When ERIK TEN HAG asked Jonny Evans to turn back the years, he certainly wasn’t expecting The Belfast Pirlo.
But it was Manchester United’s fifth-choice centre-back, 35 years old, whose sumptuous pass led Bruno Fernandes to score a brilliant captain’s goal just when his team needed it most.
Until that magical moment, the injured United second team had been second best to a dynamic Burnley side for most of the first half.
If you squint, it could be a moment from Evans’ first appearance at the club, when Wayne Rooney picked out Robin Van Persie and the Dutchman volleyed home.
That was in United’s last title-winning campaign in 2012/13 and there is little indication they will end that wait this year or any time soon.
But this victory at least stopped the decline that was threatening to erupt at Old Trafford.
After three defeats in a row, United were all set for another terrible evening.
In front of a goalkeeper, Andre Onana, who had scored in his previous game, injuries forced Ten Hag to field a defense for which “makeshift” would be a very polite word.
In front of them at the end of September was a Brazilian in his 30s, Casemiro, wearing gloves, along with Scott McTominay, another midfielder who had started the season as fourth choice.
Add in two young players making only their second appearance for the club in the Premier League, Hannibal Mejbri and Rasmus Hojlund, and you have a team to win.
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It could have been a starry night for Vincent Kompany and his struggling team.
But for all their good intentions and good football, they failed to score a goal, let alone one of the quality that Evans created and Fernandes scored.
They are at the bottom of the league, while Ten Hag’s team can now look up.
The last time Evans started a game for United was March 2015.
United had become champions less than two years ago, Brexit was still just a spark in the eye of David Cameron’s pet pig and all was right with the world.
United won that game 1-0 at Newcastle thanks to an 89th-minute winner from Ashley Young, but it turned out Evans had canceled out his goal.
He and Papiss Cisse, from Newcastle, were then accused of spitting on each other. Despite his protestations of innocence, Evans was banned for six games, while Cisse endured a seven-game ban.
The Northern Irish legend made one more appearance for United and must have believed it would be his last when he moved to West Brom in the summer.
But circumstances and injuries meant he returned to Old Trafford eight years later, and here he found himself playing in the dodgiest defense the club had fielded for many years.
Burnley center forward Lyle Foster must have kicked or elbowed himself for the silly sending-off against Nottingham Forest that cost him the chance to try his luck against the back four.
However, the first part of the action took place at the other end. Marcus Rashford shot into the side netting within 45 seconds and then played Fernandes for a shot that required a clever stop from James Trafford.
But it wasn’t as good as the save Onana soon had to make as he threw himself to his right to keep out Zeki Amdouni’s header.
Burnley grew in confidence and some in the home crowd thought they had taken the lead when they cut through United with two passes. But their celebration caught in their throats when Amdouni’s shot went past Onana but flew back at the left post.
Then it was the turn of the United fans to be disappointed. After the first corner, Evans headed Sergio Reguilon’s pass into the goal, but the VAR saw that Rasmus Hojlund was offside and obstructing Trafford. Referee Tony Harrington agreed after taking a look at the monitor.
While United were largely disjointed and sluggish, Burnley played and passed with confidence and determination. The impressive Aaron Ramsey found Onana’s hands but the home side were otherwise unable to create a clear opening despite all their neat approaches.
And then came Fernandes’ goof. Evans’ high, diagonal pass was superb and Fernandes’ perfect right-footed volley gave the game the ending it deserved.
Unsurprisingly, United were on the front foot in the second half and someone should have blocked Diogo Dalot’s bubbling cross.
Burnley didn’t produce the best results in the early stages and would have fallen further behind had the excellent Ameen Al-Dakhil not deflected the ball away from a loitering Hojlund.
United finally showed some of the quality and intelligence you would expect from a team competing in the Champions League when facing a newly promoted team from the Championship.
Burnley pressed on and after Onana blocked substitute Jacob Larsen’s attempt, Evans was there to stop Jay Rodriguez forcing the rebound.
Sander Berge headed in from a later corner, but the defense put together by Evans was able to hold firm.
Ten Hag had a post like this in mind. But for now, the Dutchman will take inspiration wherever he can find it.