Man United: Moyes Has Crushed The Confidence Of Players & Fans Alike
For a great many Manchester United fans, the champions' performance against Fulham was the grim turning point in a season of insidious decline. The result was poor yet, for many, the style of play, or lack thereof, hammered the final nail into the coffin of David Moyes' forgettable time at the helm.
Indeed, it would have come as no surprise to see the managerial undertakers slipping slowly down Sir Matt Busby Way on the following morning to remove the stricken Scot, and few would have mourned the passing of this bleak spell in United's rich history.
Yet the Fulham match was just another low in a season that has seen United transformed from runaway train into creaking handcart in the blink of a disbelieving eye.
The truth is that we have come to expect this kind of ineptitude. It has become the norm. We no longer anticipate the thrill of victory, for we have grown accustomed to disappointment, having believed, time and again, that things are bound to improve or, at the very least, not get any worse. Yet they always do.
In fact, it is one of David Moyes' most remarkable achievements that he has managed to lower our expectations to such an extent, in so little time. This is thanks not only to events on the pitch, but also his rhetoric off it, with the new manager having drip-fed us the defence that he inherited a squad so short on talent, and in such dire need of a complete overhaul, that it should come as no surprise that we find ourselves, mid-way through February, languishing in seventh place, with little hope of securing Champions League football next season, playing football from the dark ages, having been dumped out of both domestic cups by teams struggling in the lower reaches of the Premier League.
Hence, the majority of United fans approached a trip to the Emirates with the sense of resigned trepidation usually associated with relegation fodder, not so much afraid of the possible result as terrified by the potential chasm in class we could be about to witness. After all, Arsene Wenger's teams are famous for their style, if not their substance. United, this season, have neither.
In the end, most United fans didn't so much settle for a point as make off with it with the glee of a starving dog happening upon a morsel of meat, greeting the fact that we had avoided humiliation with the gratitude of a drowning man gulping down a lungful of air.
For some of us, however, it was this, even more than the Fulham debacle, that felt like the nadir, for it truly exemplified how far we have fallen in just eight months. Seeing the champions of England approaching a match against a team they finished sixteen points ahead of last season, having spent almost £20m more than them on players since, with damage limitation the clear imperative from the outset, was as dispiriting as anything that has gone before, and was perfectly epitomised in a maddening moment of mediocrity, when Michael Carrick, with seconds remaining, rolled the ball tamely back towards the halfway line when, just for once, all we wanted to see was one of Moyes' beloved hoofs into the opposition's box.
Minutes before, Robin Van Persie had rattled Arsenal's crossbar, after Carrick had shown a modicum of character, biting into a challenge in the centre circle with something approaching Roy Keane-like ferocity, and fed Wayne Rooney. Not so long ago, such a passage of play would have had these Manchester United players scenting blood and going for the jugular. Not so, now. Instead, they reacted like a prisoner who finds the gates of the jail unlocked, only to stand dumbstruck, frozen by the unfamiliarity of freedom.
The players are quite clearly as disillusioned as the fans. They are shells of their former selves, their creativity having been sapped by the new regime, their legs leaden with uncertainty as they bound about the pitch in confused disarray, panic-stricken whenever their opponents cross the halfway line, as frightened of losing as they are of attempting anything approaching self-expression.
Now we have a game against Crystal Palace to look forward to at the weekend, when David Moyes has an opportunity to pit his wits against Tony Pulis, a man who is fast becoming something of a tactical genius when compared to the Scot, followed by a return to Champions League action against Olympiakos.
In the not too distant past, such fixtures would have been entered into with unshakeable confidence. Now, they offer yet more opportunity for embarrassment.
United fans no longer expect to win. Yet the fact that we also no longer expect to be entertained is the most damning indictment on David Moyes.
While we still cling to a few frayed remnants of hope that he will turn things around, many of us are now wondering if it would not be better for all concerned if Moyes threw up his hands and admitted that he is woefully out of his depth, lest when the day of his departure comes we are all so sick of him that his managerial wake becomes a party, and we the revellers dancing upon his grave.