This was a night of wasted opportunities. That is not a reference to Javier Hernandez's glaring miss or Robin van Persie's powerfully misdirected penalty but instead to the disappointment of having only those two clear-cut chances to show from a game against an extremely limited Real Sociedad side.
Forget talk of a point away in Europe being an excellent result or Manchester United's dire record of just two wins on Spanish soil. This was not Real Madrid, Barcelona or the exciting Athletic Bilbao of two seasons ago. It was a Sociedad side who have looked way out of their depth in this UEFA Champions League campaign, gleaning just one goal and now one point in four matches. United simply should have won and be now standing with one foot and all but a big toe in the last 16.
The pre-match talk of this being the greatest night in the Spanish club's history should have given everybody in that United camp a massive hint that, in Europe if not at home, their name still carries massive cache and thus engenders the kind of respect that in turn creates opportunity. Indeed, within 10 minutes of the opening whistle it was clear that this United side was being afforded awe-inspired space. United looked at that space with a puzzled look.
In a toothless opening half, they managed just one shot on target. The crosses were poor, the forward movement from midfield was non-existent, there was negligible urgency and Wayne Rooney was forced to go wandering further and further away from Hernandez in search of the ball. The Mexican touched the ball 12 times in the opening 45 minutes. His 13th touch was the shot he blazed over the crossbar after the break.
By that point, Sociedad had realised that this lackadaisical United side were not worth watching and began to play some part in the match themselves. Van Persie warmed up and we thought we would see United give themselves half-an-hour at full pelt to practically book a place in the last 16. Instead, David Moyes' instinctive negativity saw him spurn that chance and withdraw Rooney. United were immediately improved for Van Persie's entrance and Shinji Kagawa's shift into the middle, but you could not help thinking they could have been even better.
"We had enough chances to win it, we controlled it for most of the game," said Moyes but, for all their control, United had just two shots on target. And a combination of sloppy passing and Marouane Fellaini's foolishness in getting sent off saw them more in danger of taking away no points than all three in the closing stages. It could have been so different if they had approached this game as they had approached Fulham on Saturday. Yes, it was in Europe. Yes, it was in Spain. But no, there was absolutely no need to be so infuriatingly tentative.
A version of this article first appeared on Football365