United a shadow of former selves
Cardiff City 2 Manchester United 2
As Bob Marley boomed out over the tannoy on the final whistle at the Cardiff City Stadium while David Moyes acknowledged Manchester United's frustrated fans, the lyrics 'don't worry about a thing' could scarcely have felt less appropriate.
Moyes has much to concern him just now. From Wayne Rooney's petulant loss of control to some kamikaze defending, issues are arising at United from front to back.
Most worrying of all, however, is their ongoing lack of midfield fluency and the struggle to create clear chances from open play.
Against a Cardiff City team in red, United were forced to play in blue and, as he looked down from the directors' box yesterday, Alex Ferguson would surely have struggled to recognise his old team.
Under Ferguson, it was almost unthinkable for United to lose a lead once let alone twice.
They were the team that famously won matches with late goals rather than the ones who made costly injury-time mistakes.
Although Moyes can take some solace from extending United's unbeaten run to 10 games, the wider narrative is the gap of six places and seven points to the top of the Premier League.
A 2-2 draw, however, was nothing more than Cardiff had deserved. Even after wins already this season at home against Manchester City and Swansea City, Cardiff manager Malky Mackay rated the first-half performance here as the best his team have produced this season.
The supporters were again vocal in their personal support of Mackay following owner Vincent Tan's bizarre sacking of performance director Iain Moody and, as well as their good football, Cardiff also showed admirable resilience in the face of injustice.
Rooney's match should have been over after eight minutes. Jordon Mutch had just missed a chance to head Cardiff into the lead but still sprinted back 50 yards to challenge Rooney.
It was enough to disrupt Rooney's control of the ball and, in an apparent act of frustration, he kicked out across the legs of Mutch. The ball had long since disappeared but referee Neil Swarbrick still showed the England international only a yellow card.
Rooney has twice previously been sent off for England in similar circumstances and, ahead of a World Cup when referees will offer no leniency for violent conduct, it was another warning of an enduring flaw.
Yet if that was the worst of Rooney, he did also produce reminders yesterday of his very best.
With Robin van Persie missing due to a groin injury, Rooney started in the 'No 10' role behind Javier Hernandez and, by some distance, was United's best player.
His goal was well taken but still owed most to the carelessness of Ben Turner. The Cardiff centre-back had been under little pressure on the ball but, without properly looking, he passed the ball straight to Antonio Valencia.
The subsequent cross found Rooney, who turned to make space for himself and then had his shot deflected off Gary Medel and into the goal.
The reaction of the Cardiff fans was predictable: "1-0 to the referee".
To their credit, Cardiff did not allow a sense of grievance to creep into their game. They simply settled into a game plan of congesting the midfield, pressurising United high up the pitch and attempting to expose a lack of pace in their opponents' defence.
The selection of Fraizer Campbell – sold by United in 2009 – underlined a sense that United were vulnerable to those tactics and so it proved in the 33rd minute.
Peter Whittingham had fed Mutch, whose pass through the middle of United's defence was precise both in weight and direction.
It came down to a foot-race between Campbell and Evans, with the Cardiff striker sprinting clear to finish clinically past David de Gea.
Although their midfield was lacking in creativity, United did threaten from set-pieces.
Marouane Fellaini, on what was only his third Premier League start of the season, provided an aerial threat and forced two good saves from David Marshall following free-kicks by Adnan Januzaj and then Rooney.
It was predictable, then, that when United did restore their lead, it should come from a dead-ball situation.
Rooney's delivery was again excellent, with Patrice Evra gaining enough space from Medel to head the ball past Marshall.
The chance to leapfrog Manchester City and return to the Premier League's top four was staring United in the face but they then still wobbled repeatedly.
Tom Cleverley wastefully lost possession to gift Campbell an excellent chance, with his confident chipped finish clearing De Gea but bouncing off the crossbar.
Cardiff, though, kept coming and, as the match entered added time, Kim Bo-Kyung got between Rooney and Rio Ferdinand to head Whittingham's cross beneath De Gea.
United also had legitimate cause for complaint, with Medel later shown to have raised his hand at Fellaini as they jostled for position. It could have resulted in a red card but Swarbrick instead allowed the free-kick to be retaken.
United did still almost fashion a dramatic winner. Ryan Giggs, on the week he turns 40, ignored boos in the city of his birth to carve open Cardiff's defence only for Rooney to waste a wonderful chance. His uncertainty summed up United's afternoon. (© Daily Telegraph, London)