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Hernandez to the rescue as United move clear
A brace of goals from Andreas Weimann looked set to condemn United to their third loss of the season, but Hernandez pulled one back and then set up an own goal by Ron Vlaar before heading home a sensational 87th-minute winner.
"It was an absolutely magnificent result for us," United coach Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports.
"It was a magnificent game. Aston Villa were fantastic today and you have to feel sorry for them, but we never gave in.
"(Hernandez) does his natural thing. He's fantastic in the box, with his movement, his quickness, his finding space, and that's got him the goals today."
Defeat left Villa fourth from bottom, three points above the relegation places, but they more than held their own in the opening 45 minutes at Villa Park and took the lead in first-half injury time.
Christian Benteke resisted Chris Smalling's attentions wide on the Villa left before cutting the ball back to Weimann, who placed a first-time shot into the roof of the net from just inside the penalty box.
Hernandez replaced Ashley Young at the interval but Weimann struck again five minutes into the second half, slamming in from close range after Gabriel Agbonlahor got free down the left.
United hit back quickly though, with Hernandez to the fore.
The Mexican finished between Brad Guzan's legs in the 58th minute to claim his sixth goal in six appearances, before seeing a volley turned home by Villa defender Vlaar to give the away side a 63rd-minute equaliser.
David de Gea denied Weimann a hat-trick with a smart save from the Austrian forward's header, while Robin van Persie hit the bar twice, before Hernandez capped another trademark United comeback by converting van Persie's free-kick.
The result left Arsene Wenger's side four points below the Champions League places in seventh position, with three of the teams above them still to play.
Arsenal went 2-0 up inside 23 minutes thanks to a near-post header from Olivier Giroud and a predatory finish from Lukas Podolski, but Fulham levelled through headers from Dimitar Berbatov and substitute Alexander Kacaniklic.
Giroud replied immediately after Berbatov had put Fulham ahead from the penalty spot in the 67th minute, but Arteta's stoppage-time spot-kick drew a fine save from Mark Schwarzer after Sascha Riether was penalised for handball.
"It is very frustrating, because it's difficult to score goals but we have to continue to score and of course get defensively better," Wenger told the BBC.
"I think Giroud has always been dangerous and he was a positive today. He raised questions, and that's good news for us."
Everton held onto fourth place by beating Sunderland 2-1, with Marouane Fellaini scoring the equaliser and setting up the winner for Nikika Jelavic after Adam Johnson had put the visitors ahead with a 45th-minute half-volley.
West Bromwich Albion remain level on points with Everton in fifth place after a 2-1 success at Wigan Athletic.
James Morrison headed in Chris Brunt's sublime cross to put the visitors ahead in the 31st minute, with Gary Caldwell's own goal doubling West Brom's lead before Arouna Kone replied for Wigan prior to half-time.
Southampton climbed off the foot of the table despite being pegged back by Swansea City in a 1-1 draw at St Mary's Stadium, while third-bottom Reading remain without a win after a 0-0 draw at home to Norwich City.
In the day's other game, Charlie Adam claimed his first goal for Stoke City to give Tony Pulis' side a 1-0 win at home to Queens Park Rangers that sent the London club back to the bottom of the table.
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