Bruno Fernandes scored his 100th career league goal to boost Manchester United’s Champions League hopes and end Aston Villa’s 10-match unbeaten run.
Fernandes pounced six minutes before half-time after Emiliano Martinez had turned Marcus Rashford’s shot into his path.
It sealed a deserved victory for the hosts, who had already gone close through Marcel Sabitzer.
United midfielder Casemiro also hit the bar and curled a second-half effort just wide.
However, Ezri Konza nearly scrambled a close-range equaliser from a late corner that had been flicked on at the near post, but the Villa defender was unable to adjust his body position quickly enough to steer the ball goalwards and United were able to clear.
The result ensures United have a healthy advantage on the clubs chasing a top-four spot, with Villa now nine points adrift of the Red Devils having missed the chance to cut the gap to just three points.
Match-winner Fernandes reaches century
It is difficult to understate Fernandes’ importance to United.
The Portuguese playmaker’s arrival from Sporting Lisbon in 2020 helped rescue a campaign that was going nowhere and ensured United finished third.
Since then, he has carried so much of his side’s attacking threat, remaining consistent throughout a club career that now extends to 178 games.
Even in this game, he annoyed Villa fans – and some of his own – by going to ground too easily or complaining for non-existent fouls. However, his willingness to play through pain is admirable.
Anyone who saw him limping away from a first-half collision in the FA Cup semi-final with Brighton was surprised he remained on the pitch into extra-time.
That he should start two Premier League games in the week after that says much for the 28-year-old’s resolve.
Fernandes’ 11th goal of the season underlined his desire.
He anticipated the ball could run loose as soon as Rashford went for goal – and when Martinez pushed it straight to the area Fernandes was running into, he was quicker to react than Alex Moreno and finished from an acute angle.