Smalling's double puts United third
Defender Chris Smalling emerged as the unlikely hero for Manchester United as his brace of first-half goals proved the difference in a win over Burnley which elevated Louis van Gaal's side to third in the Premier League table.
Having dropped down to fifth place after Tuesday night's games, United needed a win to keep their top-four ambitions alive and it was Smalling (right) who gave the Old Trafford crowd an early cheer when he headed home just a minute after coming on a fifth-minute substitute for Phil Jones, who hobbled off with an ankle injury.
Striker Radamel Falcao headed a deep cross back across the goal where Smalling planted the ball home with his head.
However, the Reds were rocked back on their heels in the 12th minute when Burnley equalised through prolific striker Danny Ings.
Kieran Trippier went on a surging run and crossed for Ings, who peeled off Smalling to head home.
There was further injury woe for United when defensive midfielder Daley Blind - the hero of Sunday's 1-1 draw at West Ham - went off with a head injury to be replaced by Ander Herrera.
Despite this, United restored their lead deep in first-half injury time through the combination of Smalling and Falcao again.
A deep ball into the Burnley penalty area was cleared and the subsequent corner was played to Wayne Rooney who passed to Angel Di Maria.
The Argentine's pinpoint cross from the right was met powerfully by Smalling.
United had a penalty turned down by referee Kevin Friend on the hour mark when Di Maria got into the Burnely penalty box and was challenged by Ben Mee. Friend quickly waved away Di Maria's appeals however.
However, with United on top, they got the breakthrough they deserved in the 80th minute when Di Maria was taken down in the penalty area by Scott Arfield. This time Friend pointed to the penalty spot where Robin van Persie, so in need of a goal, dispatched the spot-kick, the Dutchman's 12th goal of the season.
Manchester united 3 burnley 1