David Moyes has admitted he takes "complete responsibility" for Manchester United's worrying run of results as the club attempt to avoid suffering three successive home defeats for the first time in 51 years against Shakhtar Donetsk tonight.
The United manager, who accepted that his players had struggled to impress in the closing stages of recent games, also conceded that the team's loss of form and slide down the -Premier League table had been "tough" to bear as he grapples with the challenge of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson. Not since the week before the outbreak of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, however, have United lost three consecutive fixtures at Old Trafford.
But with Everton and Newcastle both securing away -victories against Moyes's team in recent days, a win for Ukrainian champions Shakhtar would consign United to runners-up spot in Group A and raise the prospect of a Champions League second round tie against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Amid the gloom that surrounds Old Trafford, however, Moyes insists he will inspire an upturn in results. But despite conceding that his team are falling short in every area on the pitch, Moyes accepts that the buck ultimately stops with him. "I take complete responsibility for the results," Moyes said.
"Fortunately they have been good in the Champions League, but they have not been good in the Premier League, so I take responsibility for those as well. "I would like results to be much better and I've no doubt they will be. It is tough, though, because we expect to win all the games.
"We have been inconsistent at times. We have played very well in some of the games in the Champions League and not so well in the Premier League, albeit we have lacked a little bit of good fortune at times in one or two of the games, which might have made a difference. "But I think there is a bit of everything we could be doing with doing better. We would like to pass it better, to create more chances, to defend better when those moments arise. But it was only a few weeks ago when we were beating Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen and we were talking very well about the team."
Unbeaten in the Champions League and with a 5-0 victory away to Leverkusen in their last outing a -fortnight ago, United's European results have been a positive element of Moyes's turbulent start to life at Old Trafford. Aside from the 1-0 victory against Premier League leaders Arsenal last month, however, United have been unable to replicate their Champions League form in Premier League -fixtures. The team's inconsistency has led to suggestions that the squad left behind by Ferguson lack the strength to -compete on all fronts, but Moyes sidestepped the question when asked whether he believed his pool of players was good enough.
"The question I got asked was 'Is the squad big enough?' and I said, 'Yes the squad is big enough'," Moyes said. "Your question is slightly different." But when pressed whether he believed the squad were good enough, Moyes replied: "I believe the squad is big enough, yes." United's inability to replicate so far this season the late fightbacks of previous campaigns - they have scored just two goals in the final five minutes of games this term - was perhaps most evident during the defeats against Everton and Newcastle, when Moyes's players appeared to run out of steam in the closing stages.
When asked whether he believed the team lacked belief and had "almost given up in the closing stages" during the last two games, Moyes did little to dispel that perception. "I agree," he said. "In recent games we haven't finished the games the way we would have liked to. We have tried to make changes to improve things, but it hasn't quite happened. "We have lost goals quite late, the Newcastle one not so late, and we just couldn't find a way of getting a goal back.
"But the players are hurting because they are used to winning and, when they don't win, that hurts them. They care very much about the team and the club. They are good lads and they will respond in the right way." Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are expected to start together for the first time in six games against Shakhtar, but Moyes is likely to be without five senior players due to injury.
Defenders Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling and midfielder Marouane Fellaini all missed training on Monday, while Michael Carrick is yet to recover from Achilles surgery.