Manchester United got quite the first-half test and scare from Burnley on Wednesday before putting the relegation-threatened side away late in the second half. Chris Smalling had an interesting game at both ends of the field, but will ultimately be remember as the hero on this day at Old Trafford.
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Michael Keane came inches away from putting the visitors up 1-0 in the third minute as the former Man United defender’s header from a Burnley corner kick went just wide of David De Gea’s near post. United defender Phil Jones injured his ankle on the play and was substituted a couple minutes later.
Chris Smalling, who replace Jones, put United up 1-0 in the 6th minute with his first touch of the game right after entering the field of play. Burnley couldn’t clear a United corner kick from their penalty area, the ball found the head of Smalling after a botched clearance and Smalling looped a header to the far post.
Danny Ings (9th league goal) pulled Burnley level in the 12th minute with a diving header to slam home a curling cross from Kieran Trippier. Ings found himself poorly marked by Smalling atop the six-yard box. When Smalling couldn’t win the ball in the air, Ings had a simple finish to apply and made no mistake about it.
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Burnley enjoyed a prolonged period of pressure around the United penalty area, testing De Gea on two occasions and winning another corner kick. Ashley Barnes curled a first-time effort a foot wide of De Gea’s lefthand post and had the ‘keeper beat had it been on target. In the end, the United defense held and found their footing once again.
Ings went on to have himself some first half following the goal. The 22-year-old caused Smalling all sorts of problems making inside-out runs, getting in behind the United defense and serving delightful balls into the United penalty area. He was unlucky to not either find a second goal or pick up an assist.
Smalling’s struggles inside his own half didn’t transfer, however, to the attacking half of the field as 25-year-old scored his second goal of the game in the third minute of first-half stoppage time. Smalling soared above everyone at the back post to meet Angel di Maria’s cross with power and send the ball into the back of the net.
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United enjoyed 56 percent of possession in the opening 45 minutes, but were out-shot 10 to three (two to three on target).
Ings had Burnley’s best chance of the second half as Smalling whiffed on a clearnce of George Boyd’s cross and the ball fell to Ings six yards from goal. Ings was slow reacting, a bit surprised the ball had found him, giving De Gea ample time to make himself big and make the save.
United’s golden opportunity to seal the game came gift-wrapped in the form of a Scott Arfield foul on Di Maria as he raced into the penalty area. Robin van Persie stepped up to the spot, sent Tom Heaton one way and slotted the ball the other direction.
With the victory, United retake third place in the Premier League, while Burnley remain in 19th place, inching closer and closer toward relegation.
Man United: De Gea, McNair, Jones (Smalling 6′), Evans, Rojo, Blind (39′), Di Maria, Januzaj, Rooney, van Persie, Falcao (Wilson 74′)
Goals: Smalling (6′, 45’+3), Van Persie (82′)
Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Keane, Shackell, Mee, Boyd, Arfield, Jones, Kightly (Vokes 86′), Barnes (Jutkiewicz 90′), Ings
Goals: Ings (12′)