskjaer, the former baby-faced assassin, of his teenaged sniper.
Solskjaer has likened the kid to a young Wayne Rooney. Watching this finish, as with Saturday’s emphatic double against Bournemouth, reminded you more of the old Scottish comic-book hero Hot-Shot Hamish, he would leather it so hard the goalnet always used to burst.
United are unbeaten in 17 games now, and unless Manchester City’s lawyers have managed to overturn their European ban, they are almost guaranteed a place in the Champions League.
Even if City succeed, it is all in United’s hands for a top-four spot, with a potential final-day shoot-out with Leicester in the offing.
Sweetness and light has broken out at Old Trafford after seven years of almost unremitting gloom.
The January signing of Fernandes, the emergence of Greenwood and the reintegration of Paul Pogba have brought a sense of unity and optimism not seen since Ferguson reached for his Racing Post and slippers.
Talking of Ferguson, United had not lost a league match at Villa Park since the opening day of the 1995-96 season, when Alan Hansen said ‘you don’t win anything with kids’ and United, inspired by their emerging class of ‘92, won the Double.
United have not seen a huge number of homegrown kids establish themselves in the first team since that vintage crop, yet Greenwood and Marcus Rashford are surely there to stay and they are thoroughly good for the club’s soul.
And despite talk of fixture congestion, burn-out and the need for extra subs, this was the first time in 14 years that United had named an unchanged team for four successive league games.
While Solskjaer’s men had been unstoppable, Villa have taken just two points from ten matches either side of lockdown and appear to be hurtling headlong towards relegation.
It is one of the great mysteries of this behind-closed-doors era that, even with Villa Park empty, this stadium’s PA system continues to operate at such eardrum-perforating levels.
Yet at least Villa’s armchair fans were spared the bitter cold of a two-pairs-of-socks night, as winter fast approaches in England’s second city.
Those supporters would at least have been pleasantly surprised by the opening 25 minutes.
Smith’s team forced a succession of corners and attacking free-kicks, Nemanja Matic celebrating his surprise new three-year deal by kicking everything that moved.
Jack Grealish volleyed wide when arriving late at the back stick just before the drinks break arrived – cocoa, Horlicks or a hot toddy?
Then we saw a glimpse of the bad old Pogba as the Frenchman was caught having a Nanna nap in midfield, Trezeguet winning possession, surging forward and firing against the post.
Yet despite all that, United seized the lead, with assists from Moss and Scott. Fernandes, a master of deception, hoodwinked the officials, then sent Reina the wrong way from the spot.
Sky had to apologise for Smith swearing but you could hardly blame the Villa boss. Mother Teresa would have sounded like a Tilbury docker had the old girl been around to witness VAR.
Greenwood had a shot pushed out by Reina and Fernandes missed a sitter of a header.
But Greenwood’s belter put the result beyond reasonable doubt by half-time.
After Aaron Wan-Bissaka headed wide at the far post from Rashford’s chipped centre, United grabbed their third just before the hour.
It was the Fernandes-Pogba combo which did it, the Portuguese picking out the Frenchman with a diagonal corner, Pogba spanking it past Reina from 25 yards.
That was United’s 100th goal (15 pens) of the season in all competitions.
They are thrilling and youthful again, for the first time since Fergie.
And refs still love giving them a pen – just like under Fergie.