Soccer Football - Premier League - Nottingham Forest v Manchester United - The City Ground, Nottingham, Britain - December 30, 2023  Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes looks dejected after the match It was another miserable evening for Manchester United. Lee Smith/Action Images/Reuters CNN  — 

It’s one step forward and two steps back for Manchester United this season as Erik ten Hag’s side followed up its thrilling comeback win over Aston Villa with another dismal defeat, this time at the hands of relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest.

It was yet more hapless defending – a defining feature of United’s season so far – that gifted Argentine international Nicolás Domínguez acres of room in the penalty to steer Forest into the lead after 64 minutes.

Marcus Rashford drew United level 12 minutes from time after Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner’s error, but Ten Hag’s frail defense was breached once again just four minutes later, as Morgan Gibbs-White finished off a slick counterattack to secure a 2-1 win and three crucial points in the battle against relegation.

It was United’s second match since British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe completed a deal to buy a 25% stake in the club and if United’s Boxing Day comeback against Villa provided him with some optimism going forward, Saturday’s defeat quickly laid bare the enormity of the task ahead of him.

David Brailsford, a British cycling coach and the Director of Sport at Ratcliffe’s INEOS company, was in attendance at the City Ground alongside legendary United manager Alex Ferguson. Both men will surely have left sorely disappointed.

United has now lost nine of its first 20 league matches in a season for the first time since 1989-90, according to Opta, totaling as many league defeats as it suffered in the whole of last season.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag looks dejected during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Manchester United at City Ground on December 30, 2023 in Nottingham, England. Gary Neville said Erik ten Hag is now under pressure. Michael Regan/Getty Images

After the match, United legend Gary Neville said Manchester United “are back to their worst.”

“Manchester United are back to what they are – inconsistent and awful,” he told Sky Sports. “They walk off the pitch a defeated bunch. United fans behind the goal will go off so disappointed.

“I’m not really sure what this Manchester United team is,” he added. “It’s a very difficult watch. I think everyone accepted that Erik ten Hag did a very good job in his first season.

“With the new ownership, Sir Dave Brailsford’s going to be on a watching brief, week in, week out now. We’re going to see him appear there in the directors’ box.

“He’s going to look at what this club is, on and off the pitch. What he’s seeing at this moment in time he isn’t going to like.”

Neville added that United’s season has been “more down than up” and that some of the performances under Ten Hag this season have been “well below anything that should be required at this level.”

United has picked up just four points from a possible 15 over its last five league matches, falling to seventh in the table and nine points behind Arsenal in the fourth and final Champions League place.

The team is also already out of the Champions League, finishing bottom of a group that wasn’t particularly difficult, and the League Cup, leaving the FA Cup as the team’s only remaining chance of silverware this season.

United is the only team in the top half of the Premier League with a negative goal difference and only Burnley and Sheffield United, the league’s bottom two teams, have scored fewer goals than United’s 22 this season.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Nottingham Forest v Manchester United - The City Ground, Nottingham, Britain - December 30, 2023  Nottingham Forest's Ola Aina in action with Manchester United's Antony Antony scored one Premier League goal in 2023. Molly Darlington/Reuters

The club has spent large sums of money on players Ten Hag wanted in his team, including André Onana and Antony, but the Dutch manager is no closer to implementing any discerning style than when he took the reins at the start of last season.

After being substituted less than 10 minutes into the second half against Forest following another feeble performance, Brazil winger Antony finishes 2023 with a grand total of one goal in 33 Premier League games.

In 21 matches and more than 900 minutes of Premier League action this season, Antony has zero goals and zero assists. Manchester United was widely reported to have paid $109 million for his services.

Neville said that result and performance means Ten Hag is now “under pressure.”

“There’s no doubt about that. They’re obviously going to appoint those three roles – CEO, sporting director and head of recruitment – they’ll all come in and the rest of them will go,” he said.

“The coach is the one that will be their biggest deliberation, it always is in a football club, because you don’t sack a coach easily.

“They’re out of Europe and they’re out of the Carabao Cup. They need to get their players fit and somehow try to push towards Champions League football and see where it takes them.

“But at the moment, they look well off it and there are six or seven teams that are in far better shape than them. It seems a million miles away.”

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