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.
Consistency, these days, is at a premium as far as United are concerned.
Having produced a horrendous display at Cardiff and a superb performance at Leverkusen, United stopped halfway between the two today, delighting and infuriating in equal measure.
Twice trailing to a Tottenham side with worries of their own – Spurs, so far at least, prove that spending £100m in the transfer window doesn’t necessarily guarantee the expected step forward – United twice bounced back thanks to this summer’s number one enemy – Wayne Rooney, that is – but failed to snatch all the three points.
At times, very rarely, football offers moments when form goes out of the window, predictions are disregarded and expectations are forgotten in the blink of an eye, giving way to an unpredictable, yet exhilarating, 90 minutes.
That, in a nutshell, sums up United’s trip to Leverkusen, for not even the most optimistic of Reds – a species growing increasingly rare in recent times – would have envisaged the superb performance David Moyes’ men offered tonight as they put Bayer Leverkusen to the sword in swashbuckling fashion.
Well, that was coming, wasn’t it? Having held on for large parts of the game United surrendered a late equaliser at Cardiff, a timely reminder that things are not going to come easy this season.
Not only are things not going to come easy for the Reds this season, but United conspired to make their life harder by missing a couple of chances in the second half which, had they been converted, would have put the game to bed.
A team in crisis facing the runaway league leaders. A team in decline facing the new kings of English football.
That’s how it had been billed.
Luckily for us, however, Manchester United don’t do scripts, if anything they enjoy nothing more than defying them.
For a game played on Bonfire Night, United’s 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad showed a remarkable lack of spark, which still leaves United one point clear of Bayer Leverkusen and three clear of Shakthar Donetsk, with a trip to Germany likely to play a big role in deciding United’s destiny in Group A.
Hardly an ideal scenario by any means, and one that could have been easily avoided had United done just a little bit more tonight.