Until his side decided to turn up with 30 minutes of this match left, Sir Alex Ferguson was more stony-faced than the statue of him unveiled outside Old Trafford last week.
The hint of a smile somewhat imaginatively captured on the sculpture was absent. Instead he wore the traditional, enigmatic scowl as Queens Park Rangers held the lead with little effort.
In a way, the effigy symbolises what has happened at Old Trafford this season. Examined closely, the statue is dutifully deferential, yet the figure is far too temperate to be a true -representation of its subject. A similar criticism could be made about this United side. They have been surprisingly submissive of late, utterly —contradictory to what is expected at this ground.
Even after Jonny Evans equalised, Darren Fletcher headed his first league goal for a year and Javier Hernandez turned an afternoon of early discomfort into a late stroll, Ferguson looked as he usually does. No proud, congratulatory grin, but the workman-like demeanour of a manager more satisfied with the result than the performance.
United have conceded first in 13 of their 20 fixtures this season. Ferguson can take consolation from the fact his team have come back to win in nine of those games, but his side appear to need an opponent to strike the first blow before they land a few punches. Only against a side as timid as QPR — they were in the game for so long because of United's hesitancy rather than any survival spirit — can you get away with that. Against superior opposition United might have suffered.
Jamie Mackie's 52nd-minute tap-in prompted a double substitution from Ferguson. United had soon scored three in eight minutes, with Evans and Fletcher benefiting from Wayne Rooney corners. By the time Hernandez added the third, Harry Redknapp had left the ground, -having departed the stands with five minutes to go, making it clear that his first game in charge will the next one.
"Harry is a brilliant appointment," Mackie said. "I'm a Tottenham fan so I'm excited. Let's hope he can do he what he did at Tottenham. But we have to take responsibility. It's no good pointing the finger at anybody else. You have to make sure it comes from within. It's going be a long, hard slog. The season starts now."
Redknapp seems adamant that there is enough quality in the squad to avoid much reinforcement in January. But even given the demands of travelling to such an arena, and that QPR were ahead until the 64th minute, he had much to reflect on during his journey south.
QPR were feeble at the back when United moved from mannequin pace into second gear. QPR's forwards, especially Djibril Cisse and Adel Taraabt, combined the infuriating and the short-sighted when given opportunities to punish United's carelessness.
Throughout their careers, those two have shown neither the ability nor inclination to blend into a team ethic, -surviving instead on occasional moments of individual brilliance. Redknapp will demand more. He usually knows how to get it.
Mark Bowen, who took charge for the day, made five changes. QPR were well organised, but the match had a passing resemblance to an FA Cup tie in which a lower-league club have a go on their day out. Even when they score, you suspect normality will be restored.
Aside from their goal, QPR's front men resembled excitable youngsters who could not resist smashing hopeful shots whenever they got within 30 yards of goal. Anders Lindegaard had only one save to make and failed.
Bowen faced the post-match inquest unable to confirm if today will be his last at the club. He -delivered an admirable defence of his friend Hughes. "He's a mate so I'm going to sing his praises, but we've been doing this job for 10 years and never been relegated and only been outside the top 10 of the Premier League twice so why shouldn't he carry on?
"Basically, last May, Mark Hughes was a hero because he saved this club. We would have gone down. You go from being a hero to people -saying: 'Is it the end of your career?' The fella's a top manager and top coach."
As QPR prepare for a long slog, United remain in a strong position to challenge for the title. Ferguson will want to see a more cold-blooded approach from the first whistle and fewer chiselled-out results over the next few months.