HERNING (Denmark) • Louis van Gaal's miserable tenure at Manchester United plumbed new depths on Thursday night, as the manager agreed with expletive-laden chants from furious fans about his side's performance.
In what could prove a tipping point for him at Old Trafford, Danish champions Midtjylland came from behind to beat United 2-1 in the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie.
Midfielder Pione Sisto cancelled out Memphis Depay's goal on the stroke of half-time, before substitute Paul Onuachu capitalised on a feeble challenge from Juan Mata to score the winner in the 77th minute.
At the final whistle, a stony-faced Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, left his seat in the cold surely wondering when - if ever - this side built with a £250 million (S$503 million) investment by van Gaal is going to show a consistent improvement in performance and results.
United's 800-strong group of travelling fans, meanwhile, vented their disgust by turning on the manager and the players by chanting: "We're f****** s***".
Van Gaal, whose future is shrouded in doubt, with former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings to replace the Dutchman, admitted that the supporters may have had a point.
"The fans can criticise," said the United manager, who has failed to mastermind a win in 18 of their past 27 matches.
"They can do because when you see the second half maybe they are right. We have to improve and then the fans shall support us again.
"We had a lot of unnecessary ball losses and Midtjylland were winning these second balls and then you can expect that they score out of a few chances."
Michael Carrick, who wore the armband in Wayne Rooney's absence due to injury, also admitted that the performance was not good enough.
"It's not acceptable," the midfielder said. "The result and the performance have got to be a lot better. I think we caused a lot of our own problems."
United's misery was compounded by the knee injury to David de Gea in the warm-up that forced van Gaal to select Sergio Romero to start in goal. The Argentinian made three big saves to spare the visiting team from greater humiliation.
When you have a list of (12) injured players, and a few minutes before the game we can add another player to it, then it is difficult to cope.
LOUIS VAN GAAL, Manchester United manager, making sense of his side's loss.
De Gea, who has become United's 13th casualty through injury or illness, was set to have a scan in Manchester yesterday.
The prospect of United losing their goalkeeper for a prolonged period, just 24 hours after Rooney, their leading scorer, was ruled out for up to two months with a knee ligament injury, represents a blow to van Gaal's hopes of saving his job and the team's season.
With United six points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City in the Premier League, van Gaal admitted that winning the Europa League may offer them their best hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League. Yet they are at risk of being eliminated at the first hurdle before the return leg against Midtjylland - who had not played since Dec 10 because of a winter break - on Thursday.
Van Gaal cited Murphy's law - an adage that states anything that can go wrong, will go wrong - when blaming the defeat on injuries.
"I think it's the law of Murphy," he said. "When you have a list of (12) injured players, and a few minutes before the game we can add another player to it, then it is difficult to cope."
His options were illustrated by the 21-year-old Donald Love being given a senior debut at right-back in a team that featured five changes from the starting XI who lost to Sunderland on Saturday.
The United bench featured Regan Poole, 17; Joe Riley, 19; and James Weir, 20. None of them had played for the first team before.
Midtjylland manager Jess Thorup claimed his side - third in the Danish Superliga - should have won by more.
"No one can say anything about the result," he said after his side registered six shots on target - twice as many as the visitors - despite having just 37 per cent of possession. "We had a couple of chances to score more goals but for their goalkeeper."
THE TIMES, LONDON; THE GUARDIAN