Sir Alex Ferguson's men appeared to be heading for their first loss at Villa Park since 1995 when Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton fired the home side 2-0 up with 14 minutes remaining. The goals arrived at the crescendo of an electric 15-minute spell by Villa but, having thrown away plenty of winning positions this season, United this time rallied to rescue a draw.
First Macheda, on for the lacklustre Dimitar Berbatov, smashed high into the top corner to spark his team into life. And then, with just five minutes remaining, Vidic arrived at the far post to clinch a barely deserved point for United.
Gerard Houllier raised more than the odd eyebrow ahead of kick-off with his team selection, which featured 21-year-old debutant Jonathan Hogg alongside his 20-year-old team-mate Barry Bannan in the absence of Stiliyan Petrov and Nigel Reo-Coker. Typical of a Houllier side, the majority of the first-half possession rested with the opposition, but only once did United produce anything truly threatening. Berbatov was the man to force his way into the left channel of the Villa penalty area, but the Bulgarian's finish unusually lacked class as he stabbed wide of the near upright.
Half-time interrupted the general malaise around Villa Park and, working with a team boasting ten British or Irish outfield players, Houllier inspired a breathtaking response after the break - led by his wide players as Albrighton twice went close at the far post. United's players were rattled, none more so than Nani, who was extremely fortunate not to see red after his elbow found the head of Stephen Warnock. Referee Mike Dean only produced a yellow card, but regardless of the numerical equality Villa were well on top.
James Collins, up for a corner, found Edwin Van der Sar's crossbar from Downing's pinpoint cross, and less than five minutes later Gabriel Agbonlahor clipped the base of the right post. A goal was surely coming, and it finally arrived when Ashley Young earned and converted a penalty after being clipped by Wes Brown.
Four minutes later it was 2-0 as Downing, who gave Fabio Capello a timely reminder of his talents just hours before the announcement of the England squad to play France, crossed for Albrighton to double the advantage. United, who had not registered a shot on target in 76 minutes of football, appeared to be reeling. However, with time running out, Macheda and Vidic managed to preserve their undefeated record, if not their growing pursuit of Chelsea.