Smalling the unlikely star for United in 3-1 win vs Burnley
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Defender Chris Smalling scored twice after coming on as an early substitute to help Manchester United to a 3-1 win over Burnley that lifted the team to third place in the Premier League on Wednesday.
Sent on the fifth minute for the injured Phil Jones, Smalling scored within 22 seconds with his first touch when he headed home at a corner.
Relegation-threatened Burnley took the game to United, equalizing through a diving header by in-form striker Danny Ings in the 12th minute before wasting a number of chances to go ahead.
Smalling made the visitors pay for their misses in the third minute of injury time by heading in Angel Di Maria’s corner, and Robin van Persie added a late penalty after Di Maria was fouled.
United climbed above Southampton in the standings, but is occupying a Champions League qualification place without hitting top form.
“I didn’t like this performance today,” United manager Louis van Gaal said. “Of course, we have won and the result is fantastic. But after this match you cannot say that we are going up and I want to progress every match.
The build-up to the match was dominated by a bizarre news conference by Van Gaal, who responded to a jibe from West Ham manager Sam Allardyce that United was a long-ball team by producing a dossier of statistics which supposedly undermined the claim.
There were few long balls against Burnley — Marouane Fellaini, the tall midfielder who is often used as a target man, did not step off the bench to add an aerial threat — but United again wasn’t at its free-flowing best.
It needed an intervention by Smalling to get the hosts off the mark, in his first action after coming on. From Wayne Rooney’s corner, Radamel Falcao knocked Van Persie’s flick-on back across the box and Smalling headed home.
The lead lasted six minutes, as Di Maria gave the ball away, right back Kieran Trippier crossed to the back post and Ings headed in superbly after drifting away from Smalling.
United appeared rattled for stages of the first half and lost its shape when Rooney, the club’s third-highest scorer of all-time, was moved to the base of a midfield diamond after Daley Blind came off injured.
Smalling came to the rescue again, nodding in after Rooney and Di Maria exchanged passes to allow the Argentina international to whip in a cross.
Any hopes of a Burnley comeback were extinguished eight minutes from time when Scott Arfield tripped Di Maria when he raced into the box. Smalling did not put himself forward to try to score his first hat trick, leaving penalty duties to Van Persie.