A satisfying victory for Jose Mourinho, in more ways than one. On a day when Ed Woodward was singled out as the subject of the support’s ire, the Manchester United manager claimed a much-needed three points and thereby avoided a defeat that could have turned even his most loyal fans against him.
United ended the afternoon bruised, bloodied and a man down from a physical and sometimes ill-tempered win over Sean Dyche’s below-par Burnley. Marcus Rashford’s red card for a clash of heads with Phil Bardsley, coming minutes after Paul Pogba’s penalty miss, could have precipitated a collapse and undone all their hard work.
Romelu Lukaku’s first-half double ultimately went unanswered though and United’s superiority, evident from the start, was rewarded. The same supporters who cheered the first appearance of the anti-Woodward flyover protest were singing Mourinho’s name at the final whistle.
Like after Monday’s crushing Old Trafford defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho made a point of showing appreciation for their support. Unlike on Monday night, plenty of supporters had stayed behind to receive his thanks. Before walking down the tunnel, Mourinho threw his coat into the crowd.
In his post-match press conference, Mourinho would dedicate the victory to Woodward. “I didn’t see planes but Ed Woodward won this afternoon. He won 2-0,” he said, extending an ostensible olive branch after the weeks of coded comments and counter-briefings. Whether this is a sincere truce, let alone a lasting one, remains to be seen.
The protest came before kick-off with the banner reading ‘Ed Woodward – A Specialist in Failure’ – a phrase coined by Mourinho, of course – and the dull whirring of the aircraft’s engine was the only sound that disturbed a pre-match minute’s silence for Jimmy McIlroy, the star of Burnley’s 1959-60 title-winning side, who passed away last month.
United began purposefully, looking to break in behind, with Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw registering early attempts from bright passages of play. This early energy gradually ebbed away in an increasingly physical game, however. Lukaku’s first thus came at an ideal time, just as the momentum began to fade.
Tight positional play has served Burnley well over the years and Dyche’s defence ignored the crowd’s calls to close down and put a foot in as United probed around the edge of their box. This allowed Alexis Sanchez time to look up, spot Lukaku drift away from Ben Mee and plant a perfectly-weighted cross onto his striker’s head.
Mourinho clenched his fists tightly in celebration, a small but visible display of relief, but otherwise remained seated on the substitutes’ bench and wore a steely glare, knowing there was still more to be done. A one-two between Lukaku and Sanchez seven minutes later came close to producing another goal but Hart moved quickly off his line to block.
Lukaku’s and United’s second would eventually come on the cusp of half-time, following the type of slick play rarely associated with this side. Again, Sanchez was at the centre of things, with a clever backheel to release Shaw’s incisive run.
United worked the play back to Lingard, waiting to pounce on the edge of the area, but his goalbound strike deflected one way off Charlie Taylor, then another off Ashley Westwood. Amid all the confusion, the ball would eventually break kindly for Lukaku to apply a simple finish.
Turf Moor’s reputation as a difficult away trip endures but Burnley were playing like a team that had taken just nine points from 10 home games in 2018 and had shown little danger of adding to that tally. Thursday’s Europa League exertions against Olympiakos appeared to be taking their toll too.
Hart, in particular, had not covered himself in glory on either goal and would now be subjected to 45 minutes in front of United’s boisterous away following. The chants of ‘City reject’ were no louder than in the moments after Aaron Lennon conceded a penalty, felling Rashford inside the box.
Pogba approached the spot-kick with the same, dithered run-up he successfully used on the opening weekend against Leicester City. This time, though, he was denied. Hart made what was presumably one of the most enjoyable penalty saves of his career, sprawling down low to his right.
A smouldering second half suddenly caught fire, with Rashford’s dismissal following a few minutes later. Bardsley’s deliberate trip on the young substitute was cynical but did not excuse Rashford pressing his head against his opponent. He will be banned for three matches.
David de Gea, a spectator up until this point, was suddenly called upon by Sam Vokes, whose header was tipped over the crossbar. Burnley, building momentum, had enough time to claw a 10-man United back and Turf Moor was roused once again when Mee’s block brilliantly denied Lukaku a hat-trick after the Belgian had rounded Hart.
Another late Vokes header brought about another De Gea save and Matej Vydra, Dyche’s new signing from Derby County, could not convert on the follow-up. A comeback was beyond Burnley and in stoppage time, the United end felt comfortable enough to celebrate the man responsible for their victory. This is still Mourinho’s red and white army.
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