Manchester United will have to settle for Europa League football next season after being held by a Huddersfield side who were relegated in March.
The Terriers had managed just four points in their previous 23 games – but watched by outgoing chairman Dean Hoyle, they earned a draw as Isaac Mbenza’s first goal for the club levelled Scott McTominay’s first-half effort.
In a frantic finish, young United substitute Tahith Chong had a shot saved and Paul Pogba hit the bar before David de Gea denied Karlan Grant a winner at the other end.
It means United have now gone five games without a win, their worst sequence since they went eight games without a victory under Louis van Gaal between November and December 2015.
The result means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side cannot catch either Chelsea or Tottenham and have only a slim chance of finishing above Arsenal in fifth. Alexis Sanchez is also a major doubt for the final game of the season against Cardiff at Old Trafford, having limped straight down the tunnel after suffering an injury at the start of the second half.
Huddersfield are 11 points adrift at the bottom of the table and finish their season at Southampton next Sunday. United remain sixth and entertain Cardiff.Sanchez was given his first start since 2 March as fellow strikers Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial were both missing through injury.
The Chilean is in the spotlight before a close season in which Solskjaer has already pledged extensive rebuilding. For a basic salary in excess of £300,000 – there are also substantial add-ons – a return of one goal and three assists in the Premier League this season is woeful. In addition, Sanchez’s salary is not helping United in their contract negotiations with players such as David de Gea, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera.
Yet again, Sanchez was on the periphery, making the odd decent contribution but nothing of great note until he succumbed to injury after 54 minutes.
In contrast, both De Gea and Mata had a more meaningful impact. De Gea, under scrutiny after a string of disappointing mistakes, twice saved well from Karlan Grant, whilst Mata was by far United’s most creative player and almost set up an opportunity for Pogba to double United’s lead.
Pogba hit the bar in each half with curling shots but he was another highly-paid member of the United squad whose overall impact failed to match his reputation.
It was a poignant afternoon for Huddersfield – their final home Premier League game for now, and the last time Hoyle sat in the directors’ box as chairman. Hoyle, 52, is a local businessman and a lifelong fan, who took over the club in 2009, and oversaw their rise from League One as they reached the top flight for the first time since 1972.
After recovering from a serious pancreatic condition, Hoyle has sold 75% of his stake in Huddersfield in completing a deal with another long-standing supporter, Phil Hodgkinson.
Speaking at a fans’ function before the game, Hoyle said he had rejected larger offers from potential overseas investors – people he spoke to while he was in hospital – to ‘keep the club local’. Huddersfield’s fans sang Hoyle’s name after the game began and his on-pitch address at half-time, while barely audible to most supporters, was greeted with warm, enthusiastic and loud applause.
Hoyle even got something to celebrate as Mbenza scored his first goal in 23 Huddersfield appearances.
There was nothing subtle about his debut goal. Jonas Lossl’s punt downfield was not dealt with by Luke Shaw, allowing Mbenza to run clear of the United defence and slot past the advancing David de Gea.
The goal meant Huddersfield avoided the ignominy of collecting two unwanted records for themselves – instead just sharing them. They finish with the joint-lowest home goals total in the entire 131-year history of the English top division, equalling the 10 scored by Manchester City in 2006-07. And they end with the joint-highest number of Premier League home defeats since its inception in 1992, sitting level on 14 with Sunderland, who have set that mark twice.
Scott McTominay has scored two goals in 30 Premier League appearances – with both coming in his last four league games
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was repeatedly shown looking stony-faced as the second half drew to a close – and with good reason.
Home-grown McTominay, United’s April player of the month, was again the visitors’ outstanding performer. There was more than an element of luck about the Scotland midfielder’s goal as Huddersfield keeper Jonas Lossl completely failed to deal with his shot from just inside the penalty area but there was an industry about McTominay’s performance that his team-mates clearly lacked.
What had, barely six weeks ago, looked like being a summer of promise for United, now looks fraught with problems. And, should Watford defeat Manchester City in the FA Cup final to earn a place in the Europa League group phase, United’s lucrative pre-season tour will need to be cut short. That is because United would have to start in the second qualifying round in July, requiring them to play on the same day as they are scheduled to face Tottenham in a pre-season game in Shanghai.