Stone-faced Fergie unmoved
Manchester Utd 3 QPR 1
Until his side decided to turn up with 30 minutes of this match left on Saturday, Alex Ferguson was more stone-faced than the effigy unveiled in his honour.
The hint of a smile somewhat imaginatively captured for posterity on the sculpture outside the stadium was absent, but the more traditional enigmatic scowl was visible as Queens Park Rangers held the lead without doing much.
In many ways, the affectionate tribute uncovered during Friday's star-studded ceremony sums up what has gone on at Old Trafford this season.
You look closely at that statue and the immediate response is it is dutifully deferential, but essentially far too temperate to be considered a domineering representation of Ferguson or his era.
This United side are going the same way, demonstrating surprising levels of submissiveness, utterly contradictory to what you are accustomed to on a visit to this stadium.
After Jonny Evans equalised, Darren Fletcher headed his first league goal for a year and Javier Hernandez turned an afternoon of early discomfort into a late stroll. Ferguson looked as Ferguson does. Not with his arms folded offering a proud, congratulatory grin, but carrying the workmanlike demeanour of a manager more satisfied with the result than the performance.
United have conceded first in 13 of their 20 fixtures this season. They appear to need an opponent to throw the first jab before landing a few body punches of their own.
Against a side as timid as QPR – they were in the game for so long because of United's hesitancy rather than any tangible signs of survival quality – you can get away with it.
Ferguson will be consoled by the fact his team have come back to win on nine of those occasions they have fallen behind, and Jamie Mackie's 52nd-minute tap-in, closely followed by a revealing double substitution by United, had a familiar effect.
United scored three in eight minutes, Evans and Fletcher benefiting from Wayne Rooney's corners. By the time Hernandez added the third, Harry Redknapp's tentative plans to hang around in the north west until the final whistle were abandoned. He left with five minutes to go, leaving no one in any doubt his first game in charge will be the next one.
"Harry is a brilliant appointment," said goalscorer Mackie. "I'm a Tottenham fan so I'm excited. Let's hope he can do he what he did at Tottenham. But we have to take responsibility. It's no good pointing the finger at anybody else. You have to make sure it comes from within. It's going be a long hard slog, but the season starts now."
Redknapp seems adamant there is enough quality in the squad to avoid serious reinforcement in January, but even given the demands of travelling to such an arena – and the fact QPR were ahead until the 64th minute – his return journey south was full of contemplation.
QPR were feeble at the back when United moved from mannequin pace into second gear, and their attackers, especially Djibril Cisse and Adel Taraabt, were a mix of the infuriating and dense whenever opportunities to punish United carelessness presented themselves.
Against superior opposition United might have suffered, but Redknapp's task is to unite disparate elements.
Throughout their careers, Cisse and Taraabt have shown neither the ability nor inclination to blend into a team ethic, dining out on occasional moments of individual brilliance. Redknapp will demand more, and he usually knows how to get it.
Mark Bowen, who took charge for the day, made five changes. QPR were certainly well organised, but the match had a passing resemblance to one of those FA Cup ties when a lower league club have a bit of a go on their day out. Even when they score, you suspect normality will be restored.
Aside from their goal, QPR's front men resembled over excitable youngsters who could not resist smashing hopefully towards goal whenever they got within 30 yards. Anders Lindegaard had only one save to make, even though he did not make it.
You had to sympathise with Bowen as he faced the post-match inquest unable to confirm if today will be his last day at the club. He delivered an admirable defence of his friend Hughes.
"We've been doing this job for 10 years and never been relegated and only been outside the top 10 of the Premier League twice, so why shouldn't he carry on?
"Basically, last May Mark Hughes was a hero because he saved this club. We would have gone down. The fella's a top manager and top coach."
As QPR prepare for the long slog, United remain in a strong position to challenge their neighbours. Ferguson will want to see more cold-bloodedness from the first whistle and a bit less chiselling out of results over the next few months. (© Daily Telegraph, London)