Man United: We're Like Lambs To The Slaughter, Embarrassing Moyes Must Go
As spring approaches, the buds begin to bulge on the boughs of the trees, the bulbs burst from the bare earth, and the air is warmed by a changing wind, there remain few green shoots of recovery to lift the spirits of Manchester United fans reeling from a winter of bitter discontent.
Nadir after painful nadir, new dawn after new dawn, turned corner after turned corner, each new glimmer of hope is predictably dashed upon the rocks of reality, as we find ourselves, like a drug addict, perpetually deluded that this time things will be different, that this will be the final hit.
Yet there has to be a cut-off point, when you realise that the current approach is falling well short and something needs to be done to stop the gangrenous rot before it takes the kind of stranglehold that can see a club scratching around like a sick dog in the mediocrity of mid-table English football for years, an occasional cup run the only remnant of decades of hard-fought success.
Yet another ignominious record was shattered on Tuesday night, as Olympiakos, the West Brom of European football, ran rings around the current English champions. The sad fact is that it came as no surprise.
United fans are getting used to this process, used to the excuses, used to the dreary, insipid style of play, and the grim sense that the decline is threatening to become terminal.
There were no redeeming features in a match that saw almost every United player put in the most callow of displays, and led us to seriously question whether they have the slightest modicum of belief left in their manager's methods.
Juan Mata was, of course, unable to take part, yet Adnan Januzaj, the team's other standout performer this term, was nowhere to be seen, and Shinji Kagawa, so effective on other European nights this season, sat huddled on the bench, as David Moyes did what David Moyes does best, choosing graft over guile and picking workman-like players to put in a shift and try not to lose.
Where is the Manchester United of old? Granted, in his latter years at the helm, Sir Alex Ferguson adopted a relatively conservative approach when confronting the Champions League, but not like this. It was embarrassing and deeply frustrating to, yet again, watch players freeze and flounder upon entering the opposition's half, having seemingly forgotten how to penetrate even the most modest of opposition defences.
In every area of the pitch, save perhaps the beleaguered David De Gea, United's players were out-witted and out-played. They simply could not cope with the eager pressing of their hosts, spraying wayward passes about the place like water through a punctured hosepipe, before resorting to the last recourse of the technically ungifted and hoofing the thing aimlessly into the Athenian air.
These days, it takes very little to rattle the once mighty Manchester United who, lest we forget amidst the swirling storm of excuses about a poor squad, just last season came away from the Bernabeu with a draw against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. Since then, the squad has been improved, yet we are now expected to swallow the line that it is brimming with dross.
The players' body language was appalling, their confidence seemingly now completely shot and, had they glanced towards their manager's dugout for inspiration, they would have been greeted by the sight of a rapidly ageing man slumped disconsolately in his seat, his assistants and advisors struggling against the self-same tide that is clearly engulfing him.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that, as opposed to Moyes raising himself to Manchester United's level, the players have been reduced to his. They are sent out like lambs to the slaughter, a disorganised, unruly, shambolic shadow of their former selves.
The tie, we are assured, is not over, with Moyes speaking of 'looking forward' to the second leg. He is in a minority on that score, most of us having lost faith entirely in the possibility of redemption on our own ground, with the memories of Old Trafford performances almost as pathetic as Tuesday night's still so fresh in our minds.
Instead, we will turn up the collars of our coats and brace ourselves for further humiliation, for that is what we have, quite understandably, come to expect.
David Moyes has spoken often about hope, this season. Now, it would seem, more fans are hoping he will stand down or be sacked than those who still hold out the belief that he can turn things around.
They say it is the hope that kills you. For Moyes, it is looking more like death by a thousand cuts.