Mindful of the need to avoid a third successive Old Trafford defeat, but also keen to rest players ahead of Sunday's trip to Aston Villa, David Moyes made six changes to the team that lost to Newcastle at the weekend. Robin van Persie, who appeared short of fitness during his 90 minutes against Newcastle following a month out with a groin injury, started on the substitutes' bench as Wayne Rooney returned from suspension.
There were recalls for Ashley Young, Rio Ferdinand and Alex Buttner, yet none of those impressed or grasped their chance to stake a claim for a lengthy run in the first team. With joint-chairman Avi Glazer watching from the directors' box, United's American owners will at least have seen for themselves the paucity of options available to Moyes, who desperately needs new blood in January.
United's supporters continue to give Moyes their full backing, both vocally and with banners such as the one that read, "Believe in yourself Moyes, the rest will follow". The manager was also backed by a rendition of "Come on David Moyes, play like Fergie's boys," and 'David Moyes's red and white army'. He can at least count on the fans as he attempts to arrest United's slump. But the team's anaemic performances led to a subdued atmosphere and Old Trafford, which can fall deathly quiet at times, was silent for long periods. There was an air of resignation inside a stadium, with many empty seats, but the vocal backing for Moyes underlined his belief that the fans understood the need for patience during this transitional period.
Moyes went with the 4-2-3-1 formation that has served United well in the Champions League this season. Deploying the line-up that destroyed Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 two weeks ago, Moyes once again chose Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs as his deep-lying midfielders following their impressive display in Germany. Shakhtar were more adventurous than Leverkusen, however, and United could not cope with the pace of their front five. A 4-3-3 formation may have stopped United being outnumbered in midfield, but does Moyes have, or trust, the personnel at his disposal? Wayne Rooney was also left isolated as the lone forward, with huge gaps between him and the three midfielders supposedly selected to play in advanced roles ahead of Jones and Giggs.
With Ferdinand enduring a nightmare at the back, Shakhtar continued to press United back to ensure a nervous, tense night. substitutionS Moyes has been accused of being too cautious when making changes. While that was perhaps a valid observation in his early weeks in charge, however, the United manager has been bolder of late. With United being held at 0-0 after an hour, he withdrew the ineffective Ashley Young - to cheers from the crowd - and replaced him with Van Persie.
Tom Cleverley was also introduced in favour of the tiring Ryan Giggs. Moyes upped the ante by going for the victory which would confirm top spot in Group A. Within four minutes, Jones scored the opener from Van Persie's corner. Moyes's gamble had paid off. Touchline demeanour Moyes is a more studied figure on the touchline than Sir Alex Ferguson and the days of watch-tapping and the berating of officials in the United technical area have gone. Moyes maintained the same, focused demeanour throughout the game, giving little away even when Shakhtar almost scored following sloppy mistakes by Ferdinand and David de Gea.
There was a slight show of annoyance when Shinji Kagawa lost the ball in midfield and Moyes retreated to the dugout, shaking his head, after Ferdinand had almost gifted Shakhtar a goal. But there was no berating of his players, when one or two perhaps deserved it. Even when Phil Jones lifted the tension inside Old Trafford by scoring on 67 minutes, Moyes remained largely unmoved. There was an understated clench of the fist, but no sigh of relief or glance to the heavens.