Players' half-hearted display brings disastrous reign close to end game
The worst thing for David Moyes in watching his Manchester United players surrender at Goodison Park was that they would have known just how much he wanted to win this game.
Perhaps that is why they did so little to deliver for a manager who the majority of them clearly no longer have the stomach or desire to play for.
In a season that has produced more tipping points than a council dump, this one feels the most perilous for Moyes. After this, it appears as though it is now a case of when, rather than if, his disastrous tenure comes to an end.
For purely personal reasons, it meant everything to Moyes to return to Everton and emerge with his head held high, having silenced the boos, jeers and mocking chants that had greeted him from the moment he emerged from the team bus.
Yet on a day when their manager was so desperate to succeed United's players produced the most half-hearted and disinterested performance that has shamed the red shirts for 30 years. It was one which is likely to prove a death knell for the Scot, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward barely betraying his discomfort as the cameras focused on him in the directors' box.
As Moyes stood on the touchline, waving his arms like a blind man directing traffic, he resembled a parent chiding an unruly teenager for playing the music too loud upstairs. And the response from those on the pitch was akin to the adolescent shrugging his shoulders and turning the volume up to full blast before the door had even been closed.
Many of United's senior players have harboured strong misgivings about Moyes' capabilities for weeks now, but the former Everton manager is now losing the faith of those who the team's future should be built around.
Revelations earlier in the day that England forward Danny Welbeck wants to leave United this summer due to the breakdown of his relationship with Moyes were not mere speculation, with the player's advisors rejecting opportunities to dismiss the story.
With Moyes being heavy-handed this week in disciplining Welbeck, Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley for a night out 10 days prior to this game – prescribing extra training for the three of them – it is little wonder that a group of internationals and title winners have lost patience with a man who is set to guide United to seventh position, their lowest finish since 1990.
The exasperation which now runs through the squad was evident on the pitch as Everton comfortably secured the victory which keeps their Champions League aspirations alive.
Dwight Yorke, the United treble winner watching from the television studio, did little to hide his view of the disconnect between the players and the manager.
"You expect players to be fresh and up for the game for the manager's sake because they know how important it was for him," Yorke said. "He has learned the players he trusted in let him down badly."
On many occasions this season, Moyes has resisted the opportunity to criticise the players who have failed him. Following humiliating defeats against Olympiakos, Liverpool and Manchester City Moyes tip-toed around the issue, opting instead to shoulder responsibility and insist that everything would be better next season.
Within the bowels of Goodison Park after the game, the message was once again the same.
"I think everybody knows that we are on track to make changes and do some different things," Moyes said. "We are rebuilding, we have got things we want to do. Today there were things that were not that good, but there were things that were good. We need to try and get rid of the bad things and do better with the things we should have done."
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, sat alongside Yorke in the Sky studio, appeared startled after hearing Moyes talk of positives from this game, however.
"If David Moyes thinks Man Utd played well, I would worry for Man Utd," Carragher said.
United's supporters are certainly growing tired of Moyes uttering the words 'hope' and 'try' following each disappointment this season and there is a danger that the collective support from the terraces will evaporate and develop a more militant edge over the final four, meaningless games of this campaign.
But results will ultimately decide Moyes' fate and there may be a clue as to the levels of patience displayed by United's owners, the Glazer family, from events at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their NFL franchise, earlier this year. After sacking Tampa's coach and general manager, Bryan Glazer insisted that time had simply run out. "The results over the past two years have not lived up to our standards," Glazer said. "We believe the time has come to find a new direction."
When asked after this defeat whether the board recognise his insistence that things will get better on his watch, Moyes shrugged his shoulders and smiled, but it was a nervous, uncomfortable smile.
For all his good work behind the scenes in rebuilding scouting networks and player analysis, that kind of progress will count for nothing on the Stretford End.
It is all about success and trophies and, as United's team bus drove past Stanley Park on its way towards the M62, the sight of Anfield on the horizon, preparing for a title party, will have darkened the mood even more. (© Daily Telegraph, London)