David Moyes was at Carrington early yesterday, trying to jump-start the stalled Manchester United machine in time for the trip to the Emirates tomorrow. The supporters are anguished, the staff are suffering and so is Moyes. Nobody associated with Manchester United will be hurting more than David Moyes.
He has striven hard throughout his managerial career for an opportunity as great as this. He takes infinite pride in his work, is meticulous in his preparation, and he loathes setbacks, particularly those pockmarking his nascent Old Trafford career.
Defeated on 10 occasions under Moyes, United have mislaid that triumphant blend of swagger and obstinacy that was their trademark under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Moyes's innate toughness helps him deal with the pain and also protects him from the slings and arrows of countless critics yet this famed single-mindedness may actually have a counterproductive element, blinding him to obvious flaws. It is dangerous for any manager to dance to supporters' tunes but it is similarly risky to block out their more sensible calls, including the need to show more intelligence and variety in attack and more thought in post-match pronouncements.
Placing to one side any initial reservations, United fans have so far been supportive of the new man, singing his name, not chanting about his legendary predecessor.
A seasoned judge of the mood in the stands, Scott from the Republik of Mancunia forum, believes that Sunday's draw with Fulham, and the tactical limitations of Moyes's game plan against struggling visitors, "felt like a real turning point" in the crowd's relationship with Ferguson's successor.
"The Stretford End still sang 'Every single one of us will stand by David Moyes', even if less vocally than usual, but after Fulham equalised people were furious," said a voice much listened to when United fans congregate to debate their team.
Moyes was outwitted by Rene Meulensteen, the coach he let go.
"At half-time, it was painfully obvious that getting the ball wide and crossing it in wasn't working," continued Scott. "Everyone around me was laughing at how ridiculous it was. Did Moyes do anything differently in the second half? No. He just persisted with it. The first goal was a ball in from Mata to Van Persie and the second [from Michael Carrick] was a deflection from outside the box. So, 81 crosses for nothing.
"The comments from Meulensteen and [defender Dan] Burn about how easy our tactics were to defend against only confirms it. Mata has been one of the best players in the league for the past couple of seasons and instead of playing him properly, Moyes is playing him out wide. If we had fantastic wingers, you'd understand him continuing with
4-4-2 but, as it is, he is trying to force players into a formation that doesn't suit the best players in our squad."
The identity of United's best front four is easy to ascertain: Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney and Van Persie. Moyes, who is well into his second decade of building and blending teams, is paid handsomely to find the right balance.
Januzaj, presumably starting on the bench against Fulham to keep him fresh for Arsenal, is a shoe-in on the left of a 4-2-3-1 system with Rooney in the No?10 role behind Van Persie and Mata drifting in from the right. Mata needs to be central to inflict most damage with those threaded passes yet he also needs to develop an awareness of his defensive responsibilities to ensure his full-back, Rafael, is not left exposed.
Moyes's purchase of this wonderful creative talent from Chelsea cannot be questioned yet Mata himself must also acknowledge the weakness that made it easier for Jose Mourinho to sell him: the pounds 37?million man does not work hard enough when the opposition have the ball.
He needs to look and learn from Rooney. After his issues with Ferguson, Rooney's vibrancy is a compliment to Moyes, who has handled the player's unease adeptly. Rooney's willingness to commit his future to Old Trafford is a further vote of confidence in Moyes.
Other players shine a light during these dark times. Michael Carrick is also beyond reproach. Ditto Januzaj, whose hunger to develop his gifts further through unstinting work at Carrington marks him out as a real star of the future. Phil Jones is a wholehearted servant, needing a run at centre-back (and freedom from injury). David De Gea has made a couple of mistakes recently but matures into one of the world's leading keepers.
History may not judge certain others so kindly, recording their feats at United but also registering that they could produce only for one manager. Van Persie signed for the revered Ferguson and now has to contribute more for a less established manager. Tomorrow, Van Persie heads to the Emirates, to the vitriol of many Arsenal supporters. He needs a strong performance for his own sake - and Moyes's.
There are no discernible signs or sounds that Moyes has "lost the dressing-room". Scott from Republik of Mancunia still makes the legitimate point that "calling the champions of England 'mentally soft' probably hasn't won him many friends" in the squad, particularly as his starting XI shared almost 40 title medals between them.
Moyes can be judged more fairly after the summer's transfer window when he has had a proper chance to reshape the squad.
The phasing out of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra may create tensions internally yet the process has to be undertaken. Vidic looks too static when faced with pace. Ferdinand has embarked on his coaching badges. Evra gets caught out.
New players are required. So are new ideas from Moyes. Ferguson was not a tactical genius; he needed a few seasons to find out how to win in Europe, working out the need for a sitting midfielder such as Nicky Butt to guard against the counter-attacks of Alen Boksic and company. To his credit, Moyes has already masterminded a remarkable success at Bayer Leverkusen.
"Ferguson's strength wasn't his tactical ability either, but he always made sure he surrounded himself with people who did have this strength - whether that be Queiroz, McClaren or Meulensteen," added Scott.
"Moyes has Steve Round and Phil Neville."
He also has Ryan Giggs, whose time on the pitch ebbs while his days proliferate in the classroom and training field. Fast acquiring his Pro-Licence, Giggs could be a United manager of the future. For now, for this season and next, Moyes deserves this chance to prove himself.