WHEN ERIK TEN HAG asked Jonny Evans to roll back the years, he surely wasn’t expecting The Belfast Pirlo.
But it was Manchester United’s fifth-choice centre half, 35 years young, whose sumptuous pass set up Bruno Fernandes to score a brilliant captain’s goal just when his team needed it most.
Injury-hit United’s second string had been second best to a vibrant Burnley side for most of the first half until that moment of magic.
Squint your eyes, and it could have been a moment from Evans’ first spell at the club, when Wayne Rooney picked out Robin Van Persie and the Dutchman volleyed home.
That was in United’s last title-winning campaign of 2012/3 and there remains little to suggest they will be ending that wait this year or anytime soon.
But this victory at least stopped the rot that was threatening to set in at Old Trafford.
After three defeats in a row, everything was in place for another horrible evening for United.
In front of a goalkeeper, Andre Onana, who had chucked one in in his previous game, Ten Hag was forced by injuries to send out a defence for which makeshift would be a very polite word.
In front of them was a thirtysomething Brazilian, Casemiro, wearing gloves in late September, alongside another midfielder who had started the season as fourth choice, Scott McTominay.
Add in two young players making only their second Premier League starts for the club, Hannibal Mejbri and Rasmus Hojlund, and you had a team there for the taking.
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It could have been a starry, starry night for Vincent Kompany and his struggling side.
But for all their good intentions and fine football, they could not find a goal, let alone one of the quality that Evans created and Fernandes scored.
They find themselves bottom of the league, while Ten Hag’s side can now look upwards.
The last time Evans started a game for United., it was March 2015.
United had been champions less than two years earlier, Brexit was still just a glint in the eye of David Cameron’s pet pig, and all was well with the world.
United won that game 1-0 at Newcastle, courtesy of an 89th-minute winner by Ashley Young, but it turned out Evans had blotted his clean sheet.
He and Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse were subsequently charged with spitting at each other. Despite his claims of innocence, Evans was banned for six games, while Cisse copped a seven-match suspension.
The Northern Ireland legend made one more sub appearance for United and must have thought it would be his last as he headed off to West Brom that summer.
But circumstances and injuries conspired to bring him back to Old Trafford eight years later, and here he was, playing in the dodgiest-looking defence the club can have fielded for many a year.
Burnley centre forward Lyle Foster must have been kicking himself – or elbowing himself – for the silly sending off against Nottingham Forest that had cost him the chance to try his luck against that back four.
The first of the action was at the other end, though. Marcus Rashford fired into the side netting inside 45 seconds, then played in Fernandes for a shot that required a smart stop by James Trafford.
But it wasn’t as good as the save that Onana soon had to produce, throwing himself to his right to keep out Zeki Amdouni’s header.
Burnley grew in confidence and some in the home crowd thought they had taken the lead when they sliced through United with two passes. But their cheers stuck in their throats as Amdouni’s shot beat Onana but came back off his left-hand post.
Then it was the United fans’ turn for disappointment. From their first corner, Evans headed home Sergio Reguilon’s delivery but VAR spotted Rasmus Hojlund was offside and impeding Trafford. Referee Tony Harrington agreed after having a look on the monitor.
While United were mostly disjointed and ponderous, Burnley played and passed with poise and purpose. The impressive Aaron Ramsey stung Onana’s hands, but the home side were otherwise unable to carve out a clear-cut opening from all their neat approach work.
And then came Fernandes’ sucker-punch. Evans’ high, diagonal pass was superb and Fernandes’ perfect right-foot volley gave it the finish it deserved.
United, unsurprisingly, started the second half on the front foot and someone should have got on the end of Diogo Dalot’s fizzing cross.
Burnley were not hitting the heights of the opening period and would have fallen further behind if the excellent Ameen Al-Dakhil had not diverted the ball away from a loitering Hojlund.
United were at last showing some of the quality and intelligence that you would expect from a side competing in the Champions League when up against a team newly-promoted from the Championship.
Burnley kept going and after Onana blocked substitute Jacob Larsen’s effort, there was Evans to stop Jay Rodriguez forcing home the rebound.
Sander Berge headed over a later corner but the defence marshalled by Evans helf firm.
That kind of contribution was what Ten Hag had in mind. But right now, the Dutchman will take inspiration from wherever he can find it.
Source: The Sun