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Solskjaer's United fight back to show steel

The scoreline reflects a stalemate. The points tally has risen by just one. But if you were there inside Old Trafford for a final 10 minutes that was part football match, part reenactment of the Alamo, you would have left the ground with a feeling inside your gut, inside your heart, that far exceeded the joy any routine win might have given you.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United had never been behind in a game, never proven that, behind all our verve and creativity in attack, we could come back from the dead and rescue a lost cause. Like Solskjaer did - with a little help from Teddy Sheringham - in the Nou Camp on that balmy night in Barcelona.

But here it was. With Old Trafford a sea of frustration and irritation at Burnley's admirable obduracy and canny gameplan, it looked like this was the night the Solskjaer fairytale would suffer its first sour twist. 

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Instead, through Paul Pogba's penalty and Victor Lindelof's last-ditch, back-stick bundler, the famous old ground erupted in ecstasy. Bodies flew everywhere, strangers hugged and hats flew off heads. In the press area, a red Stetson inexplicably landed at my own two feet. Joyous moments in football stands send all kinds of debris hurtling your way; these are the moments that make following your team life-affirming.

Already Solskjaer has shown something of Sir Alex Ferguson's Midas touch with substitutions. At Newcastle, he introduced Romelu Lukaku, who scored with his first touch. At Arsenal last Friday, at 2-1, with Arsenal pressing for an equaliser, he brought forth Anthony Martial, who pounced to poach United's decisive third.

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Here, it was Jesse Lingard - who won the penalty that led to United's opener - and Alexis Sanchez, whose header incited the Tom Heaton parry that gave Lindelof the chance to rifle United's euphoric equaliser off the Burnley goalkeeper and into the roof of the net.

When the leveller hit the net, there wasn't a soul inside the Theatre of Dreams that didn't think United could get a winner. Ole Gunnar simply turned to face the dugout and the Sir Bobby Charlton stand and grinned. Just like old times.

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The Clarets’ performance was creditably proactive for much of the evening. Dyche’s men pressed United’s back four from the first whistle, as rain, sleet and snow crashed down onto the pitch.

The weather would ease, but Burnley’s miserly defending, enterprising attacking and their somewhat unpopular hesitance to restart play did not.

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United bombarded them for most of the 95 minutes, but somehow found ourselves behind by two goals, thanks to clinical counter-attacks from the Lancastrians.

But as Steve McClaren – a man whose first game alongside Ferguson as assistant manager in 1999 saw Solskjaer himself score four late goals at Nottingham Forest – once said: "United never lose, they just run out of time."

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Almost 20 years to the day, that maxim still breathes, as the Reds again turned on the gas in the final stages.

The draw extends United's unbeaten run under the Norwegian to nine games. That 100 per cent perfection may have ebbed away, but this result made something else evidently clear: this current team is not merely one that can turn on the style, and Solskjaer's reign is no mere nostalgia trip. Tonight, the Reds proved we have other strings to our bow. Patience to go with the spirit; fight to go with the flair; and determination to keep our momentum driving forward.

When Solskjaer first assumed the reins, the critics questioned whether he could turn the ship around. When Cardiff were immediately thrashed, they asked how long it would last.

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After Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle were put to the sword days later, they pointed to the upcoming Spurs fixture – a first clash against Champions League-standard opposition. 

United passed that test too, and then dismissed Arsenal for dessert.
 
Next, could the Reds do it from behind? Once more, Ole’s men have answered unequivocally. Inevitably, defeat will arrive at some point further down the road. Maybe it will come on Sunday, at Leicester. But tonight proved that the many positives of this past month will not easily be eroded.
Victory eluded us, but the Reds – and the buzz – go marching, on, on, on.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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Source: Manchester United FC / Joe Ganley

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