Brian Laws was unable to mark the start of his managerial reign with a famous result at the Theatre of Dreams but the Clarets showed their new boss they will give everything in their quest to stay in the Premier League.
Burnley pushed Manchester United all the way before quick-fire goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney mid-way through the second half got the champions' title defence back on track.
The net result was therefore another away defeat for the Clarets who have now gone ten league games without a win.
Chris Eagles sparkled on his Old Trafford return
But Laws will take massive encouragment from a performance which with sharper finishing could have brought some reward and even a remarkable double following on from the Clarets' Robbie Blake-inspired victory at Turf Moor in August.
Steven Fletcher missed an early chance to put Burnley ahead and then just before United struck, David Nugent was also off target with just Edwin van der Sar to beat.
The Clarets also hit the twice woodwork late on and Laws will have left knowing first-hand that he has plenty to work with on his Turf Moor return.
The manager's first selection brought a Clarets' Premier League debut for David Edgar in the centre of a defence missing Clarke Carlisle and Steven Caldwell through injury and Andre Bikey to international duty.
And the summer signing, barely given a look-in under Owen Coyle, showed that he will have plenty to offer in Burnley's bid for survival with an assured display which helped frustrate United for over an hour.
Brian Laws responds to the fans at Old Trafford
Laws also included Nugent for the final game of his initial loan spell but played the transfer target on the right-hand side of midfield.
And with the Clarets making a positive start, Nugent was a prominent figure.
A break-away sparked by United old-boy Chris Eagles saw Nugent deliver a perfect cross-field pass for Fletcher who could have given Laws the dream start after just seven minutes but dragged his left-foot shot wide as United were caught short at the back.
Laws had promised to be less cavalier in his approach to away games than predecessor Coyle but that did not stop Burnley taking the game to the champions whenever the opportunity arose.
Eagles was clearly enjoying his return to his former home and one teasing pass from the winger just eluded Nugent as he darted in behind the United defence.
But inveitably there was also defending to do as United enjoyed their spells of pressure around the Burnley penalty area.
Antonio Valencia was a constant threat as he delivered a number of teasing crosses from the right to have the visitors at full stretch.
Wade Elliott challenges Paul Scholes
But Edgar and Michael Duff stuck to their task superbly with assistance from all the white shirts around them and Brian Jensen's only save was a routine effort to keep out a low drive from Nani until first-half stoppage time when he had to finger-tip an overhead kick from the Portuguese past the post from a Valencia cross.
It was tenacious stuff from the Clarets, backed by a vocal following who showed their full support for Laws before kick-off.
The manager couldn't have asked for much more from his side, although he could have done without losing the services of Fletcher ten minutes before the break with a foot injury following a challenge from Valencia.
Steven Thompson replaced his fellow Scot and his physical presence gave United something else to think about as Burnley made another lively start in the opening minutes of the second half, Eagles testing Edwin van der Sar following another typically driving run.
Brian Laws and Graham Alexander talk it through
And Thompson then provided a knock-down for Wade Elliott to release Nugent who should have done better with a weak volleyed effort from the corner of the penalty area.
Rooney fired over at the other end but Burnley looked capable of adding to United's uncertain run of form and another probing run from Eagles created a half-chance for Nugent, who was tackled by Jonny Evans before he could unload his shot.
United certainly looked vulnerable and Berbatov failed to calm their nerves when he made space superbly in the Burnley box but then poked his shot against the outside of the post.
And the Clarets should have gone ahead after 63 minutes thanks to another stunning break orchestrated by Eagles.
Michael Duff stops Wayne Rooney in his tracks
Again his pace took him away from the United defence before he played the perfect ball for Nugent who got beyond Gary Neville but steered his shot wide with just Van der Sar to beat.
And that miss proved costly as United then pounced with two goals in four minutes to break Burnley hearts.
The first needed a slice of luck as Berbatov's angled shot clipped off Duff to deceive Jensen following a Rooney through-ball.
But the second was down to a calm head as Rooney took his time to pick his spot in the bottom corner after Jensen had saved from Berbatov.
That kind of finishing had deserted the Clarets as Eagles had come close to an equaliser just moments before but after linking with Elliott and waltzing through the United defence he could not beat Van der Sar.
Brian Laws watches his new side push United all the way
Still Burnley didn't throw in the towel as Thompson headed a Jordan cross against a post seven minutes from the end of a titanic effort but in stoppage time United got a third when substitute Mame Diouf ran onto Valencia's pass and lobbed the stranded Jensen.
Diouf looked a couple of yards off-side and to confirm Burnley's luck was out they still had time to see a Tyrone Mears free-kick touched onto a post by Van der Sar before Elliott's follow-up was kept out by the hand of Neville.
Burnley: Jensen, Jordan, Edgar, Duff, Mears, Alexander, Elliott, McDonald (Gudjonsson 74), Eagles (Blake 83), Fletcher (Thompson 36), Nugent. Subs: Penny, Kalvenes, Eckersley, Guerrero
Manchester United: Van Der Saar, Neville, Evra, Brown, Berbatov (Owen 74), Rooney (Diouf 74), Carrick (Anderson 64), Nani, Scholes, Evans, Valcencia. Subs: Park, F DA Silva, R Da Silva, Kuszczak
Referee: Lee Probert