Bayern sink United but Moyes has done enough to earn another season at helm
There was no disguising the impact on David Moyes. For the most fleeting and precious moment in this wretched season he finally discovered what it had been like for Sir Alex Ferguson all those years, feeling the thrill of improbable victory and daring to rewrite the preordained script.
But that moment was gone within 22 seconds of football, viciously wrested from him – like hope so often has been these past eight months – when the directions he shouted into the ears of his players – something along the lines of "hold tight", "focus" and "keep a grip" – came to nothing when Bayern Munich scored, and then scored again, and again.
But from deep within the wretchedness, the new Manchester United manager can take something away from Bavaria.
This was the match in which his team was supposed to tank and his own weakness be laid bare, but instead they revealed that they belonged on the stage which they will now exit for the first time in 18 years.
Since this is a sport in which image counts for everything, significance will be attached once more to the respective demeanours of the managers late last night – Pep Guardiola smooth and debonair, Moyes tight and intense, desperate to be away.
But appearances obscure the football facts sometimes. His team – the weaker of these two sides, containing remnants of old and new, sorely in need of repair – had played their part, and he had engineered that.
Moyes still looked like a manager in search of players he could trust and who might bear the imprint of the new Manchester United.
When it had seemed like a night for the old twin pillars of the defence to make their last stand, he turned to Chris Smalling to partner Nemanja Vidic rather than Rio Ferdinand.
And when it had seemed like he might defend to the hilt he was prepared to play Shinji Kagawa, the player whose exact value to the team has seemed to perplex him most.
Moyes seemed to struggle to get the players to listen to him, too. Ryan Giggs tells a story of the lengths team-mates always went to pretending they could not hear what Sir Alex Ferguson was bellowing at them, which often entailed keeping a distance.
But 20 minutes in last night Phil Jones was two yards away from Moyes and there was still no flicker of response when the manager gestured.
But the image of a squad dislocated from the manager which has surfaced periodically in the last eight months, generally in a crisis, was scrambled by the individual contributions of Smalling and Patrice Evra, who shielded David de Gea from the need to make a solitary save in a first half in which United posed the greater attacking threat, just as they had in Manchester last week.
And there was more to the defensive component than the defenders.
It was a first-half performance with "no passengers", just as Moyes had requested.
It was like an alarm bell ringing through the United ranks whenever Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben seized the ball, bringing Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck back to double up on them in a way which demonstrated a level of discipline as substantial as anything we have seen from this Moyes team this season.
When United seized the ball and sought to break out, they produced another quality absent from so many of United's games: pace. Kagawa helped locate it, rapidly ferrying the ball to Welbeck, whose pace Bayern Munich were just not comfortable with.
And when speed was not the option, there was something more prosaic but just as threatening.
The lofted ball eased over the defence for Rooney was not out of the modernist school, but from the boot of Darren Fletcher it provided the first half's best scoring opportunity.
Perhaps Rooney could not see Kagawa lurking to his left. Perhaps he was blinded by the unexpected chance when the ball landed at his feet, but he let the chance go begging.
It added up to a lot more than the United Guardiola had tried to characterise before the game: a team prone to defend with a flat back nine.
The talk in Germany is of how Guardiola can be undone by the "guerrilla tactics" of teams who hold back then pounce like burglars in the night. It was nothing like that.
It was not an unimaginable event when United took the lead. This had been nothing like the war of attrition they had waged against Guardiola's Barcelona at Wembley in the 2011 final.
If Moyes' players had only delivered in the final third what they had managed in the other two, the end result might have been a different story.
It was one of the night's bitter ironies that Rooney – the one talisman Moyes has lifted up since last June – could not take a second chance which Welbeck placed his way just beyond the hour.
The high mountains of Europe are history for United and there is a long road ahead now.
But Moyes has won the right to have a shot at leading them back.