May 26, 2024

MANCHESTER, England — Midway through the first half, with Manchester United already 1-0 down, the 9,000 Newcastle fans inside Old Trafford started singing to United manager Erik ten Hag: “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”

With the score at 2-0 before the end of the first half, the fans cheered every pass as their team strolled around like it was a training session.

When Newcastle’s third and final goal came after 60 minutes, they were chanting, “We can see you sneaking out” — it was directed at the Man United fans trying to save themselves from further humiliation by escaping Old Trafford early. And who could blame them?

Man United’s start to the season has been full of damaging defeats, but this was a contender for worst of the lot. Four days after their capitulation against neighbours Manchester City, Newcastle inflicted a second consecutive home loss to knock Ten Hag’s team out of the Carabao Cup.

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There’s no shame in losing to Man City — widely accepted as the best club team in the world — but this was a Newcastle side stripped of their regulars as manager Eddie Howe rested key personnel ahead of crucial games against Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. Howe made eight changes, but Man United are playing so badly he could have picked an XI from the away supporters who spent the night singing and dancing and still won comfortably.

“It is below the standards everyone expects from Manchester United,” Ten Hag said afterwards. “It is not good enough by far.

“We have to put it right. I take responsibility for it. It is my team and it is not performing. I have to share it with my players, but I am responsible. As a team we are not good enough and whatever the reasons are, it is no space for excuses.

We have to do things better and raise our standards otherwise you never get the right levels and performances. We have to do it together and everyone has to take responsibility for his own performance.”

Club bosses are desperate to stick with Ten Hag but just six months after the end of a successful first season as manager, his reign has descended into chaos. Man United have lost eight of their 15 games in all competitions, including five at home.

In 10 games at Old Trafford this season, they’ve conceded first six times and shipped 16 goals in total. In all competitions home and away, they’ve conceded 26 times at a rate of 1.7 per game. Such leakiness in front of their own goal wouldn’t matter so much if they could score regularly, but they can’t.

Ten Hag has had to deal with a lengthy injury list that has robbed him of his first-choice defence, but this is a crisis by anyone’s measure.

Out of the Carabao Cup, struggling in their Champions League group and already well adrift of the leaders in the Premier League, Man United are almost at the stage where they’re playing for pride. But judging by another performance against Newcastle — lacking any enthusiasm or direction — maybe even that’s too much to ask.

If Man United were going for a Halloween horror show, they were a day late.

“At this moment we are in a bad place,” admitted Ten Hag. “I understand it when the results are not there, it is a logical process and there are questions but I am confident. I take responsibility for it.

“I am a fighter and I know it is not always going up and we have had a lot of setbacks this season but also you have to deal with it. I have said that before I know when there are setbacks, even then you have to get results. Sunday [against Manchester City] and tonight was far from that so we have to do things right at a certain level, the minimum level to win games.”

There’s an argument that, although the start to this season has been particularly poor, Man United have been sinking since victory over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final in February. Up to and including lifting the trophy at Wembley — their first for six years — United had a win percentage of 72.5%. Since then, it’s dropped to 54% and this season, it’s fallen below 50%.

Whether the club want to admit it or not, Ten Hag is fighting for his job. For the first time since October 1962, Man United have lost consecutive home games by three or more goals and for the first time in 93 years they’ve lost five of their first 10 home games in a season.

It wasn’t by accident that over the course of the 90 minutes against Newcastle, the Dutchman went from 8-1 to be the next Premier League manager sacked to second favourite by bookmakers.

He still has enough support among Man United fans to be applauded down the tunnel by the few who stayed until the final whistle, but it won’t last forever. He may not have to worry yet about Newcastle’s taunt of “getting sacked in the morning” but he’s facing a race against time to turn things around.

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