Boring, boring United as pressure mounts on van Gaal
For every step forward, van Gaal's dull tactics take United three steps behind
MAN UNITED 0
(Charlie Austin 87)
The Theatre of Dreams is finally living up to its name for Manchester United.
Old Trafford has seen more of "boring, boring" than "glory, glory" under Louis van Gaal this season.
The Stretford End's vociferous tribute to United's record-breaking English Premier League title haul of "20 times" has been substituted by the more realistic prospect of stealing 40 winks in the stands.
Even the local mice, openly decamping onto the field of play, have become enticed by the tranquillity of its current surroundings.
The 71,000 supporters who remained to endure Charlie Austin's 87th-minute winner have every right to demand an overnight stay for their troubles.
Those who prematurely departed before the final whistle had a lucky escape.
Van Gaal, however, continues to remain deaf to the increasing air of discontent all around him; not least as the rancour once again greeted him at full-time.
Armed with the scars from his side's footballing death by misadventure, with a sucker-punching draw at Newcastle United earlier this month, the belligerent Dutchman remains unrelenting in his penchant for the more cautious approach.
United's failure to score in the opening 45 minutes of an 11th successive game on home soil only partially swayed him, as typified by a marginally improved second-half showing as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat by Southampton yesterday.
Van Gaal and Ronald Koeman had feuded at Barcelona and Ajax, but the Dutchmen served up a risk-averse first-half encounter which was nothing more than a damning indictment of the nation which once bequeathed "Total Football" to the world.
Yet it was the elder statesman who was once again placed under the microscope.
For every progressive step they take forward under van Gaal, his predictability and aversion continue to take them a further three steps behind.
Last Sunday's smash-and-grab victory at Liverpool appears to have been an exception rather than the rule.
In those eight hours and 26 minutes since the Old Trafford faithful last hailed a first-half goal, back in September, van Gaal has continued to hurtle the Red Devils towards purgatory.
Now 10 points adrift of the summit, there appears to be increasingly no way back for United in this season's battle for the EPL crown.
But forget talk of potentially fighting for the title. United will need to rediscover their identity first.
Late winning goals were once a hallmark of life at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson; so too was the ability to make their shot-shy dominance pay when it counted.
Not for the first time since Ferguson's retirement, the hunter has again become the hunted.
Just as Wayne Rooney had done at Anfield last weekend, Austin's header struck Southampton's deadly blow with just the visitors' first effort on target.
Van Gaal was right about one thing, though; what is happening to United in the outside world is entirely different to what continues to play out within the club.
The 64-year-old continues to exude an air of The Emperor's New Clothes about his Old Trafford tenure.
Ed Woodward and the Glazer family continue to appear content in reprising their roles as the unsuspecting townspeople.
How long they will continue to be party to this particular charade remains to be seen. They stand alone in still buying into that premise.
BY THE numbers
3 - There have been only three first-half goals in 11 English Premier League games at Old Trafford this season.