The bond between Manchester United fans and their team has been stretched to breaking point this season and one of the many jobs of the next man to inherit what is beginning to look like the impossible job is to try and fix that.
Maybe it’s the disappointment that a season that seemed to offer so much has actually turned into an unmitigated disaster, but there’s certainly a sense that the patience of match goers has worn thin as this campaign has gone on.
As this tepid draw with Leicester City turned into another tough watch the frustration in the stands was palpable, boiling over when the Foxes took the lead in the second half and one fan near the dugout decided he’d had enough, launching a verbal grenade towards the bench.
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Whether it was aimed at Darren Fletcher, or whether it was Fletcher that took it personally isn’t clear, but the former United midfielder gave as good as he got, although the supporter wasn’t put off. He refused to let it lie and was eventually kicked out.
The anger was etched all over the confrontation – from both sides – and as the fan departed he seemed to get some support from those near him. United have waved the white flag on their season and for these supporters who are into the ninth year of mediocrity, it’s just becoming too much.
The afternoon had begun with impressive backing for Captain Harry Maguire after his treatment from England’s fans in midweek. After 18 days without a game there was a freshness around returning to Old Trafford and as Ralf Rangnick had written in his program notes that break could act as a “reset” to attack the remainder of the season.
It didn’t take long to be reminded of why going to the match has been a pretty arduous experience this season. Far too often the football has been getting in the way of a good day out for Old Trafford regulars.
The protective blanket was thrown around Maguire on Saturday, but 18 days ago he was sarcastically cheered off when he was substituted against Atletico Madrid. The same treatment has failed Fred and Marcus Rashford at home this season.
That frustration surfaced again when Anthony Elanga was presented with a good opportunity late on. He could have taken a shot on, but instead played a poorly executed pass and granted possession.
In truth, it was Leicester who had looked the most likely winners, even after Fred’s quick equalizer to cancel out Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal. They played the better football and looked like the more coherent and confident team.
United have won just 11 of 23 home games this season, a dreadful record in front of their own fans. While most teams have performed better at home with the return of supporters this season, it’s made little difference here.
Rewind to include last season and it’s 26 wins from 52 home games. For United to be winning only one in two at Old Trafford over such a long sample size is damning. The in-tray for the next manager, be it Erik ten Hag or Mauricio Pochettino, is already pretty full, but they have to find a way to improve home form.
Their arrival will herald yet another fresh start this summer and these fans are desperate for a long-term philosophy and style to get behind. Without Champions League football the revolution will take time, but giving the Old Trafford regulars a reason to get behind them should be a fairly simple task.
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