Scott McTominay’s early header ultimately proved just enough to see 12-time winners Manchester United into the Emirates FA Cup fourth round proper as they edged past Aston Villa 1-0.
The all-Premier League clash was the final match of a scintillating Emirates FA Cup third round proper weekend and a home tie against Middlesbrough is the reward for the Red Devils.
Anyone who watched the contest at Old Trafford will still be bemused as to how there was only one goal in the 90 minutes – as the visitors had two efforts ruled out and both sides spurned numerous chances – but the record books will show that McTominay’s eighth-minute effort was decisive.
The defensive midfielder had already hit a long-range shot straight at Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez when Fred whipped in a delightful in-swinging cross with his left foot that the Scot glanced past Martinez into the net.
The visitors had glorious chances to equalise before half-time as Emiliano Buendia muscled through the United backline and saw his shot across goal flash wide, while Ollie Watkins went even closer.
The England striker capitalised on some suspect Victor Lindelof defending to cut inside and fire past home keeper David de Gea, only to see his shot cannon back off the underside of the bar.
Jacob Ramsey also saw a shot deflect narrowly wide but United had opportunities of their own before the break with Edinson Cavani lashing a shot that was well-saved by Martinez and Matty Cash desperately clearing a Marcus Rashford ball across the box that was destined to be tapped in by Mason Greenwood.
The nearest misses for Aston Villa – themselves seven-time winners of the competition, most recently in 1957 when they beat Manchester United in the final – came after the break however, as they twice had the ball in the net, only for both to be ruled out.
Firstly, John McGinn whipped a free-kick into the box and Ezri Konsa headed it down for Danny Ings to flick home from close range but a lengthy VAR review eventually determined that Ramsey had illegally blocked Cavani in the build-up.
On 59 minutes, Ings turned provider as he flicked the ball past De Gea when clean through and Watkins slid home at the far post before Ings was deemed offside from the initial through-ball.
The Red Devils could have sealed victory on 73 minutes when Greenwood raced clear and Martinez was forced to claw away his curled effort but they ultimately held on for victory anyway to set up that fourth-round clash with Middlesbrough.