Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen pinched a point on his return to Old Trafford and then claimed it was easy to pick David Moyes’ game plan apart.
Manchester United slipped nine points behind the Champions League qualification places on Sunday night after yet another disappointing result for Moyes and his under-performing squad.
On paper United could not have wished for better opponents.
Fulham were rock-bottom of the Premier League with the worst defensive record in division. Five days earlier they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United, who are in the League One relegation zone.
But the Cottagers took just 19 minutes to open the scoring and they then survived an onslaught from United to eventually come away with a 2-2 draw thanks to Darren Bent’s 94th-minute equaliser.
United flung a record 81 crosses into the Fulham box, but with 6ft 7in centre-back Dan Burn in the away side, former United coach Meulensteen said his team were well prepared for everything the hosts threw at them.
“When I saw Manchester United today I thought the game plan was quite straightforward – get it wide, get it in,” said Meulensteen, who walked away from Old Trafford last summer following a long spell among Alex Ferguson’s backroom staff.
“If you’re well organised and the goalkeeper is in good positions to come and collect the ball it can be easy [to defend against].
“You need a little bit of creativity and a bit of variety at times to open [teams] up.
“It was partly straightforward. We know that we had to be more compact and tight in wide areas because United would cross the ball a lot.”
Moyes defended his decision to pump so many balls into the box even though it was clear that the tactic was not working.
“One of the big things about Manchester United is that they do play with width, they do cross the ball, its in their genes here,” the Scot said.
Moyes did admit that he was worried about his side’s struggle to find away through a Fulham defence that had conceded 53 goals in their previous 24 league matches.
He was just as concerned about a “mental softness” which he thinks his men displayed in the dying stages.
After delivering cross after cross into the Fulham area, Robin van Persie turned home from close range and Michael Carrick made it 2-1 to United 80 seconds later.
United had just 15 minutes to hold on to their lead, but they failed miserably as Bent nodded in from barely a yard out following a Fulham break.
“You could say we maybe had a mental softness in that we didn’t see the game out and get the job done,” Moyes said.
“When we went 2-1 up they left us with the ball. It was just a case of playing out time and we gave away a diabolical second goal.
“It was a game we should have easily seen out.
“We were comfortable. We weren’t under any real pressure.”
Moyes pulled few punches in the assessment of his team’s failure to break down a stubborn and organised Fulham defence.
There were a few frank calls from the terraces at full-time, too.
Boos and whistles could be heard. Although they were not widespread, patience is starting to run out for some United fans who are used to seeing their team bring home trophy after trophy every year.
United have dropped 18 points at home this season and on their travels they have lost to Liverpool, Manchester City, Stoke and Chelsea.
When asked whether he could have seen the season going as bad this when he took over from Ferguson, his reply was: “Probably not, no.”
There was a similarly downbeat answer from Moyes when he was asked whether his team could finish in the top four.
“We will do our best,” Moyes said.
“We have a good team and there will be very few teams desperate to play Manchester United, that’s for sure.”
It is hard to believe that Arsenal, who face United on Wednesday, will share Moyes’ point of view after this latest underwhelming display from the champions.