Jose Mourinho’s miserable Christmas continued with a second Premier League successive draw on the back of the Carabao Cup exit at Bristol City.
It would have been worse but for Jesse Lingard’s added time equaliser to deny Burnley their first win at Old Trafford for 55 years.
The goal completed a second-half comeback by United – half-time sub Lingard also netted their first – after they found themselves 2-0 down at the break.
But draws are simply not good enough for United as they chase Pep Guardiola’s City, who will be 15 points clear if they stretch their winning run to 18 games at Newcastle tonight.
Four points dropped in two games while Chelsea and Tottenham have won both of their holiday games means the battle for top-four places has intensified.
And United are now looking over their shoulders rather than the noisy neighbours who are fast disappearing over the horizon.
The result shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. It continued Burnley’s impressive away form against the top six clubs – they have won at Chelsea while drawing at Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal.
It was also something of a ghost from Christmas past for Manchester United. While their modern-day Boxing Day record is impressive 19 wins out of 23 in the Premier League, if you go back in history it is not so clever against the Clarets. Burnley had won on all three previous occasions the clubs had actually met on Boxing Day – the most recent was back in 1963, which was Mourinho’s first Christmas on this planet.
It was very nearly four wins but United clawed a point they deserved in the end although they will be kicking themselves for finding themselves two-behind before they really got started.
Whereas United had conceded late goals in the shock defeat at Ashton Gate and the draw at Leicester, United were caught cold yesterday and were a goal down after three minutes.
Marcos Rojo brought down Jeff Hendrick and from Jack Cork’s free-kick Rojo and Romelu Lukaku both failed to clear leaving Ashley Barnes to score from close range.
Perhaps Mourinho needs to tell Lukaku to stay out of his own penalty area. The big Belgian striker was at fault for both City’s goals in the recent Manchester derby trying to help his team in their own area. And he almost gave one away in similar fashion against Bournemouth.
While that goal might have been scrappy but Burnley’s second was pure quality with Steven Defour curling a superb free-kick over the wall and into the top corner.
Nick Pope clawed Paul Pogba’s header round the post and Ben Mee cleared Marcus Rashford’s shot off the line to preserve the Clarets two-goal lead at the break and spark a major tactical and personnel re-shuffle by Mourinho.
He effectively acknowledged his gamble in giving Zlatan Ibrahimovic his first Premier League start of the season had back-fired by hooking the Swede and defender Rojo to send on Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Nemanja Matic moved into the back four but the changes sparked the necessary improvement with United spending virtually the entire second period in the Burnley half.
Lingard had somehow missed from point-blank range when Ashley Young’s cross set him up, his effort hitting Pope in the face before rolling along the cross bar.
But Lingard, who was also guilty of a bad miss at Leicester, made amends with a delightful back heel flick from Young’s low cross.
For a while United peppered the Burnley box with shots and crosses but when a goal didn’t come they seemed to lose heart and momentum for a while as the Clarets continued to put bodies on the line to get in front of everything thrown at them.
When the board went up showing five minutes of added time United moved up a gear again. And Lingard was alert to fire home a low shot – his sixth in the last seven games – after Juan Mata’s shot had bounced off Ben Mee in a crowded penalty area.
It provided some relief but it was another frustrating day for Mourinho, who must be sick of the sight of Burnley. They held his Chelsea team to a 1-1 draw in February 2015, slugged out a goalless draw at Old Trafford last season before yesterday’s latest backs-to-the-wall episode.
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Young 8, Jones 7, Rojo 5 (Mkhitaryan 46, 6), Shaw 7; Matic 6, Pogba 7; Mata 7, Ibrahimovic 5 (Lingard 46, 8), Rashford 6; Lukaku 5.
Booked: Rojo, Shaw, Mkhitaryan. Goals: Lingard 53, 90. NEXT UP: Southampton (h), Sat PL.
BURNLEY (4-4-1-1): Pope 7; Bardsley 6, Long 6, Mee 7, Taylor 6; Gudmundsson 6, Defour 7 (Vokes 66, 5), Cork 6, Arfield 6; Hendrick 6, Barnes 6 (Walters 80, 5).
Booked: Barnes, Taylor, Gudmundsson, Bardsley, Pope, Vokes, Cork. Goals: Barnes 2, Defour 36. NEXT UP: Huddersfield (a) Sat PL.
Referee: M. Atkinson (Yorks).