Fans snub humiliated Manchester United after Cardiff horror show
Manchester Utd 0 Cardiff City 2
Manchester United saved the very worst until last. A wretched season ended, fittingly, in a wretched defeat at Old Trafford to a side who will be playing in the Championship next season.
While their cross-city rivals were busy winning the title in Brighton, United were humiliated at home by Cardiff City. The boos at the final whistle were inevitable and the "lap of appreciation" that followed, in front of barely a third full Old Trafford, was excruciating to witness.
As the Cardiff fans goaded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their former manager, with chants of "You're getting sacked in the morning", United's players ambled round the pitch, looking like they would rather be anywhere else.
Of those United supporters who did hang around to watch, some managed to muster the politeness to clap. Others just stood there, arms folded, shaking their heads in dismay and disgust.
Some were not so passive, though. Paul Pogba - whose future remains clouded in uncertainty as he eyes a move to Real Madrid - was abused by one furious supporter as the midfielder watched on, shirt off, at the mouth of the tunnel.
United finish the campaign sixth, 32 points behind Manchester City - the same gap to relegated Cardiff - and 15 worse off than last season. And the ignominy may not end there.
They are now entirely dependent on Pep Guardiola's side beating Watford in the FA Cup final on Saturday to prevent them from entering the Europa League at the second qualifying stage on July 25. That would mean having to navigate six games just to reach the competition's group stages although, on this form, they will not get that far.
United's best player against Cardiff was a 17-year-old making his first league start for the club - the youngest to do so in the Premier League era. A hearty well done then to Mason Greenwood, who might have had four goals in the first half and whose movement, energy and attitude stood out amid the mediocrity around him.
If United's board had not been swept away in the emotion of an electric start under Solskjaer, which began with a 5-1 win at Cardiff, and instead waited until now to appoint a new manager, would the Norwegian still have got the job? I think we all know the answer to that. And so, while the man they originally coveted, Mauricio Pochettino, prepares for a Champions League final with Tottenham, Solskjaer will be left to try to make sense of this sorry mess.
But what if they start next season as badly as they finished this one?
United lost eight of their final 12 matches in all competitions and took just eight points from the last 27 available in the league - the equivalent of 34 points over a season. Solskjaer is confident the owners and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, recognise the scale of the task he faces.
"Definitely - I've had loads of conversations and they've been up front and honest," he said. "We know where we are at and it's too far behind where we want to be. Towards the end of the season has made it clearer.
"They know we're in for a rebuild. It's not a shock [what has happened].
"We've hit a brick wall. We've been poor."
Cardiff fans were revelling in it - and so they might. Solskjaer's only other experience of managing in the Premier League was to take Cardiff down and the visiting team's supporters took great delight in taunting the United manager.
The problems were there long before Solskjaer arrived in December to replace the sacked Jose Mourinho but that post-Portuguese bounce masked much deeper issues, as Neil Warnock articulated. "It's not going to be an easy situation for Man United," the Cardiff manager said. "I think everybody knows the start they had fudged a lot of issues. It will take more than two or three transfer windows, I think, to turn the club around.
"I'm afraid the fans have got to bite the tongue for a few years because the other two [Manchester City and Liverpool] have been absolutely phenomenal."
If you want a snapshot of United's problems on the pitch, watch Cardiff's second goal. It is so soft that it requires several viewings to fully digest.
Lee Peltier's throw-in on the right touchline whistled past Scott McTominay, who got his positioning wrong as he challenged Bobby De Cordova-Reid but, even then, he might have hoped a team-mate would win possession.
Instead, Josh Murphy stole in behind unmarked and, from the byline, rolled the ball across goal for Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to claim his second goal.
His first, in truth, was fortunate. Mendez-Laing had lost his balance as he swiped to shoot and referee Jonathan Moss mistakenly thought the Cardiff player had been fouled by Diogo Dalot and awarded a penalty kick, which Mendez-Laing converted.
With the death of Emiliano Sala, Warnock said this had been his hardest season in management. He plans for next season to be his last and expects that to be at Cardiff but said he would be meeting the club's chairman, Mehmet Dalman, in London today to discuss the future.
For Solskjaer, a shambolic season is at least now at an end although, if City come unstuck against Watford at Wembley, United will be back playing again in just 73 days' time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)