There have been more false dawns at Old Trafford over the last two-and-a-half years than we care to count. They were almost a monthly affair under David Moyes, while the latest to rise from the Louis van Gaal regime at Manchester United came as his side left Anfield with a valuable 1-0 victory two weeks ago.
The notion that result was anything other than an isolated moment of cheer amid a desperately maddening season was made clear on Saturday (23 January). For the 11<sup>th game in a row at Old Trafford this season, United were unable to score in the first half, failing to improve on that insipid record in the second before Charlie Austin's goal gave Southampton what felt like an inevitable win.
As a measure of just how little has improved under the Dutchman, consider that this defeat came a year to the day of that dire goalless draw with League Two Cambridge United in the FA Cup.
Breaking records in ineptitude is now par for the course. Defeat to Ronald Koeman's side confirmed United's worst ever points tally after 23 games in the Premier League era. The club's win rate under the Dutchman stands at 49% – their worst in 30 years. Sat five points off the top four, the club have also recorded their worst average goals ratio in Premier League history.
There is no shortage of damning stats, but somehow, the manager still stands. What could change that was the sheer defeatism Van Gaal has since emitted; almost acknowledgement that there is no one left fighting for him.
Van Gaal had already he showed his disconsolate side after the Boxing Day defeat to Stoke City, before rather smugly going back on suggestions he could walk away from the club following the goalless draw with Chelsea in late December – an improved, but still laborious, performance.
Van Gaal's decision not to walk away from the club was based on his own belief that there was still a modicum of faith from the supporters in him. Results like the victory over Liverpool helped enforce the idea he might just have enough to drag the club on until the end of the season.
That changed on Saturday. Boos cascaded down as he made his way down the tunnel, the atmosphere was nothing short of toxic. The effect that had on the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach was evident in his post-match comments, where he acknowledged he has lost the supporters.
"I'm very disappointed I cannot reach the expectations of the fans," he said. "They have, or they had, great expectations of me, and I cannot fulfil them, so I am very frustrated."
This resignation over his own failures should be all Ed Woodward and the United board need to pull the trigger. The executive vice-chairman's telling stare at the 64-year-old from the director's box was just as significant as the reception the manager and his players were greeted with at the full-time whistle.
The quickly diminishing faith the board have in their current manager has perhaps been reflected in the lack of transfer activity from the club during the January window. Such a situation should be untenable at any club, let alone one with the ambition and demand for success like United.
Defeat for Van Gaal against Championship side Derby County on Friday will surely leave the powers that be with a decision to make. In reality, it is one that should have already been taken.