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Successive defeats, and results elsewhere, have left us hovering right above the bottom three in the Premier League although still with a healthy lead over them as we head to Old Trafford and our away game against Manchester United.

Brighton’s home draw against Everton took them above us last Monday and yesterday it was Newcastle who passed both us and Brighton with a 3-2 home win against Newcastle which has left us as the most vulnerable of being sucked into the bottom three.

The lead is still reasonably healthy. We are currently seven points clear of Fulham and have a nine point advantage over West Brom. Fulham have played a game more. Sheffield United we never needed to be worried about and in any case they were relegated yesterday.

Although each season is different, the highest points total required to avoid relegation in any of our previous Premier League seasons has been 36 which is just three more than we have now. There are no guarantees but somewhere along the line I remain convinced that we will win enough points to be well clear at the end whether we finish 17th or any higher. It’s just a shame that those last two games turned around to such a degree; had they both been won then we’d now be sat in 13th place with only Crystal Palace behind us being anywhere near close.

But we didn’t win either of those games. We lost leads and ended both with defeats and now have to battle to get the points we need and that battle starts today at Old Trafford where results have been kind to us in recent years. The last defeat was in 2015. We were beaten 3-1 that night but were arguably the better side. Since, we’ve had three draws and a win so we do know how to get points there.

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Goalkeeper Nick Pope said this week: “Something we’ve got better at in the Premier League is playing away at the bigger teams. I think we’ve grown to enjoy the challenge and take it on and make the game about us as much as possible. I think that’s something we’ve improved at over the last few years in the Premier League.” By ‘the bigger teams’, I don’t think he’s including Spurs and certainly not referring to Manchester City.

Pope missed this season’s Etihad mauling and was also ruled out last Sunday with a shoulder injury which allowed Bailey Peacock-Farrell to win a second Premier League appearance. Sean Dyche said Pope would be assessed but it will be a boost for us if the England international is back in goal.

Dwight McNeil is another who is being assessed having picked up a knock in training while we still have all of Kevin Long, Robbie Brady and Ashley Barnes ruled out with injury. Barnes, in particular, is a big miss in terms of forward options and this will be an eighth successive game he’s missed.

Those forward options have been increased with the return of Jay Rodriguez. He was missing from the squad last Sunday due to an impending birth in the family and we were delighted to hear that he and his wife Simone now have their first child, a daughter who they have named Wren.

If Pope and McNeil come through and are fit to play, I expect us to line up: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Josh Brownhill, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil, Chris Wood, Matěj Vydra. Subs from: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Phil Bardsley, Jimmy Dunne, Richard Nartey, Charlie Taylor, Dale Stephens, Jack Cork, Josh Benson, Jay Rodriguez, Lewis Richardson, Joel Mumbongo.

Manchester United go into the game in second place in the Premier League and no matter what the result they won’t be moving up or down. They are currently eleven points behind leaders Manchester City but hold a seven point advantage over Leicester who sit third.

If anything, they are more vulnerable at home than on the road. Four teams have beaten them at Old Trafford this season but three of them, Crustal Palace, Spurs and Arsenal, came in their opening four home fixtures. The only defeat since Arsenal won on 1st November surprisingly came against Sheffield United in late January.

Those are the only four Premier League games they have lost in total since our win at Old Trafford last season and they haven’t been beaten on the road  since losing at Anfield just three days earlier when Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah scored in a 2-0 win for the team destined to win the league.

They are having an outstanding season and, although they have only conceded eight goals less than us, they have netted 61, a total only bettered by leaders City. Bruno Fernandes leads the way with 16 of those goals although half of those have come from the penalty sport. Marcus Rashford has ten while Edinson Cavani can match our leading scorer Chris Wood with seven.

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They will be without Anthony Martial today. He has a knee injury that is likely to rule him out of the remainder of the season but they will welcome back Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay (pictured above), all of whom had a break in midweek having been suspended for their win against Granada. Eric Bailly is also available after injury.

The other big change today is that the seat coverings at Old Trafford will be black rather than red after manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested the red had made it difficult for his players to pick each other out. I can confirm that Burnley will be playing in yellow; not black.

United’s last league game was last Sunday’s 3-1 win at Spurs when their team was: Dean Henderson, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelöf, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Fred, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani. Subs: David de Gea, Juan Mata, Mason Greenwood, Amad, Alex Telles, Nemanja Matic, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek, Axel Tuanzebe.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

There are games you prefer to forget, some you prefer to remember and then there are those that you will never forget and our trip to Old Trafford last season definitely falls into that last category.

We’d been 2-0 up in each of the previous two seasons before drawing 2-2. The United equaliser had come in stoppage time on both occasions and in the second of those games the equaliser would definitely have been ruled out for offside today.

This time it didn’t happen. This time we took a 2-0 lead and this time we kept it to send the away end into raptures at the final whistle.

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The first goal came six minutes before half time when Ben Mee headed down an Ashley Westwood free kick for Chris Wood to finish with a left foot shot into the corner. Just over ten minutes into the  second half we got our second. Westwood played the ball to Jay Rodriguez who played a one-two with Wood before unleashing a stunning left foot shot which beat David de Gea on his near post with the Spaniard helpless.

With some 34 minutes remaining and concern as to how we might defend, I got somewhat nervous, but, despite them having a lot of the ball, they never really threatened our goal to any great extent and the victory appeared ours long before the final whistle which came with most of the home fans and tourists having contributed to a fire drill.

It was our first victory at Old Trafford since 1962, the first time I’d ever seen us win there and a night to remember, a night to savour.

The teams were;

Manchester United: David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Brandon Williams (Luke Shaw 69), Nemanja Matic, Fred, Andreas Pereira (Mason Greenwood ht), Juan Mata, Daniel James (Jesse Lingard 69), Anthony Martial. Subs not used: Sergio Romero, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Angel Gomes.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Wood. Subs not used: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Erik Pieters, Mace Goodridge, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Brady, Matěj Vydra.

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