ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester United 1
LONDON • Manchester United's slender hopes of a top-four finish were ended in shambolic fashion when they surrendered an early lead to relegated Huddersfield, allowing the club marooned at the bottom of the table with 14 points to claim a wholly unexpected 15th.
Not that much has gone the Terriers' way in their two-season stay in the Premier League, but at least the side that share the earliest relegation with Derby can take pride in taking four points from the Red Devils in two league meetings at the John Smith's Stadium.
Huddersfield won this fixture last season and, despite a poor start, they had their chances in the second half to cause a similar shock.
In the circumstances, they were happy with a draw, however, which is more than can be said for United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were hoping to stay in contention until the final day of the season at least, but this result coupled with Chelsea's 3-0 victory over Watford means a Champions League place is now out of reach, with no one to blame but themselves.
Afterwards, the Norwegian cut a resigned figure, admitting "the table seldom lies at the end".
He said: "We haven't taken enough points, won enough games, scored enough goals - it's always difficult when you lose your manager halfway through the season. It's caught up with us a little bit.
REALITY BITES HARD
We haven't taken enough points, won enough games, scored enough goals. It's always difficult when you lose your manager halfway through the season. It's caught up with us a little bit.
It shows us where we are. We're not living in fantasy land thinking we can catch the top two. We're far away, but we shouldn't be speaking about being far off the top four at Manchester United.
It's a great challenge for us, but I'm sure we'll make it.
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER, Manchester United manager, being honest about the scale of the rebuilding job ahead.
"Today wasn't one individual that was disappointing, it was the whole team. We had so many opportunities to grab third or fourth and weren't able to.
"It's probably the right place to be for us, Europa League next year and, if City don't win the FA Cup, we'll have an early and bright start for Europa League qualifiers and that'll make it more difficult."
His players played some good stuff in the first half, mainly because they were allowed to, with Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and even Alexis Sanchez finding it easy to slice through the home defence.
Yet in terms of end product, the visitors were almost as ineffective as Huddersfield themselves.
They were only able to take the lead because Jonas Lossl failed to make a routine save from Scott McTominay's speculative shot.
It was the sort of mistake David de Gea has been making of late. The Danish goalkeeper was probably unsighted as the midfielder fired his shot but, even so, an effort of no great pace went straight through him to give United an early lead.
Pogba headed against the bar just before the interval, but United were unable to translate their clear superiority into goals. On occasions, they were downright wasteful in possession in the first half.
Solskjaer still felt safe enough to send on Ander Herrera for Nemanja Matic and Tahith Chong when Sanchez went down injured after the break but, just past the hour, the Terriers hit them with a route-one sucker punch.
With everyone but Luke Shaw up for a corner, Lossl caught Mata's cross and punted the ball downfield, where the bounce eluded the defender's attempt to cut out the danger, allowing Isaac Mbenza to run on and place a shot under de Gea for his first Huddersfield goal.
The stadium erupted, home fans having had little to cheer in recent weeks. When a chant went round the ground reminding Solskjaer's men they were playing a relegated side, United supporters joined in.
If that was comedy, the five-minute wait for a new corner flag after Mbenza snapped one with his goal celebration was pure farce, a reminder if one were needed that United were up against opponents of Championship standard.
United chased a late winner, but though Pogba hit the bar again, a draw was a fair enough result on the balance of play, even after eight minutes of added time, and there was no doubt who enjoyed it most.
"Champions League, you're having a laugh" was the taunt as the away fans made their way home.