Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday admitted Manchester United's growing list of second-half collapses is starting to prey on his players' minds ahead of tonight's meeting with Bursaspor at Old Trafford.
United allowed a two-goal lead to slip against West Bromwich Albion at home on Saturday. It was the third time this season that Ferguson's side had lost such an imposing lead — and does not count the trip to Fulham in August, where they missed a late penalty when they were already a goal in front and then conceded an equaliser to Brede Hangeland.
Their weekend misery did not come quite so late. Yet the expected response did not materialise, with West Bromwich looking the more likely to win the game in the latter stages.
Ferguson yesterday confirmed the meek surrender was the result of near terror among his team faced with yet another collapse.
“The reason for the lack of response on Saturday was not to do with the game itself, it was to do with the previous matches where we have thrown points away," he said.
"They start thinking ‘Christ, here is another one'. That is the impact you get. The conscious part comes into it. They are saying to themselves ‘we are going to have to face the gaffer and explain this again'. But it is inexplicable."
Ferguson cited West Bromwich's equaliser as an example. A routine cross from Chris Brunt would normally have been collected with ease by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. This time it was spilled at the feet of Somen Tchoyi, who gleefully tapped home.
"The mistake was uncanny," said Ferguson. "Here is a player with 130 caps for Holland and the most fantastic career you could imagine and he makes a mistake like that. You cannot even criticise him because he doesn't deserve that. You just have to wash it away."
United can take the first step forward by dismissing the Turkish champions, who are yet to collect a point after losing their first two games in Europe's No 1 club competition.
Ferguson has pledged to make changes for tonight's game, although Michael Owen and Jonny Evans are on the sidelines in addition to Wayne Rooney, who may never return, but will definitely miss this game as he was taken off the field on a stretcher towards the end of training yesterday.
But, after registering a disappointing draw against Rangers five weeks ago, the Scot insists he is not taking Bursaspor lightly. "They have lost their first two games and maybe that is their lack of experience," he said. "The Champions League is not easy.
"With our home record we hope we can put it to bed. But that is not to say we are taking it lightly."