Laws made four changes from Owen Coyle's controversial curtain call at MK Dons, with Andre Bikey (ACON), Richard Eckersley (Bench), Robbie Blake (Bench) and Christian Kalvenes (Bench) all missing out. Replacing them, were Tyrone Mears, who returned from his one match ban, David Nugent, who was cup tied for the game at Stadium MK, Stephen Jordan and most noticeably, a league debut for David Edgar, signed from Newcastle in the summer, for a fee of £350,000, recently agreed at a tribunal. Both the skipper Steven Caldwell and Clarke Carlisle missed out with injury.
In an end to end first half which yielded many chances for both sides, the Clarets could easily have found themselves in front, as Steven Fletcher failed to capitalise on a fantastic break, culminating with Nugent finding Fletcher alone on the left, however the big Scot dragged his shot just wide of van der Sar's left hand post.
The home side had plenty of chances of their own, as the Clarets' penalty area was peppered by a series of misguided crosses from Antonio Valencia, who failed to capitalise on the abundances of space he found himself in on our left, however an impressively defiant rearguard action from the newly formed partnership in the middle left Rooney and co frustrated with their lack of clear opportunities. One sour note which marred the first period was the premature replacement of Fletcher, due to an injury inflicted by a typical attacker's lunge from Valencia.
Equally impressive as the attacking and defensive solidity was the collective unity of the Clarets' faithful, who have been divided by recent events, and the vocal support shown for the new man at the helm, who responded with much gratitude to the travelling claret contingent.
After an identically bright start to the second half from the clarets, David Nugent found himself inches away from what would have been a sensational moment at the theatre of dreams. As United old-boy Chris Eagles once more dissected the United backline, Nugent found himself in space in front of Gary Neville, but at the pivotal moment failed to steer his shot past van der Sar. As is so often the case, the missed chance was the catalyst for a United resurgence, and as more and more red shirts descended on the Clarets' 18 yard box, it was Dimitar Berbatov who, with the help of Michael Duff, put the champions ahead from 8 yards out. While a Coyle-esque collapse seemed on the cards, it was the Clarets who continued to press, as the revitalised Chris Eagles found himself in acres of space in the 18 yard box, however he was unable to steer his shot to either side of the United keeper.
The Clarets were to rue missed chances again, as once again, the champions re-grouped, and another lesson in clinical finishing saw the ever present Wayne Rooney calmly pick his spot, and fire past the helpless Brian Jensen from close range.
The second goal proved to be the final nail in the coffin, however, dampen spirits it did not, as the jovial masses of clarets ironically belted out chants of "USA", and mocked the seemingly cash strapped champions, with persistent light hearted jibes of "Where's your money gone?". The mutual appreciation of the running of the club has been one of the most refreshing sights this season, in a league riddled with debt and unpaid wages.
Only a lapse of concentration at the death allowed the scoreline to represent that of a routine victory, as neither Duff nor Jensen fully committed themselves to a ball over the top, and United's newest young protégé Diouf comfortably lobbed Jensen from 18 yards. Even then, Brian Laws' claret and blue army continued to push forward in numbers, and Steven Thompson - who certainly deserved a goal after prospering in a game which he ill-expected to play, headed against the post from 10 yards out.
In a game where the fluent attacking play we have become accustomed to, and more surprisingly a confident defensive line flourished, it was hard not to take positives, as referee Probert blew time on an eventful day in the so called "cauldron of noise". You couldn't be further from the truth.
Even more encouraging was the post match PR from the club, which for the first time in over 2 years, saw the words 'illusions', 'merit' and 'population' left out, although rumour has it, that by 6pm this evening, they may have made a return. In what many regarded as a sound display, Laws revealed that he "had seen so much he can work with and work on.". Furthermore, Laws' frank attitude to post match PR was incredibly refreshing, and he was quick to point out the flaws which have proved to be a real hindrance away from home. He said "If there is something we can work on it's that we are very gung-ho at times - and we have to be aware of that."
David Edgar also contributed in a generally predictable summary of events, however one particular quote which seemed to damn Coyle's inspirational man to man strategy, was "I prepared the right way this week because I knew I had a chance of playing." The drive which Laws' appointment seems to have injected into the players was no more evident than in the performance of the Canadian, who shone after being thrown into the deep end on his debut.
Once again, Chris Eagles found himself at the heart of every attack, and is reaping the rewards of a prolonged period in the side, after over a season of being unable to cement a regular place. Looking every bit a premiership player, his sub-two million price tag now seems a steal.
Another stand out performance came in the unlikely form of Steven Thompson - Turf Moor's most recent forgotten man. His ability to hold up the ball, and more importantly provide the missing link between the midfield and David Nugent was invaluable, and for a man with as little premier league experience as himself, he looked every bit the accomplished striker which he has always aspired to be.
The most resounding message of all was another from Laws. "If we continue in that same vein, we will stay in the Premier League - I am confident of that."
Somehow, I think I believe him.