Man United slump creating Giggs dilemma as Van Gaal feels the heat after Norwich defeat
Manchester Utd 1-2 Norwich City
As soon as referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle at full-time, Ryan Giggs shook hands with Norwich City manager Alex Neil and then headed straight down the touchline and up the players' tunnel at Old Trafford without so much as a backward glance.
In many ways, it was the most obvious display of urgency shown by anyone connected with Manchester United on a day when the roof began to cave in on Louis van Gaal.
That the Dutchman remains in charge as manager this morning should not be misread as a show of blind faith by United's owners, the Glazer family, or executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
There is often a delayed reaction to shock and Van Gaal may simply have benefited from boardroom paralysis while a minority of supporters chanted the name of Jose Mourinho, both in desperation and a vain attempt to influence Old Trafford's decision-makers.
Giggs could sense the shifting sands and the darkening mood inside the stadium as Norwich, without an away win since August and with no victory at Old Trafford since 1989, twice hit United on the counter-attack to open up a two-goal lead through Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey.
With Van Gaal appearing shellshocked and bemused on the bench, slumping forward on to the leather folder on his knees, Giggs strode into the technical area and attempted to inject urgency into the team with directions from the touchline.
But while an Anthony Martial goal on 66 minutes answered the call and halved United's deficit, it was to be a damning indictment of Van Gaal's players that they would spend a further 24 minutes plus stoppage time without being able to score again.
Crosses were over-hit, headers contested without any real sign of being won and some players - take a bow Ander Herrera and Juan Mata - mustered little more than a half-jog when attempting to track back having lost possession.
Were United's 11 players giving their all in an effort to haul themselves back into the game in order to avoid suffering a third successive loss? It is impossible to say, but Old Trafford did not witness the late charge which typified the Sir Alex Ferguson era, yet it was the same from the stands, with no raucous rallying cry from the Stretford End, so the players are not the only ones who fell short when it mattered.
Giggs, kicking every ball on the touchline and shaking his head more often than punching the air, was the only United figure displaying any kind of desire and his dart down the touchline at the end was that of a man who appeared close to the end of his tether.
On Saturday's evidence, the players are not playing for Van Gaal and the fans, while not openly turning against him, are also drawing the line at giving him their full support, but Giggs is in an awkward position. United are not playing the football he has grown up with at Old Trafford, but he is Van Gaal's No 2 and a man whose influence is screaming to be heard.
Should Giggs push for a greater say, should he attempt to drag Van Gaal away from a philosophy rooted in the 1990s, or would either of those be regarded as over-stepping the mark and a sign of betrayal?
But with his connection to the club, supporters and players, Giggs is the key to survival for Van Gaal, who accepted after this defeat that keeping the squad onside - or perhaps even restoring belief in his methods - will ultimately decide whether he stays or goes.
"The most important support is from the players," Van Gaal said. "It is always like that because the players have to do it on the pitch and the chemistry between the players and the managers and his staff is very important. But, of course, the belief of the fans in the manager is also very important.
"Last year we had 13 points from 10 games in the Premier League and then they believe in me, they think 'he shall bring us to the top'.
"And now we are in a bad period, we have lost three matches in a row and their belief has been tested.
"It is tested now and it shall decrease, so yes, it is important how the fans are thinking."
When asked whether he felt the players still believed in him, Van Gaal was insistent. "Yes," he said.
"I have seen the reaction of the players to me afterwards."
Whether that is a misjudgement on Van Gaal's part or simply a refusal to publicly accept he is now fighting a losing battle, only the next performance, at Stoke City on Boxing Day, will answer.
But belief and entertainment are in short supply under Van Gaal and, as Sir Bobby Charlton watched on from the directors' box underneath his Homburg hat, the product on the pitch was a long way from the club's tradition of adventurous, risk-taking, cavalier football.
The fans are losing faith and the players are drained of confidence, but with Stoke looming on Saturday and Chelsea due at Old Trafford next Monday, defender Phil Jones insists the time has come for unity.
"Over the years and history of the club, the fans have done some unbelievable things, achieved some unbelievable things, but we need them more than ever now," Jones said.
"We have got to pull through and we will."
The next two games will decide whether that is with, or without, Van Gaal.