It’s fair to say Manchester United aren’t in the best shape right now, but you know it’s bad when a League One player says the fear factor has gone from Old Trafford.
That’s exactly what Rochdale defender Jimmy McNulty told talkSPORT after their Carabao Cup clash on Wednesday night.
United players left the pitch breathing a sigh of relief as they needed a penalty shootout to see off a side currently sitting 17th in the third tier on English football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named a much-changed, yet still undoubtedly strong, team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones and Fred.
And while they avoided a similar upset to when United were knocked out of the League Cup by Southend United in 2006 – doo doo doo doo, Freddy Eastwood – they still failed to produce a performance to give supporters any shred of hope that good times are around the corner.
What positives there were came from United’s youngsters, with 17-year-old striker Mason Greenwood scoring his second goal of the season, 21-year-old defender Axel Tuanzebe named captain for the evening, and £15million summer signing Daniel James netting the winning spot kick.
But there is a sense United are beyond the ‘transitional period’ many have labelled this season.
In fact, Solskjaer looks like he has a full blown rebuilding job on his hands.
McNulty says Rochdale were ‘proud’ to take the 20-time champions of England to penalties with a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes, after a first professional goal from 16-year-old star Luke Matheson.
But he admitted the visitors were helped by the overwhelming sense of dread, uncertainty and nervousness that emanated from the Old Trafford stands.
“Truthfully, there is definitely not the fear factor [at Old Trafford] right now,” the Dale centre-back told Natalie Sawyer and Glen Johnson on talkSPORT.
“I’m so proud to say that I’ve played there. It’s an incredible arena. It really does feel like you’re in a giant’s den. We very rarely go into a stadium like that and we were very humbled by it.
“We seemed to gain more and more support from the fans as the night went on, and even some of the home supporters applauded our performance. It was a special night for us. It was a shame we didn’t go all the way and dump Manchester United out on penalties but it was very special nonetheless.
“When we saw the team line-ups we were truthfully very happy; Ole had gone almost as strong as possible, and we felt he needed to do that after the West Ham game.
“We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves and say that we were going to beat Manchester United, but we felt that it was as good a time as any to go and face them.
“There was definitely a feeling that once they hadn’t blown us away in the first 20 minutes, you could hear and feel the doubt and the pressure kicking in.
“You can sense changes in stadiums, and to be fair a lot of United fans stuck with them and I thought it might get a bit volatile, but certain sections did change.
“I almost felt that the United players became very scared to be that player who gave the ball away, and they started taking fewer risks.
“All that helped us all out. We needed as much help as possible, our task was enormous.
“I’m glad they put almost a full complement out against us; it was great for our lads to head off against the likes of Pogba, Lingard and Wan-Bissaka. It was a great night and we almost did it.
“We did ourselves proud.”