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Nottingham Forest 2 Man Utd 1: United suffer woeful end to 2023 leaving Erik ten Hag sweating over his job

AFTER yet another hapless, spineless and embarrassing Manchester United performance,  a penny for the thoughts of two knights of the realm.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who turned United into serial winners, was sitting next to Sir David Brailsford at the City Ground.

Man Utd ended 2023 with another defeat as they lost 2-1 at Nottingham Forest

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Man Utd ended 2023 with another defeat as they lost 2-1 at Nottingham ForestCredit: Reuters
Anthony Elanga got one over his old side as Forest bagged a timely winner

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Anthony Elanga got one over his old side as Forest bagged a timely winnerCredit: Getty

As INEOS’ director of sport, it will be Brailsford’s job to see whether the philosophy that made British cyclists world-beaters can put United back on the podium.

But you would forgive Fergie if he turned to his neighbour and said: “Marginal gains, my a**e! This lot need a lot more than that, son.”

United were threatening to escape with a barely deserved point after Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner gifted Marcus Rashford the chance to cancel out Nicolas Dominguez’s opening goal.

But they did not have the composure, the bottle or the quality to stop Morgan Gibbs-White grabbing the winner soon afterwards.

Not even 10 minutes of good old-fashioned Fergietime was enough to save his old club.

After the Dominguez goal, the home fans taunted United boss Erik Ten Hag with a chorus of “Sacked in the morning”.

INEOS won’t complete their 25 per cent buy-in to the club for a few weeks and so won’t officially have the power to do anything so drastic for a little while.

But if things at Old Trafford do not improve soon, then Ten Hag’s confident comments after how much he was looking forward to working with the new part-owners may ring very hollow indeed.

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Neither goalkeeper had a significant save to make in a dull first half.

But Forest provided the majority of what little quality there was.

Dominguez had a shot blocked in the opening minute and Raphael Varane’s attempt to clear Anthony Elanga’s cross, after a fine move, could have gone anywhere.

Nuno Espirito Santo seemed to have instilled more fluency and purpose into Forest in a fortnight than Ten Hag had managed in a season and a half.

Where were United’s patterns of play? What was the plan?

Forest opened the scoring in the 64th minute after a drab first half

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Forest opened the scoring in the 64th minute after a drab first halfCredit: Reuters
Nicolas Dominguez sent the home fans wild with a fine strike

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Nicolas Dominguez sent the home fans wild with a fine strikeCredit: AFP

For 15 minutes, the visitors were absolutely abysmal, betraying the club’s traditions as badly as that appalling away kit.

If the travelling fans hoped the 3-2 win over Aston Villa from 2-0 down would boost their team’s confidence, they were disappointed.

And if that was understandable, given United’s inconsistent season, the lack of commitment was unforgivable.

United lost almost every 50/50 challenge, were second to almost every second ball and were generally inferior to Forest in every aspect of the game.

The only change from the Villa victory was matchwinner Rasmus Hojlund being absent with illness, so Antony came in and Rashford moved to centre forward.

Marcus Rashford latched onto Matt Turner's mistake to equalise 12 minutes from time

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Marcus Rashford latched onto Matt Turner’s mistake to equalise 12 minutes from timeCredit: Rex
It was the striker's third goal of the season

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It was the striker’s third goal of the seasonCredit: Getty

His well-taken goal aside, what on earth has happened to Rashford?

Apart from one burst down the right of the penalty area, he contributed precious little.

No focal point, no threat, nothing.

The England international is barely even a shadow of the player who scored 30 goals in all competitions last season.

Not that many of his team-mates were much better.

Morgan Gibbs-White punished United late on

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Morgan Gibbs-White punished United late onCredit: Getty
The goal was almost a carbon copy of Forest's opener

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The goal was almost a carbon copy of Forest’s openerCredit: Getty

Forest goalkeeper Turner was more of a danger to his goal than United, thanks to some poor distribution with his feet.

The home side were guilty of failing to build on their early promise and did not even manage to work Andre Onana once.

But as Forest legend Des Walker noted in a half-time interview, United were there for the taking.

Ten Hag made a half-time tweak, bringing on Scott McTominay for Kobbie Mainoo, who had been hurt in the course of fouling Danilo.

McTominay’s first major contribution was to hit an attempted clearance straight into former team-mate Elanga and then watch gratefully as the ball went harmlessly behind for a goal kick.

It was more misery for United just days after an epic comeback against Aston Villa

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It was more misery for United just days after an epic comeback against Aston VillaCredit: AFP
Sir Dave Brailsford looked unimpressed in the stands

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Sir Dave Brailsford looked unimpressed in the standsCredit: Getty

Little had changed so Ten Hag acted again. Off went Antony, to justifiable chants from the home fans of “What a waste of money!”, and on came Amad Diallo.

Almost immediately, United threatened properly for the first time. Wan-Bissaka cut the ball back and Diogo Dalot’s shot from 20 yards beat Turner but not his left-hand post.

Morgan Gibbs-White’s challenge on Jonny Evans led a melee after which he and Dalot were booked.

At last the game seemed to be coming to life and then Dominguez raised the roof.

World Cup winner Gonzalo Montiel found himself free inside the penalty area and just onside.

Forest goalie Turner went from villain to hero with a late save

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Forest goalie Turner went from villain to hero with a late saveCredit: AP
Erik ten Hag is sure to be sweating over his future

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Erik ten Hag is sure to be sweating over his futureCredit: Reuters

No-one was watching Dominguez either and he had all the time in the world to sweep the ball in past a helpless Onana.

But Turner soon gave United a lifeline.

The ‘keeper attempted to find Danilo but Garnacho cut it out easily and squared to Rashford, whose cool, precise finish was so out ot step with his and United’s display, that it felt like a miracle.

Turner redeemed himself a bit soon afterwards, by keeping out Christian Eriksen’s effort from distance.

And Forest went right back down the other end to restore their lead. Elanga found space down the right and laid the ball into the path of Gibbs-White, who was left unchallenged to curl the ball into the net.

Turner made a fabulous stop when Bruno Fernandes’ shot took a wicked deflection in the sixth of 10 minutes of added time.

Best of luck, Sir Dave, as Sir Alex might have said.

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