By DailyNewsUG Sports Correspondent
DAILYNEWS UG No matter how high a manager’s opinion of himself may be, the only the thing that really speaks for him convincingly is what his team does on the field.
- Romelu Lukaku broke the deadlock in the first half when he headed home following Alexis Sanchez’s cross
- The Belgian then doubled his tally after a chance ball fell to him kindly in the box before he lashed home
- Jose Mourinho leapt to his feet before unleashing an animated celebration on the touchline after the second
- United missed a chance to go three up when Paul Pogba’s effort from the penalty spot was saved by Joe Hart
- Substitute Marcus Rashford was then shown a red card for pushing his head into Phil Bardsley’s face
So two goals at Burnley counted for an awful lot more than the three Premier League titles Jose Mourinho boasted of earlier this week. Those titles point only to a glorious and storied past for Mourinho whereas the two goals scored here by Romelu Lukaku may go some way to pointing to a rather more settled future for Mourinho and Manchester United. In the short term at least.
Mourinho’s name was sang to the rafters of the old away stand at the Cricket Field End both before and after this one-side game. It was a wonder that the players of the Burnley and Rochdale second XIs could hear themselves bat, bowl and field in the green acres directly behind this lovely old stadium.
That was no surprise, either. Mourinho had quite cleverly courted the approval of United’s rank and file from the moment the whistle blew on his team’s home defeat to Tottenham on Monday night. It’s not as difficult to win over your average football fan as you think. Tell them that you love them and you will generally be ok.
So what he needed now was a victory to back up all that endless rhetoric and that came comfortably enough against a Burnley side that already looks leggy after three weeks of Thursday night football in the Europa League.
Yes, this was Burnley remember, a team without a win of any kind over 90 minutes since April, a team that had not scored a goal here against United since 2009. So Mourinho and United should not be fooled in to thinking that their search for renewed credibility is a mission already accomplished.
But this was a start and an important one. Burnley are a little meek this season but after United’s troubles against Tottenham and previously Brighton this game still resembled a hurdle to negotiate, a test of commitment and mental toughness as much as their football.
United – to their credit – passed it easily, starting with a flurry of early chances and scoring twice through Romelu Lukaku to pretty much end the contest before half-time.
The game did eventually come alive but only because Paul Pogba missed a penalty – saved well by Joe Hart – midway through the second half and then Marcus Rashford was sent off for pushing his head in to the face of Phil Bardsley only two minutes after coming on.
That impetuous act could have been costly. Had Burnley striker Sam Vokes not headed a free chance over from six yards as United briefly wobbled with 15 minutes to go, we may have belatedly had a game. At least, briefly, we had an atmosphere.
But with players like Alexis Sanchez excellent and even the recalled defender Victor Lindelof vaguely competent, this was a good afternoon for United and Mourinho, an afternoon to draw breath and head in to the international break with a little more calm.
What Mourinho needed here was a repeat of what he got in the first half against Tottenham on Monday. Buried beneath all he said in a combative press conference after that game was his claim that his team had actually played well in the early stages of a game they eventually lost 3-0.
Mourinho was absolutely right as well. His team had played with an unfamiliar and brisk tempo in taking the game to Spurs and the game may have followed a different course had they taken one of the opportunities they created when they were on top.
Here – with United featuring three changes from that game – United were purposeful again early on against a team that has not really got going yet this season. The difference this time was that United did score and that allowed them to impose themselves properly on the contest.
United actually created three or four chances in the first ten minutes or so. The visiting players were stretching Burnley in wide positions and then working nice angles and openings with neat interplay in and around the edge of the Burnley penalty area.
Sanchez was particularly prominent on his return to the team as was Jesse Lingard who actually failed to score with three decent chances in the first ten minutes. The closest the England international came was with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area that passed just a couple of inches wide of Joe Hart’s left hand post.
Another shot from 20 yards was not quite as close while another chance – set up by Antonio Valencia’s low cross – saw Lingard fail to apply enough power from eight yards.
For a while, United dropped their levels and Burnley came back in to the game. When Sean Dyche’s team began to string passes together they started to look as though they could trouble United.
But just as the game was in danger of becoming more even, United broke away to score and it was perfectly timed.
Sanchez’s cross from the left was clipped and accurate but not the most dangerous that this ground has ever seen. However, Burnley captain Ben Mee had lost track of Lukaku as the Belgian dropped off his shoulder and as a result the United striker was able to head his first goal of the day in to the net from about seven yards.