Photos: Manchester United 3, Burnley 1
Striker Danny Ings outshone Manchester United’s millions but was on the losing side as the Clarets lost 3-1 on Wednesday evening.
The former Bournemouth man impressed on centre stage under the lights at Old Trafford, scoring his ninth goal of the term to surpass Steven Fletcher’s tally from the 2009/10 season.
And it was a stage befitting of Ings’s ability and ambition as the England under 21 international showed he was worthy of being among such esteemed company.
But once again a spectacularly display from Ings and his counterparts was marred by an inability to defend set plays.
The first half culminated in all too familiar circumstances for Sean Dyche’s side who somehow went in 2-1 down at the interval despite penning the hosts back at Old Trafford.
While Chris Brunt and Ideye Brown denied the Clarets maximum points at Turf Moor at the weekend with two headed goals from corners, United substitute Chris Smalling inflicted a similar fate.
It was all too reminiscent and excessively frustrating. The visitors had outplayed one of the most expensive collection of players ever to grace the Theatre of Dreams. But it ultimately turned in to a nightmare as the Clarets conceded headed goals numbers 15 and 16.
The Clarets were outlandishly dominating the 20-time Premier League champions on their own patch, and there wasn’t any need for the ‘long ball or long pass’ debate. It was intricate, methodical and incisive from the away side.
Michael Keane, on his return to the club where he spent 11 years, almost gave Louis Van Gaal an early headache when showing more guile than Phil Jones to meet Kieran Trippier’s corner but the England under 21 international powered his header wide of the near post.
The home side responded when Paddy McNair tested Tom Heaton with a stinging right-footed drive from the edge of the box but the goalkeeper did well to beat the effort away for a corner.
At that point United were forced in to a change when an injured Jones was replaced by Smalling, a transformation that would impact on the fixture significantly.
In fact it took just 22 seconds for Smalling to open the scoring with his first touch of the evening. The one-time Fulham defender towered above his marker once - Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao had played their parts from Wayne Rooney’s corner - and found the corner. Only a contribution from Angel Di Maria was missing from United’s expensive build up.
However, Dyche’s men weren’t at all overawed by the occasion. Instead they flourished in front of 70-000 plus fans housed within the stadium.
In times of adversity - in light of Dean Marney’s injury on the back of a barren transfer window - the Clarets always give a reaction and convey a character, attitude and mentality that is unrivalled at this level. They never cease to amaze their faithful support.
Immediately they hit back. Ings, who was imperious throughout, bypassed McNair with a beautiful reverse pass but David De Gea saved Michael Kightly’s tame effort as the winger opted for placement over power.
Burnley only had to wait six minutes for the equaliser, though, as Old Trafford descended in to a stunned silence.
Trippier broke up the play, continued his run past Di Maria, and crossed for Ings who threw himself at the ball to beat De Gea in front of the Stretford End. It was a dream moment for a 22-year-old who may have engineered a dream move in the summer based on this performance. Meanwhile, Smalling was still trying to navigate the striker whose movement had caused all kinds of confusion.
The pressure, at times, was sustained. Marcos Rojo blocked Ings’s side-footed effort when protecting De Gea from Trippier’s corner before Ashley Barnes had the Spanish stopper beaten with a beautifully bending attempt from Ings’s pull back but the ball flashed past the post.
Barnes continued to hassle United’s backline - the concoction of his frame and determination proving a menace to combat - and he was unfortunate to flick his header over the bar after winning yet another aerial battle from Trippier’s delivery.
The away side’s drive and endeavour completely overawed their hosts, and United failed to handle the pressure on the ball. With Arfield winning possession in the right back slot, and David Jones again in the centre of the park, play was eventually worked out to Kightly who clipped a pass in to Barnes though the striker missed the target from the angle of the six-yard box.
However, Burnley’s defensive frailties from set-pieces proved a problem once more. Di Maria manufactured the space when sharing a short corner with Rooney and the Argentinian’s floated cross was converted by Smalling, who had towered above former team-mate Keane.
The Clarets, now 19th in the table, were denied a second leveller early in the second half when Trippier and Ings combined to release Boyd, his cross was left to run due to Ander Herrera and Smalling’s indecision, but Ings was denied by a sublime, point blank save from De Gea before the ball ricocheted back off the striker and cleared the bar.
Aside from Heaton plunging to his left to deny Adnan Januzaj, United were rarely threatening. Van Persie and Falcao failed to register a shot on goal between them.
But the Dutch international was gifted the opportunity from the spot with time ticking down after Arfield tripped Di Maria. Van Persie stepped up and sent Heaton the wrong way to make it 3-1.
It was harsh on the Clarets, but it took a smart save from Heaton and a block on the line from Shackell to prevent salt from being rubbed in to the wounds further as Di Maria and Januzaj threatened respectively.
The Clarets now march on to Stamford Bridge in hope of denting Chelsea’s title charge while enhancing their own bid for survival.