Aston Villa's Columbian striker Jhon Duran (2nd L) eyes the ball during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on April 30, 2023 | Photo: AFP
Manchester, United Kingdom: Bruno Fernandes was on target as Manchester United beat in-form Aston Villa 1-0 on Sunday to strengthen their push for a top-four Premier League finish.
The Portugal international scored shortly before half-time to settle fans' nerves at Old Trafford and lift United nine points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham.
The club are closing on a Champions League berth for next season in Erik ten Hag's first campaign in charge but off the field uncertainty swirls over the ownership.
Friday was the third, and what is expected to be final, deadline for interested parties to make offers to buy the club from the unpopular Glazer family.
The 1958 fan group led a march of hundreds of fans from central Manchester to Old Trafford on Sunday chanting for the Glazers to cut their ties with the club, carrying a giant banner which read "Full Sale Only".
Ten Hag made two changes after his side's 2-2 draw against Tottenham in midweek, with Tyrell Malacia coming in for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcel Sabitzer replaced Antony.
Aston Villa boss Unai Emery named an unchanged side after eight wins and two draws in 10 league games.
United enjoyed the bulk of possession in the first half and midfielder Casemiro hit the crossbar with a right-footed shot just before the half hour.
The home side finally broke through in the 39th minute, with Fernandes turning in at the far post after Emiliano Martinez had pushed away a low Marcus Rashford strike.
The goal was given the green light after a VAR review.
Villa started the second half brightly before United found their feet again but Ten Hag's men could not score a second to give themselves breathing space.
United's players claimed a penalty when top-scorer Rashford was bundled over by Villa defender Calum Chambers but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The Red Devils have struggled for goals this season and failed to kill the game but managed to hold on to take all three points despite late Villa pressure.
United are heavy favourites to qualify for next season's Champions League along with Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle.
But fans will be keen for the club's future to be settled.
The Glazers, who have saddled the club with huge debts, are assessing the offers of Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani and Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos group to buy United.
Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim wants to take 100 percent ownership, while it is understood that British billionaire Ratcliffe would buy just over 50 percent of United's shares.
That would allow co-chairmen Joel and Avram Glazer to remain at the club, which would be hugely unpopular with large sections of the club's fanbase.