LONDON • If the banner flown over Turf Moor decrying Ed Woodward, Manchester United's executive vice-chairman, as a "specialist in failure" was pre-game hoopla, on the pitch, the convincing 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday might prove a first baby step in the club mounting a credible English Premier League title challenge this season.
Woodward was the target of a protest from United fans unhappy with his dealings in the transfer market, and a group of supporters paid for a pilot to fly the banner 20 minutes before kick-off.
But while United manager Jose Mourinho is reportedly disgruntled with Woodward over his failure to sign more than three players this summer, he refused to condone the actions of the protesters.
"In the match, I'm not looking at the sky unless I'm asking for the guy to give me help. I didn't see planes but Ed Woodward won this afternoon. He won 2-0," the Portuguese joked after the game.
He used the opportunity to have a dig at his critics but accepted that his team should have scored more with their first-half dominance.
"Some of you must be disappointed because it would be much better if we lose," he said. "But the performance was very good. We should have killed (off) the game much earlier, we should win the match for a bigger result.
"The three points were an important thing, the quality of the performance and happiness of the team is an Old Trafford response - the way Old Trafford reacted to the boys in the Spurs defeat was important.
"Romelu (Lukaku) should leave here with a hat-trick easily, but the important thing is that he went back to goals and the team are back to victories."
Mourinho felt his decision to start Marouane Fellaini was justified after the Belgian repelled Burnley's aerial attacks and direct approach, calling him "phenomenal" and "our best player in the air".
He also revealed that there were no plans to take United midfielder Paul Pogba off spot-kick duties despite his second-half penalty miss and backed the Frenchman to take the next awarded one.
"If he wants to, yes," Mourinho said. "I never blame a player for missing penalties. I blame the ones who refuse to go up there."
Although what had been an unqualified United success at Burnley was slightly tarnished when Marcus Rashford, who had been cynically fouled by Phil Bardsley, received a red card after he headbutted his assailant, Mourinho believes the England forward will learn to curb his impetuousness.
He added: "I didn't see it, the only thing I can say is that is probably the experience of Bardsley, 20 years in football, against the impulse and naivety of a guy who has been in top football for three years but is still a young head."
Rashford will serve a three-match ban and apologised on Twitter, saying: "Emotions got the better of me, I shouldn't (have) reacted like that. Sorry to everyone at the club and all the fans."
Burnley manager Sean Dyche refused to panic and said his club, with only one point after four games, will not face teams with the same quality as United every week.
He said: "Disappointment is quickly thought about in the same process as the reality."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON