Champions League: Scrappy Manchester United left with German test
Man United 0-0 PSV
The fantasy had Manchester United heading to Germany in a fortnight with Champions League qualification decided. It was hoped a draw in Wolfsburg would be enough to secure the group. Now a win might be needed just to qualify.
This was one long sprint into a brick wall. United simply could not conjure up that drop of magic and guile needed against resolute opposition.
So committed were they to the idea of winning they might easily have lost.
PSV are no Barcelona but they are alert when presented with an opportunity, and United offered plenty in a gung-ho finale that left gaping holes at the back.
There were some pluses for United in the improving form of Jesse Lingard and, on occasion, Anthony Martial, but the sense remains of a team no nearer connecting with its rampaging past.
The final whistle set forth a hail of boos around a frustrated Old Trafford. The fans of PSV waved their scarves to celebrate a shot at the last 16 they thought they might never have. A home win against bottom side CSKA Moscow will see them through.
Louis van Gaal made four changes to the team that sneaked home at Watford last Saturday, bringing back Matteo Darmian to the right of defence, and partnering Wayne Rooney and Martial with Lingard and Memphis Depay in a notional front four.
Depay resumed his station on the left flank after his central plunder at Vicarage Road, surrendering the middle ground to Martial. With Lingard wide right, Van Gaal was at last responding to the demand for urgency.
Wolfsburg made their intentions clear before the action began in Manchester with a 2-0 victory at CSKA Moscow. Both goals came via the agency of Andre Schurrle.
Last night's match coincided with the 10th anniversary of the premature death of George Best. The circumstances of his slow decline and eventual demise, ravaged by alcoholism, were of course tragic.
There is nothing to celebrate in that, but at least the date allowed us to revisit his extraordinary talent.
The legend of Best remains important to this club, utterly central to its identity, especially on nights like this, for it was in the European theatre that United separated themselves from their English counterparts.
It goes without saying that there has never been another remotely like him, and it makes the bones shudder to think he walked out of the Old Trafford door at 27 years of age, a year younger than Lionel Messi is now.
PSV were never going to blow the house down but neither would they be a freebie.
An early goal is desirable, failing that retaining composure is a must.
The last thing United wanted was to convey a sense of panic. The opening period conformed to the established pattern at Old Trafford, United seeing plenty of the ball but little of the goal.
Bastian Schweinsteiger had a pop from range, as did Depay. Both shots were cleanly hit and both picked out Jeroen Zoet in goal.
The first rising of the pulse came in the 20th minute when Lingard sent Darmian haring towards the touchline. His whipped cross narrowly avoided the outstretched boot of Rooney.
Next up was Rooney, creating space down the profitable right channel. Martial stepped over his cross, leaving Lingard to run on to the ball. Sadly, there was a literal aspect to the move with Lingard beating himself by knocking on unintentionally.
Primed to counter, Eindhoven did precisely that in the 33rd minute with Jorrit Hendrix forcing David de Gea into a fine save.
It should have been a goal at the other end when Martial was through on target, but yet again the keeper saved.
United were at PSV immediately after the break, Morgan Schneiderlin heading over the bar. Lingard flashed a header across goal from Martial's cross. Depay bobbed and weaved into position before finding the keeper's midriff.
The Stretford End was all but sucking the ball into the net. But the biggest miss came from Lingard, who skied a half-volley.
At the other end, Luuk de Jong flashed a shot wide.
Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young replaced Schweinsteiger and Depay with half an hour remaining, but they couldn't make an impact on the game - nor prevent the boos from ringing out around Old Trafford.
Man Utd: De Gea, Darmian (Mata 84), Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Lingard, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger (Fellaini 58), Depay (Young 58), Rooney,Martial.
Subs not used: Romero, Wilson, McNair, Andreas Pereira.
PSV: Zoet, Arias, Bruma, Moreno, Brenet, Propper, Hendrix (Isimat-Mirin 60), Guardado, Narsingh (Pereiro 18), de Jong, Locadia.
Subs not used: Pasveer, Schaars, Maher, Poulsen, Bergwijn.
Booked: de Jong, Arias.
Man of match: Martial
Match rating: 5/10
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Rep).