It’s a season of firsts, this. Unfortunately, as far as Manchester United are concerned, the novelties we have been treated to this season are all things we could have, quite plainly, done without.
And so, after a first defeat at home to Newcastle since 1972, after Everton’s first success at Old Trafford in two decades and after having gifted Swansea their first ever win at Old Trafford in their history, United, having not lost to Sunderland in the last 20 meetings between the two sides, thought well of capitulating against Gus Poyet’s men.
They say that when it rains, it pours. As far as Manchester United are concerned, this season is shaping up to be a downpour of biblical proportion, rather than some traditionally insistent Mancunian rain.
Transition, decline, widespread ineptitude. Call it which way you want, but whatever it is it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Not now, not tomorrow, not until the end of the season. Not, in fact, for a while.
Amid the festive mood that has embraced us all in recent days, it would have been easy to forget that, even at Christmas, United simply don’t do things the easy way.
And why would they? After two days spent eating and drinking, they probably thought we ought to experience some less enjoyable feelings but, in the end, they took a long hard look at themselves and delivered a belated present.
Getting excited about beating West Ham at Old Trafford might be a damning verdict of how far the mighty have fallen this season but, on the other hand, the current campaign isn’t one for people who like to cherry-pick moments worth celebrating, therefore we should all sit back and enjoy today’s positives before getting on with the Christmas shopping.
For there were positives aplenty today.
Manchester United are unquestionably better than Lionel Messi and they proved it last night.
For years, the Argentine’s sheer brilliance has been somewhat slightly overshadowed by fans questioning whether he’d have what it takes to do it on a wet night in Stoke, and while that question remains unanswered, United proved that they can indeed negotiate the Britannia Stadium on a cold, windy night in the Potteries.
It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was absolutely horrendous at times, but at a time when entertaining football remains at a premium at Old Trafford, United got the job done, which is more than it could have been said of them in recent weeks.
In this season of false dawns, a meagre 1-0 win at home against Shakthar Donetsk can’t and won’t change the state of the squad at David Moyes’ disposal, but at least the Reds have given themselves a good chance to progress in the Champions League, by finishing top of their group, thus, in theory at least, avoiding a potentially tricky draw for the round of 16.
In many ways, this was Wednesday night all over again. There was the dire performance, the inept passing and the lack of tempo, there was the illusory promising spell at one stage in the second half and the woodwork was rattled, as it had been midweek.
There was, to make things even more similar, an extremely well taken goal by a team that had not won at Old Trafford in decades – two as far as Everton were concerned, four in Newcastle’s case – albeit aided by a shambolic piece of defending and, most worryingly of it all, the complete and utter recognition that, having fallen behind, United were never going to come back into the game.
Drawing conclusions and delivering verdicts with December only four days old can be an extremely short-sighted, impulsive and irrational exercise but bar a minor miracle United surrendered their chances to retain their Premier League title tonight.
Even more worryingly, considering the way things have disconsolately panned out so far this season, it could be a long, long time, before we get the chance to challenge for the title again, for, quite plainly, United are simply not good enough. Not this season, not, perhaps, anymore, unless some drastic measures are taken to improve a squad that needs reinforcements with desperate urgency.