Paul Pogba’s second-half volley was enough to give Manchester United victory at Burnley and send them three points clear at the top of the Premier League.
United dominated a contest in which Burnley failed to register a single shot on target until stoppage time.
But they were struggling to make a breakthrough until Marcus Rashford picked Pogba out with an excellent cross to the edge of the area.
The Frenchman’s connection was perfect, although it took a deflection off Matthew Lowton to ensure the ball went past Nick Pope and into the Burnley net.
Although Burnley had three decent chances in a frantic ending, United secured the win to head the table after 17 rounds of matches.
It is the first time that has happened this many games into the season since December 2012, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final, title-winning campaign.
New territory for post-Ferguson United
In the seven seasons since Ferguson retired, United have never been higher than second at this stage of the season.
But they were already well adrift of Manchester City during that 2017-18 campaign under Jose Mourinho.
Surprisingly, in points terms, the nearest they have been to the top at this stage was under David Moyes, when they were eighth but only eight points behind the leaders after 17 games.
They made hard work of their ninth win in 11 Premier League games. On his return from a three-match ban, Edinson Cavani wasted two excellent chances and Bruno Fernandes fired a first-half effort straight at Nick Pope.
Anthony Martial was off target with two first-half chances before failing to convert in the final seconds after he had been sent clean through.
None of this matters now though and, while manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right to say nobody remembers what the table looks like in January, Pogba’s clenched fist as Burnley’s last chance went begging indicated the importance of these three points.
VAR gets in the way
It is not often Solskjaer gets so angry on the touchline that he is reduced to swearing.
But the Norwegian could not help himself after one of those bizarre 10-minute periods that leaves you wondering what has happened to that simple game we fell in love with as kids.
Within the period of one passage of play, Luke Shaw left Johann Gudmundsson on the deck with a strong challenge, which ended with the full-back sliding into the Icelandic midfielder’s leg. Play swiftly moved to the other end, where Cavani was chopped down by Robbie Brady when he seemed to be running through on goal.
Video assistant referee Stuart Atwell looked at both incidents, decided the first was not a red card and the second was, but as they were both part of the same phase of play, told referee Kevin Friend to check the monitor, which he did, before showing Shaw a yellow card.
The whole process, from the Shaw tackle to the free-kick being taken, took six minutes. And barely had that episode been concluded than Harry Maguire headed home from an acute angle and turned away to celebrate, only to find the effort had been ruled out for the type of foul on Erik Peters that former England forward Peter Crouch claimed on social media would have cancelled out the majority of his 108 league goals had it applied to him.
However, if United felt those decisions had gone against them, they were might have benefited from one as the clock ticked down and Atwell decided Maguire had not handled in a goalmouth melee, when the call could easily have gone the other way.
- 18WestwoodBooked at 62mins
- 12BradySubstituted forMcNeilat 65′minutes
- 9WoodSubstituted forVydraat 80′minutes
- 10BarnesSubstituted forRodriguezat 88′minutes
- 1de Gea
- 23ShawBooked at 32mins
- 10RashfordSubstituted forGreenwoodat 80′minutes
- 18Bruno FernandesBooked at 45minsSubstituted forMcTominayat 89′minutes
- 9MartialSubstituted forTuanzebeat 90+5′minutes
- 34van de Beek
- Kevin Friend
Match ends, Burnley 0, Manchester United 1.
Second Half ends, Burnley 0, Manchester United 1.
Foul by Jay Rodriguez (Burnley).
Harry Maguire (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Matej Vydra (Burnley) right footed shot from the left side of the box is high and wide to the right.
Substitution, Manchester United. Axel Tuanzebe replaces Anthony Martial.
Attempt saved. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Edinson Cavani.
Attempt blocked. James Tarkowski (Burnley) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Jóhann Gudmundsson (Burnley) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Anthony Martial (Manchester United).
Foul by James Tarkowski (Burnley).
Paul Pogba (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Substitution, Manchester United. Scott McTominay replaces Bruno Fernandes.
VAR Decision: No Penalty Burnley.
Attempt missed. Matej Vydra (Burnley) left footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Ben Mee following a corner.
Substitution, Burnley. Jay Rodriguez replaces Ashley Barnes.
Corner, Burnley. Conceded by Eric Bailly.
Attempt blocked. Matej Vydra (Burnley) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked.
Offside, Burnley. Erik Pieters tries a through ball, but Ben Mee is caught offside.
Attempt missed. James Tarkowski (Burnley) header from the left side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Josh Brownhill following a set piece situation.