LONDON • The season that Manchester United would rather forget ended in the pain of missing out on Champions League football to neighbours Manchester City on goal difference.
They were inferior to their rivals by a glaring 16 goals after their 3-1 win over Bournemouth in the final Premier League match on Tuesday.
Louis van Gaal's men beat opposition goalkeepers 49 times this term, the club's poorest return since the 46 of 1989-90.
But the win at least confirmed that United will play in the Europa League, even if that is not the goal that Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, demanded of his manager for the campaign.
Last season, United qualified for the Champions League and van Gaal acknowledged his team is in reverse.
HOPES TOO HIGH
The fans are expecting a lot but I think these expectations are much too high. We are a team in transition and I said that when I started here at Manchester United.
LOUIS VAN GAAL, the Manchester United manager, on being booed by the fans..
"Of course because our aim in the first year and also the second and the third shall be Champions League," said the 64-year-old.
But he is confident of still being in charge for the first match of next season.
"Yes. Because I have signed a three-year contract," the Dutchman insisted.
Van Gaal was booed before he said a few words to the sparse crowd ahead of the players' lap of appreciation.
The manager said: "I want to thank you for your unconditional support. Wherever we have played, however the things have gone on the field, you never let us down. Thank you for that and we want to bring the FA Cup home to you."
Asked later about the jeers, he said: "The fans are expecting a lot but I think these expectations are much too high. We are a team in transition and I said that when I started here at Manchester United. Maybe I need to bring over the message much clearer."
Despite this, he claims United can win a 21st top-flight title next term.
"It is always possible because Leicester City was more or less a relegation team," he said. "We are fourth and fifth. But in sport nothing is normal, you have to show it and fight for it."
He can partly repair his reputation by beating Crystal Palace at Wembley on Saturday to claim the FA Cup, but whether it will be sufficient to save his job is to be decided.
"I came here to win a title," he said, "and the FA Cup is a very important title."
The Dutchman has to face the fact that the threadbare attendance, which followed Sunday's postponement of this fixture due to the discovery of a dummy bomb, contained many dissenters.
The banners reading: "Time to go Louis, not good enough" and "Hopefully bye bye Van Gaal" were a fair summation of how far his stock has fallen, though at least he came through with no injuries after fielding the same XI that had been due to start on Sunday.
Telling here was the lack of comeback from the United support. Instead they were becalmed, much like the slumbering outfit van Gaal so often sends out.
Captain Wayne Rooney admitted after the game that United can have no complaints about finishing outside the Champions League berths.
"It is the worst amount of goals since 1990. We haven't scored enough goals this season. In the Premier League, after 38 games, you finish where you deserve to finish," he said.
"There are no complaints from us as players. We weren't good enough to finish in the top four this season and we need to improve on that next season."
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe bemoaned the loss, implying that the unfortunate rescheduling of the match had an adverse effect on his team.
"Mentally for the players, they had a lot of plans beyond the game on Sunday and those had to change," he said.
"Mentally when you think the season is over, to have to extend it was difficult. We did our best, but Man United were too good for us."
But are they good enough to save their manager's job? This is the question only Woodward can answer.