It was, said Sir Alex Ferguson, the worst result of a 50-year career in football. Manchester City’s 6-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon brought the Blues three vital points in the Premier League title race and total humiliation for the Scot’s side in its own back yard. Defeat to City in last season’s FA Cup semi-final was bad enough but a thrashing at Old Trafford is, for the Scot and fans alike, totally unacceptable. This reality, Ferguson says, hit home in a silent dressing room post-match.
If the result is a media-friendly ‘statement’ by City then Ferguson is right to hold United’s players predominantly to account for it. No amount of United pressure prior to the Blues’ opening goal will mask the Reds’ suicidal second-half performance. Jonny Evans’ dismissal after taking down Mario Ballotelli in the 47th minute was inevitable; the performance from then on in was absolutely not.
“It was our worst ever day,” admitted Ferguson.
“It’s the worst result in my history, ever. Even as a player I don’t think I ever lost 6-1. That’s challenge for me too. I can’t believe the scoreline. The first goal was a blow for sure but it was retrievable at 1-0. The sending off was a killer for us. We kept attacking when we went 4-1 down and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’
“When we went to 3-1, 4-1 we should have settled for that. We kept attacking and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’ But our two full-backs were playing like wingers. It’s all right playing the history books but common sense has to come into it. We just kept attacking. They were attacking three versus two. It was crazy football. I thought with the experience we’ve got – Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – they would [defend more] but we just kept attacking. Sometimes there has to be common sense about it. It was a bad day.”
Indeed, the result was not only Ferguson’s worst-ever result but United’s heaviest at home for 55 years. Such, perhaps, is City’s progress since Abu Dahbi’s oil-fueled takeover in 2008. But not to this extent. Not at Old Trafford. Not under Ferguson’s watch. This was hara-kiri on a very grand scale, against the worst possible opposition, and a result that will not soon be forgotten.
Certainly the implied assertion that United should have at, say, 3-1, accepted defeat will not sit well with supporters. But Ferguson is also right that in playing to history, as the manager noted , indeed to the hyperbole of a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, United allowed defeat to become a calamity. Loss to City at Old Trafford after all the Blues’ recent spending comes with no overwhelming shock. Conceding six certainly does.
If there is any silver lining in this disaster – at least for those United fans prepared to throw themselves under the nearest bus – it is in knowledge that Ferguson will ensure no permanent damage to the collective consciousness. There can be no better manager for this situation than the Scot.
“We’ll come back. By January we’ll be okay. We usually get the show on the road in the second half of the season and that will have to be the case. We’ve played all the teams around us and they have all to play each other so the second half of the season is important to us now. We will react, no question about that.
“It’s a perfect result for us to react to because there is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and that will make an impact. What did concern me was the goals for and against. Goal difference may count. Last year it was in our favour, most years it is in our favour…this time maybe not.”
More results like this and Ferguson will have no need to be concerned with goal difference though – United will be fortunate to be within touching distance come May so inept were the Scot’s defenders. Not to mention a central midfield that was so effectively eviscerated by the opposition from 30 minutes onwards that supporters again offers cause to question both Darren Fletcher and Anderson’s effectiveness.
The manager’s decision to include no central midfield options on the bench was both a mistake and a reflection of Ferguson’s underwhelming resources available in this area. It is a concern repeatedly voiced over the past two years. No matter Tom Cleverley’s continued injury absence, a strategy that relied solely on the rookie’s fitness and form was always a busted flush.
One disaster does not a season make of course, and United will certainly return from this. Upcoming fixtures with Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup and Everton at Goodison Park will provide an immediate opportunity at redemption. In that there is temptation to send out the heavy artillery at Aldershot’s 7,000-capacity Recreation Ground on Tuesday night simply to get the process underway.
For Evans, whose fatal contribution to Sunday’s calamity cannot be ignored, the consequences may be more serious. While Rio Ferdinand’s poor header precipitated another City attack, Evans’ needless foul on Balotelli helped turn loss into club-wide embarrassment. The Northern Irishman recently admitted a downturn in form last season was due to complacency. One wonders whether the 23-year-old has eliminated that scourge from his game.
Belfast-born Evans recent progress will now halt as the defender sits out the Everton game, with Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones both ready to step in. Whomever takes up the reigns it can, as the well-worn cliché goes, only get better.