This season, Sir Alex Ferguson has been promising to take this competition more seriously, and judging by his starting sixteen, he was true to his word. Old Trafford regulars such as, Silvestre, Brown, Phil Neville, Forlan and Van Nistelrooy all figured in the starting eleven. As for the visitors’ bench – well, frankly it beggared belief. Alongside young prospects Ricardo and Lee Roche sat the vastly experienced trio of Giggs, Scholes and Solskjaer. As insurance policies go, it was up there with the best of them.
Predictably, the Turf Moor turnstiles were suffering from a bad case of congestion, as Burnley’s first sell-out crowd since the days of Ian Wright shoe-horned itself into the ground. Consequently, the kick-off was delayed by a quarter of an hour. Although frustrating at the time it turned out to be a good thing, allowing the atmosphere to build nicely as the hour approached. By the time the teams emerged from beneath the Cricket Field Stand, things had bubbled up nicely, due in no small part to an unusually full and noisy visitors’ end. For the best part of a month, the town had been waiting for this game. It was finally here.
Burnley made a number of changes to the side which was unfortunate to lose against Watford. Mark McGregor made way for The Skip at centre-half, whilst Lee Briscoe having served his suspension slotted in at left midfield. Blake and Taylor were the preferred pairing up front.
Steve Davis’ comments about respecting but not fearing the opposition were made flesh in the very first minute. Robbie Blake picked the ball up in the left hand channel, made the deadball line and pulled it back. Taylor slid in and made contact, but was narrowly wide. For the next ten minutes, Manchester United knocked the ball around nicely, but offered little in terms of penetration. In fact it was the Clarets who made the next chance with a carbon copy of the Blake / Taylor move in the first minute.
Burnley responded well continuing to play a pass and move game whenever the opportunity arose. On 34 minutes, Blake and the ultra-energetic West combined well, the latter sending over a cross which Taylor got his head to. Phil Neville put the ball behind for a corner.
A minute later, United took the lead. John O’Shea picked the ball up in midfield and threaded a beautifully weighted ball through to Diego Forlan. The much-maligned Uruguayan bore down on goal and converted his one-on-one with Beresford. At the time most of Turf Moor berated the linesman in front of the Harry Potts Stand for failing to flag Forlan offside. Subsequent replays showed the assistant referee had got it right, with Dean West playing the striker onside.
The remainder of the half saw each side have one more chance each. In front of the visiting fans, Gareth Taylor’s header from a Lee Briscoe corner saw Roy Carroll pull off a fine one-handed tip over, whilst at the other end, John O’Shea wasted a great opportunity by heading wide from a free-kick, unmarked at the back post. Half time arrived with Burnley unlucky to be in arrears, yet still very much in the game.
Burnley began the second period in much the same way they had against Spurs in the previous round, as they carried the game to their visitors. But it was Manchester United who had the first opening of the period, Chadwick and Forlan enjoyed good interplay to release the promising Stewart, who forced a good save from Beresford.
On 58 minutes, Little crossed from the right. Taylor’s header fell to Briscoe on the edge of the box, but his effort was crowded out by a posse of United defenders. It was end-to-end stuff now, and in front of his own supporters, Pugh again fluffed his lines shooting wide with just the keeper to beat.
Then on 66 minutes it was game over. The speedy Luke Chadwick got down the right and pulled the ball the ball back to Solskjaer, on as half-time sub for van Nistelrooy. He fairly lashed the ball home. Let’s just say that if the net had not been there to stop it, the ball would have probably come to rest somewhere up the back end of St. James’ Street. Marlon had no chance.
Stan introduced Dimi for Briscoe immediately after the goal. But United had done enough now and were happy to control midfield. As if to emphasise the point, Scholes and Giggs had by this point joined the fray. The best we could muster from the bench was Alan Moore. You get the picture…
As Burnley poured forward in an attempt to salvage a goal, they became stretched. The two best remaining chances went to United. On 81 minutes, Phil Neville’s low drive flew past Marlon’s post. And just before full-time, Marlon kept the scoreline respectable, diving at Pugh’s feet to deny the youngster yet again.
Come the final whistle, Burnley left the field to a fully deserved standing ovation. They were unable to repeat their heroics of the previous round, simply because they had come up against a much better side. To their immense credit, Burnley never gave up trying to get the ball down and play good football. But when you’re up against a side like United, particularly given the strength of the team they fielded, your work is always going to be cut out. The run is finally at an end, but Burnley have had a couple of plum ties, made some money and acquitted themselves very well before the TV cameras. Now, who do you fancy in the FA Cup draw this weekend…….?