Manchester United's fans keep singing as their dismay grows
And so it continues, this dreadful Manchester United season.
Thursday's defeat to Midtjylland wasn't as surprising to United fans as it was to the wider world; a world in which United are among the favourites to win the Europa League, a world in which United's reputation precedes the reality of a mediocre team, whose once-patient fans have turned against them after this latest loss.
In less than hospitable weather and watching their team struggle again, the majority of 900 visiting fans sang, to the tune of "Oh what a night":
"Freezing cold on a Thursday night
And we're playing f------ s-----".
When the score was 1-1, those same fans weighed in with "We're f------ s---" the tune of the popular chant, "Viva Ronaldo."
Those present had paid £71 per ticket to stand behind a net, behind a goal and Midtjylland security officials tried to take down a banner that said: "Welcome to SCAMdinavia. Saints £22, United £71."
Southampton fans only had to part with £22 when their side played the same Danish side earlier in the season but United supporters paid the second-highest price for a ticket in the history of their club outside of a semifinal or final.
Midtjylland showed sneering arrogance in defending the high prices on the grounds of supply and demand but did they think that United's followers were more than three times wealthier than their Southampton counterparts?
Before Thursday, the last time United played in Denmark was against Aalborg in 2008. Then, Sir Alex Ferguson's side were European champions and three months away from winning the FIFA World Club Cup. They would go on to win the Premier League and reach another Champions League final.
Then, a front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney had just been bolstered by the club record signing of Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian scored his first two goals for the club that night as fans sang about him taking one look at Manchester City, who'd tried to sign him, and laughing.
Seven years on, the contrast is staggering.
There's a flag at United matches, which reads: "If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor." It's true that fans have seen so many riches and yet, while the club are far from being poor in a financial sense, the current squad is deprived of the talent that fans enjoyed for over 20 years.
There's potential for players like Anthony Martial to be world class but that's not enough. Granted, the injury list is horrific and while Michael Carrick, who held his hands up as if to apologise to furious fans on Thursday, said absent players were no excuse, they don't help. United were without 13 players on Thursday, including captain and top scorer Wayne Rooney, who will probably miss six weeks with a ligament knee injury.
The latest to be struck down was David De Gea, injured in the pre-game warm-up. His replacement, Sergio Romero, was United's best player -- though he had little competition -- and was rewarded by fans with the "lo, lo, lo" chant last afforded to Radamel Falcao.
Injuries or not, United still put a team out in Denmark good enough to win but experienced players were woeful against a opponents operating on an annual wage bill of £7 million to United's £203 million. Their match winner Paul Onuachu said he expected more from United. At least he said it publicly, for opposing players have been saying the same privately of United for two and a half seasons.
Midtjylland were formed in 1999, the same year United were treble winners and, by 2015, were Danish champions for the first time. But a winter break meant Thursday's hosts hadn't played a competitive game for two months, before which they had won one out of their last 10 games. In the Europa League group stage, they lost by a combined 9-1 to Napoli over two games.
Yet they beat United convincingly and, with justification, Van Gaal is receiving much criticism. He's the manager and calls the shots, but he's also being let down by players, who should be performing far better. The faith and trust between the two sides is damaged.
Van Gaal thinks it can be recovered, just like United's season, and that he could yet lead the club to an FA Cup or Europa League, whereupon everyone would talk of dark winter months while parading around Wembley or Basel with a shining trophy. Such a prospect, though, seems far-fetched.
While trophy possibilities still exist -- along with the chance of finishing in the league's top four -- Van Gaal is likely to stay in a job, overseeing a team whose confidence looks battered. It's hardly the ideal environment for the development of young players, who need to be protected and encouraged, but needs must when the squad is so short of personnel.
United have become a sorry, dismal mess and the lows continue to get lower. But, while fans are furious, the hardcore will continue to go to games. To them, the match is only part of supporting United and more than 1,000 will be at Shrewsbury on Monday for an FA Cup fifth round tie. There would be 10,000 if there were enough tickets.
Those fans will be there long after the current players and staff have moved on. Indeed, some of those currently in Van Gaal's squad are looking ahead to where they'll be next season, as their agents make soundings to line up a brighter future, away from Old Trafford.
The priority of supporters is steadying the good ship Manchester United, a vessel they've watched drift repeatedly onto the rocks, but there's little sign of it steering away from trouble with Van Gaal at the helm.
And where are the leaders, the characters to get them out of this mess? The players will tell you that a dressing room, once full of both, is now bereft of commanding figures. And some of those players have been muted into submission by an authoritative manager, who wants the best for them but is unable to get it.
United play poor football, don't score enough goals and have failed to win 18 of their last 27 games. It's shocking and it shows no sign of getting better. Fans are baffled, angry, resigned and apathetic. Why is Van Gaal still in a job, they ask? Do the club have a plan and if so, who is making the decisions when there's so much uncertainty around the future of the manager?
United have tried to ride out the storms and not be dictated to by the media as to who they should dismiss and appoint, but it leaves the club in a state of uncertainty, where nobody -- not the fans, players or staff on the football side -- knows what's what.
The club feels broken, from the mood at the Carrington training ground to performances on the pitch. At least United have 41 points, which should be enough to keep them in the top flight. Having said that, relegation and a season in the Championship might bring back some excitement.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.