Huddersfield Town 2 Manchester United 1: Jose Mourinho suggested his entire Manchester United team should come to the press conference to explain themselves after this bizarre surrender at newly-promoted Huddersfield but, showing the same sort of resolve they had displayed for the previous 90 minutes, his players firmly ducked the challenge.
It was left to Huddersfield’s delighted staff and players to pick through the pieces of this extraordinary afternoon, therefore, and while winger Tom Ince spared United the sort of character assassination his father Paul once famously received at the hands of Alex Ferguson, it was telling stuff.
“Big Time Charlie,” Fergie had labelled Paul in a fly-on-the-wall documentary when he returned with his new club Liverpool. If ever a phrase could sum up United’s attitude in windy, rain-lashed West Yorkshire on Saturday, that was it.
“The manager knows that toe-to-toe we can’t deal with Manchester United,” said Ince who had a hand in Aaron Mooy’s opening goal.
“They have got superior players who are world-class. What we have is the right mentality and desire to try and work for each other.
“We know that if we make it difficult for teams, make it ugly when they come here, then it gives us half a chance.
“We managed to do that today... and we have to continue that now.”
The tone was set for one of the most memorable afternoons in Huddersfield’s post-war history as early as the seventh minute when Tommy Smith snapped around the ankles of Anthony Martial, drawing a petulant response that sparked an altercation and ended with the pair being booked. No prizes for guessing which player, and which team, responded better in the aftermath of that minor flashpoint.
“I think little things like that get the crowd up, it sets the tone of the game,” said Ince. It shows that we’re not just here to roll over, not here to give you space on the ball because if you give these players time and space on the ball they will punish you. I thought we did that.
“We were in their face every opportunity we got. But I don’t think you can show intimidation to a side like this. If you show that then they see that you’re weak and they know that you’re in awe of the players they’ve got.
“It’s Manchester United — of course the occasion is massive. But we’re 11 men against their 11 men, and we work hard for each other, we show the right attitude.”
And there Ince had it. “The right attitude” was something that was wholly, and inexplicably, lacking in United although Mourinho could not think why - hence his tongue-on-cheek suggestion that all his players should come and explain it personally.
Ince had a more interesting tactical explanation for his side’s success, apart from good, old-fashioned Yorkshire grit and desire.
“They’re obviously a top quality side but they don’t really play with the same fluidity as your Spurs or your Man City’s,” said Ince.
“They build up the game quite slow, they like to get it out wide and we felt that if we could win the ball at the back and try to exploit the space in behind - the space the full-backs leave because they go so high - then we were able to do that.”
It also helped that Victor Lindelof, an early substitute for injured Phil Jones, turned in the sort of nightmare performance that will go down in folklore. At fault as Ince shot and set up the opener for Mooy, Lindelof completely misjudged a long hoof upfield by keeper Jonas Lossl five minutes later for Laurent Depoitre to double the lead.
In a much-improved second half, Marcus Rashford scored a consolation goal which might have been a platform for United to snatch a point, although - unlike his players - Mourinho showed enough honesty to declare that would have been thoroughly undeserved.
What now for Mourinho? Having ceded five points to rivals City at the top of the Premier League table within a week, their title bid is floundering but, with a League Cup trip to Swansea looming followed by league games with Spurs and Chelsea, one could not help but think he has bigger concerns about where his team goes from here.
“I don’t like to anticipate the reactions because I don’t know how to say in this moment,” said Mourinho.
“We come here to play a Premier League match, to play for three points. I feel really disappointed and if I was a Manchester United supporter, not a manager but a traditional supporter, I would be really disappointed. Because I think you can play and lose a football match because the opponent had more quality than you but you cannot lose because the opponent had a better attitude than you.”
Lossl 7; Smith 7, Jorgensen 8, Schindler 9, Lowe 6; Hogg 7, Williams 6; Ince 7 (Malone 90), Mooy 7, Kachunga 7 (van La Parra 39, 7); Depoitre 8 (Mounie 70, 7).
Subs (not used):
Malone, Sabiri, Coleman, Cranie, Hadergjonaj.
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 7; Valencia 5, Jones 6 (Lindelof 23, 4), Smalling 5, Young 6; Herrera 6, Matic 5; Mata 5 (Mkhitaryan 45, 6), Lingard 6, Martial 5 (Rashford 46, 8); Lukaku 6.
Subs (not used):
Blind, Romero, Darmian, McTominay.
L Mason 7
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