Desmond Kane

Old Trafford’s fabled fear factor left with Ferguson

Desmond Kane

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Manchester United are apparently considering reintroducing standing areas at Old Trafford to improve atmosphere and volume among the club's supporters.

The way this season is unravelling, they could rip out every seat inside the ground, dole out grog for free and have 80,000 Red Devils hanging from the rafters while Denis Law bellows out "Glory, Glory..." through a loud speaker.

It would not make much difference. Not at the moment.

Not when the side do not possess the quality to produce a maturity of performance worthy of the club's name. Atmosphere is only created by the contribution of players. United do not have enough professionals unearthing suitable levels of reliability these days.

It is not so much the indifferent set of results that are most damaging to David Moyes' prospects of a healthy future as manager, gruesome though they sound, but a general level of uncertainty that has become so commonplace among men who carried off the Premier League title with astonishing ease only five months ago.

United are suddenly remarkable only for their ongoing departure from prominence, a side showing signs of a marked decline after the gold standard so prevalent in Sir Alex Ferguson's 26 years running the club.

United's 1-1 draw with Southampton yesterday leaves them with one win in their opening four home matches. It is their joint-worst return since the inception of the Premier League.

Prior to watching United held by Mauricio Pochettino's robust visitors, Ferguson had told the club's official television channel that winning "any trophy" this season should be deemed a success under Moyes. He remains ever the optimist because this is not United of yesteryear.

Not when sides are arriving at Old Trafford imbued with self-belief, aware there are points ripe for picking. West Bromwich Albion were hardly fortunate to make off with all three in a 2-1 win three weeks ago.

Southampton would and should have emulated that haul if Dani Osvaldo had taken a little more care in front of goal. They were much more progressive than United in possession before and after Robin van Persie stroked United ahead on 26 minutes.

"The fear comes from the team on the pitch," commented Moyes. "Obviously, Sir Alex Ferguson has a great history, and his experience will always work in charge of any team. But the players have always been the people that have to turn out and do it."

Therein lies the problem for Moyes. His players are not doing it. Rephrase that. Most of his players are not doing it.

If there was doubt about Ferguson's ability to turn water into wine at Old Trafford, it has been laid bare in United's opening eight league matches of the season.

It would be absurd to suggest his fellow Scotsman lacks the gumption to oblige the club's board and supporters at such an early juncture of his tenure, but fans are entitled to feel a little queasy when they stare at a Premier League table that sees them occupy eighth place.

They are as near the bottom as the top of the standings, a full eight points behind Arsenal with only eight games of the season run.

These are the same players that galloped home 11 points clear of Manchester City last season, a time when Arsenal were treading water some 16 points adrift in fourth.

Ferguson overachieved last year. That is becoming clearer by the game. It was always going to be a wretched task succeeding Ferguson, but the cynical will argue that he abandoned his post at the right time.

Did Ferguson hand Moyes a hospital pass when he handed over the baton? Only United's players can prove such a theory nonsensical. So far they lack conviction in making the argument.

Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj - fresh from signing his five-year contract - were bright here, but Southampton were sharper when you reflected upon the afternoon's happenings.

With Dejan Lovren and his fellow defenders cutting an assured lot, Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana drove Southampton forward at key moments when all could have been lost. There is a reason why they lie fifth having conceded only three times in the league.

Moyes suggested United would have won if they had taken their chances. Rooney hit the bar in the first half and Van Persie in the second while the reliable Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc made a stop of genuine class from Januzaj's swerving hit, but United did not binge on moments with Southampton having more of the ball during some hectic goings on.

Is Moyes too negative? Some will suggest his actions illustrate he is daunted by the task in stepping up from Everton, but that point does not immediately spring to mind amid deeper inspection.

Nani departed the scene to be replaced by Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck made way for Marouane Fellaini with Wayne Rooney replacing Chris Smalling as United tried to see out the business of the day in the closing 20 minutes.

The decision to hook Fellaini and Nani made perfect sense to this onlooker. Fellaini has been a huge ungainly disappointment so far. The Belgian's barnet only makes him more noticeable.

He was frequently uncertain in his movement, shedding copious amounts of possession that belied his status as the club's blue-chip £27.5 million signing from Everton during the close season. His partnership with Michael Carrick in midfield does not seem built to last.

Nani agreed a five-year contract before the season started, but did not justify his stay in the side. Introducing men like Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck can hardly be held up as negativity.

Similarly, Smalling should have been of assistance when the corner came over from James Ward-Prowse that enabled Lallana to bundle the ball beyond David de Gea in the final minute of normal time with Lovren particularly excited about his involvement.

While all this was going on, Mesut Ozil was pocketing two in Arsenal's 4-1 win over Norwich. On days like this, United's fans must wonder why Ozil was not pursued with some vigour during the close season.

It is familiar old territory, but Ferguson was given four years before he won a trophy. While that sounds as far back as a light year from the modern era, it is worth remembering Moyes has not yet seen out his fourth month.

It is too early to declare the Theatre of Dreams a venue where visiting sides can fill their boots, but this remains a nightmarish opening to a season. The malady lingers on. At least for the moment.

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