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.
Having lost against Everton at home in the league for the first time in 21 years, United conjured to do even worse, allowing Newcastle to leave Old Trafford with a smile on their faces for the first time since 1972, plummeting even further down the table as they lost back-to-back league games at Old Trafford since 2002.
The 12-game unbeaten run is a distant memory and the numbers are ominous for United and will, perhaps rightly, provide plenty of ammunitions for those who consider David Moyes the main culprit for this season’s embarrassing displays.
Because, of course, everything is Moyes’ fault this season.
Never mind that the United manager opted, yet again, for the best XI at his disposal, with only Rafael, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and David De Gea confirmed from Wednesday, while Robin Van Persie returned up-front after missing the last four games.
Never mind that Moyes fielded Nani, Adnan Januzaj and Javier Hernandez on the pitch at the same time and that he brought on Wiflried Zaha and Antonio Valencia in the second half as United chased the game, he remains a relic of a manager, stuck in the past and hanging onto his defensive approach for dear life.
Never mind that, when opting to replace the incredibly poor Tom Cleverley, the only man Moyes could turn to on the bench was Anderson who, yet again, highlighted how unsuitable he is to play football at this level, let alone for Manchester United – even though, United’s level is sinking so rapidly that Anderson could soon fancy his chances.
Moyes remains the only person to blame, for United walked away with the league last season and, as such, they ought to win it again this campaign.
David Moyes has his faults, it’d be fool to dispute that, but Moyes can’t be blamed for the appalling lack of quality that cripples the team, from Patrice Evra’s woeful defensive positioning, which almost allowed Mathieu Debuchy to put Newcastle ahead on the stroke halftime, to Tom Cleverley’s systematic failure to produce anything remotely useful and Nani’s penchant for being, well, his usual self.
Moyes can be held responsible for retaining an attitude perhaps more suited to a mid-table side than to a champion side, but the club and most of the players need to be held accountable too.
The club let Moyes down in spectacular fashion throughout the summer, failing to address the team’s many deficiencies, while the players have plenty of answering to do, given that they can’t have turned from league winners into Sunday league players all of a sudden, even they though some of them are so bereft of ideas and passion that they’d struggle to make a pub team.
Throughout a lethargic first half, Januzaj and Phil Jones were the only positives for United, who trudged along is familiar, but not less depressing fashion, failing to create any meaningful chances, while Newcastle’s perfectly organised team broke no sweat to keep the Reds at bay.
After a promising start to the second half, which saw Hernandez and Januzaj forcing two saves from Tim Krul, Evra saw his header crash against the post – with the ball masterfully kept out from the goal by Vurnon Anita’s arm – United were back in familiar territory, as Yohan Cabaye was allowed to run untracked into the box and slot the ball home to give Newcastle a famous win.
Before we try to delude ourselves even further, let’s get one thing clear. The league is over as far as United are concerned and, on current form, there’s nothing to feel confident about finishing in the top four either, unless the club decides to back Moyes financially in the January transfer window.
But, as they say, things could get worse before they get better.
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