IT said it all about the predicament in which Manchester United find themselves that their 2-0 defeat to Burnley at Old Trafford on Wednesday night felt like a huge deal for the visitors but, in a very strange way, just more of the same for those home supporters who clogged the exits with ten minutes still to play.
This was Burnley’s first win at the ground since September 1962. The Soviet Union started shipping arms to Cuba that same month, John F Kennedy made his promise about landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade and Sonny Liston floored Floyd Paterson to claim the world heavyweight title in Chicago.
Kudos to Sean Dyche’s lads, then, but this was old hat for the modern Man U who have been left seeing stars at their home patch time and again by smaller but more effective punchers since Alex Ferguson vacated that hideous concrete dugout on the halfway line. Wednesday night was just another brick to fall from the imposing wall that Fergie built.
It started with David Moyes’ first and only season in charge. Newcastle claimed a first win at the place since 1972, West Bromwich Albion sealed off a similar span stretching back to 1978, Everton ended a 21-year wait and Swansea City claimed three points there for the first time ever. Swansea. Bleedin’. City.
Southampton and Norwich both ended droughts reaching back to the ‘80s during Louis van Gaal’s period in charge and, while Jose Mourinho managed to avoid any such embarrassments despite his toxic term as gaffer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has re-established OT as a venue where managers of unfashionable/underachieving teams can add something historic into their CVs.
Theatre of Dreams? Maybe if you’re in the away dressing-room.
Cardiff hadn’t beaten United anywhere for over half-a-century before they won 2-0 there in the last week of the 2018-19 season.
Crystal Palace brought 20 years of hurt in that patch of the north-west to an end with what Roy Hodgson described as an “heroic victory” earlier this season. Roll up, roll up: revenge served hot on a cold Manc night!
Heaven knows United had amassed more than their fair share of these unbeaten stints, but the alarming frequency with which so many of the top flight’s lesser lights have dimmed the ambitions of successive United managers at a ground that used to be a fortress has chipped away at the club’s hauteur and ramped up the sense of shambles.
“We’ve got to stick to our values and beliefs,” said Solskjaer on Wednesday night.
What values? And what belief can the club retain if they can’t beat Burnley at home?
The sight of someone like Jay Rodriguez rampaging and thwacking one into David de Gea’s net, like some barbarian ransacking the streets of Ancient Rome, remains an arresting sight only because of United’s rich history.
The real damage was done a long time ago, far from the scene of battle, by those in power with minds corrupted by self-interest and greed.
Solskjaer isn’t the right man for the job but he’s not alone in that. United have jumped from Billy to Jack with managers, switching horses with the alacrity of a jockey with piles. From Fergie Mark II (Moyes) to Dutch maestro (Van Gaal), on to galactico (Mourinho) and, now to Solskjaer.
The Norwegian’s status as cult club hero has shielded him from much of the bile but you would like to think that your average United fan is thinking more clinically than that.
It was the Glazers and their underling Ed Woodward who were vilified by the dwindling number of supporters two days ago and, while Jason McAteer has accused Roy Keane and Gary Neville of giving their old pal Ole a free pass, it’s impossible to find fault with the latter’s view that it is Woodward and his puppeteers who should carry the can.
It’s been nigh on seven years now of ad hoc ‘strategy’, scattergun spending and unaligned recruitment that has left United with one of the largest wage bills in the world and little to show for it other than a Rubik’s Cube of a squad and an ongoing reliance on players like Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof at the heart of their defence.
“If you don’t lose your job for essentially overseeing that investment, that wage bill, and putting that team out on the pitch then I have to say something is really wrong,” Neville said.
It is. Badly. Talk of a Director of Football has been incessant for over 18 months now but for every story claiming United are finally ready to hire someone there is another ‘revealing’ that Woodward has opted to maintain his responsibilities for that side of the operation.
It’s not the spiral that should concern United fans but this endless merry-go-round. Next up at home, by the way? Wolves, who haven’t won at Old Trafford for 40 years.
Email: brendan.obrien@ examiner.ie Twitter: @byBrendanOBrien