David Moyes has said he will take the blame for Manchester United's erratic results in his first season as manager, describing it as a "tough" introduction to life after Sir Alex Ferguson and admitting the team need to improve in every department.
That process will begin in the Champions League on Tuesday night, with United needing a draw against Shakhtar Donetsk to win a qualifying group that has passed smoothly compared with the chequered performances that have left them ninth in the Premier League, 13 points off Arsenal at the top.
After losing at home to Newcastle for the first time since 1972, on the back of Everton's first win at Old Trafford since 1992, United are in danger of chalking up three successive defeats on their own ground in the space of six days. The last time they went down three times in a row at Old Trafford was in the 1962-63 season when they finished 19th, their lowest position with Matt Busby as manager. Moyes said his players were "hurting" and Ferguson's successor accepted his results were not good enough for a club with United's ambitions.
"I take complete responsibility for the results. Fortunately they have been good in the Champions League but they have not been good in the Premier League, so I take responsibility for them as well. I would like them to be much better and I have no doubt they will be.
"The biggest transition is that a manager who was here for 26 years has moved on and a new manager has come in, so it is a transitional period for the whole football club, not just for me and the players.
"We've been inconsistent at times, we've played very well in some of the games in the Champions League, not so well in the Premier League, albeit we've lacked a little bit of good fortune in one or two games which might have made a difference."
He added: "I think it's a bit of everything we could do better. We would like to play better generally, we would like to pass it better, we would like to create more chances and to defend better when those moments arrive, so I think it's all around we're trying to improve. But it was only a few weeks ago when we had beaten Arsenal and Leverkusen, and we were talking very well about the team."
Moyes was asked how he was coping with the intense spotlight that always accompanies a run of bad results for United. "It is tough because the expectancy is to win all the games. The players are hurting. They're used to winning and when they don't win that hurts them. They care very much about the team and the club. They are good lads and they will respond in the right way. There will be no doubt about that."
Moyes was accompanied as he spoke by Rafael da Silva, the team's right-back. "Of course it hurts," the Brazilian said. "As a United player I want to win every single game. We must work more and improve ourselves."
United qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League after the 5-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, a performance that illustrates Moyes's point about their inconsistency, coming during a run of four Premier League games that have yielded only two points.There are, however, obvious benefits to ensuring they maintain their place at the top of Group A, bearing in mind the winners all avoid each other in the next round. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Atlético Madrid have ensured they will be in that part of the draw.
Bayern Munich will almost certainly join them and that brings a clear edge to the Donetsk game. A win for the Ukrainian side would mean United finishing as runners-up.
"It's important to give ourselves the best possible chance in the next round," Moyes said. "The big job was to make sure we qualified. We have done that and hopefully we can finish off the group unbeaten. If we do that, that will see us through."
The manager accepted, though, that his team need to show more belief and conviction. "In recent games we haven't quite finished the games the way we would have liked to," he said. "We have tried to make changes to improve things but it hasn't quite happened."