1. The Dons create a night to remember
Make no mistake, this night belonged to MK Dons. They earned it, playing through a turgid atmosphere to seal the biggest win in their ten-year history. However, the story outside of Milton Keynes will be another abject performance from Manchester United. There may have been ten changes from Saturday’s bore draw with Sunderland but the performance was broadly similar: hesitant, sloppy and disconnected. As soon as Jonny Evans had a brain freeze and let in Will Grigg for the opener, the confidence dropped, the passes frequently went astray and the now familiar sense of confusion began to creep in. All the goals came from staggeringly poor giveaways and the reality is it could have been more than four. Louis van Gaal asked for three months to United into shape – at this rate United fans may have to brace for a longer teething period.
2. Louis Van Gaal gives the kids a chance – and stands by them
Those who thought Louis van Gaal might roll out the big boys to bully some minnows in the name of confidence-building were sorely mistaken. David de Gea was the sole survivor from the Stadium of Light borefest, as the Dutchman put his faith in the young guns and second strings to prove their worth. United fans should be pleased about that; it shows that van Gaal has no intention hitting the panic button after two games and runs a strict meritocracy where everyone will be given their chance. He was rewarded by a confident start by the young attacking midfielder Nick Powell who though far from perfect, showed more vision and forward drive in 45 minutes than Tom Cleverley has done in two Premier League games. But he was barely rewarded for his faith, none of the young guns gave a great account of themselves. After the game, though, Van Gaal though refused to throw his young players under the bus, largely blaming luck and errors for the loss and insisting he couldn’t have asked for a better effort from them.
3. Jonny Evans leads United’s zombie-horde
When five minutes into the second half a shot struck Jonny Evans’ left arm right in the middle of his own penalty area, the defender must have feared the worst. He quite blatantly moved his arm down to block the shot and the 26-year-old was lucky beyond belief that Stuart Atwell decided to let him off. Had it been given it would have made the Northern Irishman’s night unbearably awful. His was the brainfreeze and that let MK Dons in for a simple opening goal and United had been so poor up to that point that had the penalty given and converted, it would have been difficult to see a way back for van Gaal’s men. In any event, Grigg spared him the embarrassment by making it 2-0 20 minutes later and the rest was history. He wasn’t the only one that went missing; Javier Hernandez did nothing to convince his manager he deserves a starting spot. But then again, none of his teammates did, either.
4. United’s hardcore keep smiling
Arrogance is an accusation often levelled at Manchester United travelling support by home fans but their keen sense of irony made an appearance. 4-0 down to a League 1 side and facing ridicule in the morning papers, their voices were the only ones heard in the stadium at that point. They will need the patience of a thousand very patient saints to get thr0ugh a season which could see more of these collapses if United’s squad cannot get used to their new system a little quicker. The arrival of Angel Di Maria for £60m will at the very least inject some energy into a group of players who at this point look frozen by self-doubt. United at full strength will be a different project – Michael Carrick, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Maroune Fellaini are still out – but if there were any doubt among supporters how painful this rebuilding prospect could be, this was a reminder of the toil still to come.
5. Defensive signings cannot arrive quickly enough
Daley Blind’s agent was quoted today as saying that there had been no contact from United and at that news, their supporters might be ready to tear Ed Woodward’s hair out (if he had any) let alone their own. Chris Smalling was brutal against Sunderland and Jonny Evans, the most experienced player in United’s defensive cohort, had a shocker. The arrival of Marcus Rojo will be welcome but as Patrice Evra will attest, Premier League débuts can be a rocky road to navigate and on this evidence there is little reliable cover until the new signings can bed in. There are now five full days for Woodward to take the club’s spending beyond the eye-watering £130 million that have already been spent. Otherwise the next few months could prove difficult to stomach for the red half of Manchester.