Home points thrown away against Bristol City, Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Millwall were unfortunate but could be excused as they came against some of the top sides in the division. United were the better side in all four but gained just two points. Ultimately four matches have cost United a play-off place: the defeats at home to Bolton Wanderers and at Hull City, Barnsley and Birmingham City, where not only were the results bad but so were the performances. The reason for this probably escapes even Chris Wilder, so I can’t really offer an explanation.
After the Bolton defeat Wilder said: “We could not find that bit of quality at the top end of the pitch. I want us to play and dominate the game but then show that quality that takes it away from the opposition and we couldn’t do that today.” The defeat at Hull brought Wilder’s biggest rant of the season: “We didn’t deserve anything from the game and I’m wasting my time and energy thinking we’re going to get into the top six because to produce a performance like we have with everything at stake is not good enough, and won’t be good enough to get in the top six. Every part of our game was below the standards that we’ve set.”
Barnsley and Birmingham saw similar reactions: “I think we’re a really good side, but we’re just missing something that wraps up games,” and “we had a great opportunity to achieve something this season. But we have not come up with big enough moments when we were doing well. That is the difference between us and the teams who are in the play-offs.”
Wilder’s comments after these four games sum up the season better than anything anyone else can say. Outstanding on so many occasions, United are missing that … something. That something that makes the best teams stand out from the rest, that something that produces wins even from a bad performance. United haven’t won all season when we have been the poorer side, but we have lost many points when we’ve been the better side. That something that might be termed a ruthless streak.
But ‘that something’ usually costs. And unless the boardroom squabble is sorted out quickly, ‘that something’ might still be missing.