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man utd 3 1000x500Just three days after our FA Cup exit against Manchester City, we are back to league action tonight to play City’s rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.

This was never going to be anything but a difficult game for us, but it’s changed dramatically since United decided enough was enough with Jose Mourinho and replaced him with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, supposedly on a temporary basis. Given his results so far, all wins, that temporary appointment could change.

Not as though things haven’t improved at Burnley either as we move back into league action. Sean Dyche said the big defeat at City would be parked very quickly and we can go back to the league where we’ve picked up ten points from the last four games, this following the crushing Boxing Day defeat against Everton.

That run of better results has coincided with Tom Heaton’s return to the team and tonight he’ll be going back to the club where it all started for him as a young player. He’s had his Old Trafford moments with Burnley too, no doubt about that. Two seasons ago he turned in a memorable performance to earn us a point from a 0-0 draw.

Last season we got another point; this time it was 2-2 and Tom was centre of attention again as he, his wife and son took seats in the away fans section directly in front of me. He said it was something he’d always wanted to do and, even if his son did doze off in the second half, Tom enjoyed the experience with the Burnley fans.

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Tonight he’ll be back there in goal and coming up against a manager he’s worked with before. “He’s a very good guy in terms of how he is, and he was excellent with me on a personal note,” Heaton said of Solskjaer. “There’s a certain strength in there that’s required for the job and he’s probably got that. I am absolutely delighted to see him doing so well.”

But Heaton is our captain now. He’s looking forward to another Old Trafford return and said: “It’s an opportunity for us. We know what we’re about and we look to get a result. By that, I mean win the game.”

Sean Dyche shuffled his pack for the cup tie but is more than likely to switch back to a team more like the one which drew at Watford although there is a concern regarding the right-back position with Matt Lowton ruled out and Phil Bardsley a doubt. We’ve also got Robbie Brady doubtful after he suffered an injury that forced him off at half time in the cup tie and it looks as though Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson will miss out again.

If Bardsley comes through, I expect us to line up: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood. Subs: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Stephen Ward, Steven Defour, Matěj Vydra, Sam Vokes.

One of Mourinho’s final statements as United manager was to claim they would qualify for the Champions League. In truth, it looked very unlikely and you would have thought something would have to change. it did, he went, and they’ve not looked back. Solskjaer took over on 19th December. Since he took over they’ve won six out of six Premier League games and two FA Cup ties. In those games, only Spurs have kept them down to one goal. In fairness, Spurs apart, the fixtures have been reasonably kind but it is very unlikely they would have got anything like that set of results under the old regime.

Things have changed for United. When Mourinho made his bold claim they were 11 points behind fourth. Today they are just three points behind fourth place Chelsea.

United’s last league game was a 2-1 home victory against Brighton when their team was: David de Gea, Ashley Young, Victor Lindelöf, Phil Jones, Diogo Dalot, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial. Subs: Sergio Romero, Eric Bailly, Matteo Darmian, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata, Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen us play Manchester United at Old Trafford and concede late goals that have proved costly. It happened on my first visit when we went from 1-0 to 2-1 down with goals in the 84th and 85th minutes.

Last season, having led 2-0, we were still in front when the board went up for added minutes, but once again a late goal came and we had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw.

We deserved more, we really did. Ashley Barnes had given us an early lead with a goal from close range and Steven Defour, who only scores special goals, stunned David de Gea and the Stretford End with a superb free kick some ten minutes from half time.

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Everything looked good, even after Jesse Lingard pulled one back for United early in the second half. We reached 90 minutes and up went the board for a further five, the usual generous allocation afforded to United when they are behind at home. They didn’t need them all. Lingard scored his second in the first of them and then it was just a matter of ensuring we at least got a point.

“No disappointment, just pride,” Sean Dyche said after the game. He was just reflecting the mood in the away end. We’d seen a terrific Burnley performance.

The teams were;

Manchester United: David de Gea, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo (Henrikh Mkhitaryan ht), Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Jesse Lingard ht), Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku. Subs not used: Sergio Romero, Daly Blind, Victor Lindelöf, Tuanzebe, Herrera.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Steven Defour (Sam Vokes 67), Jack Cork, Scott Arfield, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Barnes (Jon Walters 81). Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Matt Lowton, Ashley Westwood, Dean Marney, Nahki Wells.

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