Ralf Rangnick apologised to Manchester United’s supporters and branded their 4-0 thrashing at Brighton “humiliating” and “unacceptable”.
United’s players were subjected to chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” from their own fans as they were outclassed and outfought on a remarkable evening at the Amex Stadium.
A chastening defeat on the south coast ensured the 20-time English champions will finish with their lowest points tally of the Premier League era and extinguished slender hopes of Champions League qualification.
“To start with, it’s important that we apologise to our supporters who came all the way from Manchester to Brighton,” said interim manager Rangnick.
“We were just not good enough from start to finish. The performance was not only poor, it was extremely poor.
“It was a humiliating defeat and even more so for a team like Manchester United.
“It’s not only that you lose 4-0, it was also the way we played and this is just unacceptable, very difficult to deal with and to cope.”
Protesting travelling fans once again took aim at United’s owners, with chants of “love United, hate Glazers” and “we want Glazers out” ringing out early in the game.
They later vocally questioned the commitment of their side following goals from Albion quartet Moises Caicedo, Marc Cucurella, Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard.
Sixth-placed United can now only accumulate a maximum total of 61 points this term – three fewer than they managed in 2013-14, which began under David Moyes and finished with the caretaker management of Ryan Giggs.
Rangnick, whose side arrived in Sussex following a 3-0 win over Brentford in his final match at Old Trafford, brushed off question marks about a lack of desire in his squad.
“I have to defend the players,” said the German. “I don’t think that they are (uncaring).
“I saw them in training. I saw them against Brentford.
“We had a good week of training with good atmosphere, with good focus on the training sessions.
“But I remember me watching the game against Watford away, 4-1 (under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer), who are now relegated, and this looked very similar to what happened today.
“For me, the problem is how to defend as a team. If you do not defend properly, if you give them all the space and time in the world, this is the result.”
United did at least show some fight in the closing stages, during which substitute Edinson Cavani had a goal disallowed for offside.
However, another major low in a miserable season – which has featured 11 defeats – highlighted the extent of the job facing incoming manager Erik ten Hag.
Rangnick is confident the current Ajax boss can revive the club’s fortunes.
“I’m still very positive that with Erik ten Hag that we have a top manager next season,” he said.
“The board has already made some changes and there will be more to come in the summer.
“I’m still positive that we can change the whole issue and show a completely different face next season. This is important not only for our fans but also for the image of the whole club.”
Rampant Brighton bullied their stunned opponents from the outset en route to their biggest top-flight win in their 356th match at this level.
The emphatic success – in front of a boisterous record Amex Stadium crowd of 31,637 – was a first victory in nine games on home soil, dating back to Boxing Day, to boost their hopes of a top-half finish.
Seagulls head coach Graham Potter hailed the exceptional result as one of the best of his career.
“It’s absolutely up there because we’ve had to suffer a little bit at home to say the least in terms of giving our supporters more happy memories and moments,” said Potter, whose side also hit a post through Alexis Mac Allister.
“But I think we made up for it today in some ways.
“Football is about winning but it’s also about parents bringing kids to the game and having a moment together and remembering the occasion and celebrating the victory and I think that’s what was special today.
“The guy on the DJ had some celebratory songs he hasn’t used for a while, so he was happy – it was a brilliant day.”