The last Premier League game of the year and Manchester United can only hope it bodes well for better times in 2022.

Victory over a spirited but struggling Burnley at Old Trafford lifted them into sixth place in the Premier League after a turbulent few weeks. It is 32 years since United went into the New Year outside the top-six, and that infamous ‘Ta’ra Fergie’ banner appeared here in December 1989.

Last night, it was an 80th birthday greeting that fluttered across the Stretford End before kick-off, and Sir Alex Ferguson will have appreciated that from his seat in the directors’ box just as much as a positive display from United that was rewarded by three goals before half-time.

It was much needed after unconvincing performances against Newcastle and Norwich, the bottom two clubs. Burnley occupy the other spot in the relegation zone and are now without a win in six games, so nobody at United should get too carried away.

But at least caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick remains unbeaten and United finish a difficult year on a high.

When Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes scored in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa here all the way back on New Year’s Day, United were joint top with Liverpool and 2021 was looking bright.

They were even out in front for a while in January, but that lead was soon overhauled by Manchester City and a distant second-place finish wasn’t as much cause for celebration as some at Old Trafford might suggest.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost the Europa League final and then his job, leaving behind a less-than-happy camp. Martial, we now know, is one of the players who want out and an increasingly frustrated Fernandes was missing here after picking up his fifth booking of the season at Newcastle on Monday. For dissent, of course.

Fernandes was among six changes from a dreadful team performance at St James’ Park with Raphael Varane and Marcus Rashford among the other players to drop out.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche was forced into two changes after Nick Pope and Jay Rodriguez tested positive for Covid-19, so Wayne Hennessey made his first Premier League start in goal since June 2020 and Aaron Lennon played up front.

The Wales keeper was beaten inside eight minutes but not before Burnley had made the brighter start, Chris Wood sending a diving header over from Matt Lowton’s cross.

Cristiano Ronaldo was guilty of an awful miss at the other end as he side-footed over with only Hennessey to beat after Luke Shaw’s throughball had sent the Portugal star clear on goal.

Fortunately for United, the outstanding Scott McTominay was more clinical moments later when he claimed his first goal of the season.

Mason Greenwood’s effort from a tight angle was blocked, and he played the ball back to the edge of the box. It was intended for Ronaldo who took a touch, but McTominay saw his chance and curled the ball around Ashley Westwood and beyond the unsighted Hennessey.

Burnley struggled to cope with Shaw’s forays down the left, and he was the catalyst for United’s second goal in the 27th minute.

Shaw’s pass encouraged Jadon Sancho to advance on goal and he cut inside James Tarkowski before firing low towards the far corner. It took a nick off Ben Mee on its way inside the post, leaving the unfortunate Burnley captain with an own-goal against his name.

Ronaldo was left screaming in despair again when he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet in front of goal from McTominay’s pass, but his moment was coming.

Greenwood switched play to the right in the 35th minute and Sancho laid the ball back to the edge of the box. McTominay tried his luck again with a curling shot that Hennessey touched onto the post, but it rebounded kindly for Ronaldo who was onside and free to score in an empty net.

A three-goal lead still couldn’t prevent supporters close to the directors’ box from launching into a rendition of ‘Joel Glazer’s gonna die’ before half-time, and Burnley served warning that they hadn’t given up by scoring their first goal in four games.

Lennon won the ball in a 50-50 challenge with Eric Bailly and ran at Harry Maguire, who looked far from comfortable again here. The former England winger raced into the box and clipped a shot past Maguire and beyond David de Gea’s dive to give Dyche’s side hope.

Hennessey was the only reason it didn’t disappear altogether in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, keeping out Greenwood’s effort and yet another McTominay curler from the edge of the box.

Bailly had to go off – which may be a concern for Ivory Coast seeing as he was about to catch a flight to the Africa Cup of Nations when he was called up for this game by United – Edinson Cavani needed treatment for what he claimed was an elbow to the head from Mee, and Maguire took a painful blow to the ribs.

But those were the only concerns for United as they closed out the match – and the year – comfortably.

RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED… 

Manchester United will be hoping for a return to form when they host Burnley in the final Premier League match of 2021 at Old Trafford.

Ralf Rangnick’s side were highly criticised after being forced to rescue a draw at struggling Newcastle United last time out and will be looking for a return to winning ways.

Victory for the Red Devils will take them above Tottenham Hotspur and into the Premier League top six as they aim to keep up their bid of reaching the top four.

Follow Sportsmail’s DAN RIPLEY for live Premier League coverage of Manchester United vs Burnley, including build-up, team news and updates.  

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