Toast it, drink it in and file it under things you love to see. Manchester United sit astride the Premier League summit at the halfway stage of a season for the first time in eight years. Even when we finished second in 2017-18, to an admittedly mighty Manchester City side, we never even got close to them.
In a match overshadowed by one of the worst refereeing performances in recent memory, United turned on the power after the interval to edge to a gloriously ugly win in our game in hand. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done something no-one has done since the retirement of our great Scot in 2013 and taken Manchester United to the apex.
The last time we were top of the league at this stage of a season, we won the thing. Of course, we know there’s a long way to go and you don’t win anything in January, but you’d have got very long odds on the Reds leading the way as we go to Anfield. We can’t… can we? It only to the genuine belief that 21 is coming in 2021…
Turf Moor a happy place for Solskjaer’s United…
One of Burnley’s biggest fans became a cult hero during the most recent series of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity. Radio One DJ Jordan North, a die-hard Claret, would go to his “happy place” when facing his fears in the infamous Bushtucker trials. It inadvertently became the Lancashire lad’s catchphrase during the series, in which North finished runner up. That place? None other than the scene of Tuesday night’s United triumph, Turf Moor. It’s not only a happy place for North, but also for Paul Pogba, Solskjaer and United too.
Sean Dyche’s side always make life difficult, even without fans packed into the tight and hostile surroundings of the compact venue on the fringes of the industrial city where United’s less illustrious Lancashire neighbours ply their trade. Our last four visits had brought hard-fought victories with two 1-0s and three 2-0s. The Reds continued that sequence with another hard-fought, single goal victory, our fifth in succession at “The Turf” and one that sends post-Ferguson United into uncharted waters. Whisper it, but title charges are built on such results.
But it’s no thanks to referee Kevin Friend
Match officials do a difficult job but the referee certainly didn’t live up to his name. In a first half littered with bizarre decisions, this was probably the worst refereeing performance I can remember. The nonsensical decision to disallow Harry Maguire’s perfectly good header (have you ever tried going up for the ball without lifting your arms – it’s nigh on impossible) was only the tip of the iceberg. If a Burnley player scored that, 100% it would have been given. Mr Friend couldn’t wait to disallow the goal and couldn’t make the decision quick enough.
Football is in danger of becoming a non-contact sport. There was a bizarre ten minute spell in the first half that left even the usually cool-headed Solskjaer raging and incensed. The sight of the affable Norwegian swearing and losing his temper told you everything. It left you to wonder what happened to the beautiful game I fell in love with. Within the same passage of play, Robbie Brady assaulted Edinson Cavani and seemed certain to get sent off before Luke Shaw’s hefty challenge on a Burnley player prompted Stuart Attwell to look at VAR. He decided the first was a red card and the second nothing but in the end did neither and booked Shaw, ignoring the Cavani incident because it was the same phase of play in a process that took six minutes.
Pogba rises to see off the Clarets
Just like Brexit, Paul Pogba is never far from the headlines. Also like Brexit, he is very divisive and you either want him to stay or want him to go. I’ve made no secret of my contempt for the mercurial and troublesome Frenchman – I think it would be best for all parties if he was to move on. He unsettles the dressing room and his ego is a huge problem but, credit where it is due, the man has been absolutely magnificent in recent weeks. He seems to go with the mood. When United are playing well, so does he, but when things go wrong, he’s usually the one stirring the pot. You could have been forgiven for thinking the World Cup winner might not quite have fancied a trip to industrial Lancashire to be kicked from pillar to post on a freezing cold January night, thank you very much. Far from it. Pogba overshadowed Bruno Fernandes and was at the heart of everything United did, pulling the strings, dictating the play and breaking Burnley’s low block as the Reds dominated the second half. Pogba left Matic to sit by himself, rampaging forward and linking with the attackers to devastating effect. Against a Burnley side content to stifle and kick anything that moved, Pogba scored the winner and was our man of the match by a mile. It might just be a co-incidence with the transfer window open, but this was a Pogba who seemed fully committed to the cause. As Burnley’s final chance went begging, a small fist pump said it all. This meant a lot.