In this raucous stadium Manchester United made a quiet exit from the Champions League group stage at the hands of Basel despite a flurry at the close. A hush fell over the Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson's team has been joined by Manchester City in elimination from the tournament and the profile of the English scene is diminished a little, even if Chelsea and Arsenal are still determined to make their mark on this front.
United have to reconcile themselves to a campaign in the Europa League. They might have made more of some attacks, but the team could not impose its will. Ferguson's side were certainly hindered by the loss to a knee injury of the centre-half Nemanja Vidic just before the interval, but adversity has often been a backdrop for memorable demonstrations of spirit and resourcefulness.
While United were not retiring, Basel avoided panic and even if they did not mount onslaughts they manoeuvred well enough to guarantee that United could not achieve full command until the late stages. Wayne Rooney, who is set to learn the outcome of the appeal against suspension for England, was so quiet that he might as well have been trying to convince the men who will hear the case of his meekness.
A feverish atmosphere was delayed until the situation was desperate. In the 84th minute Xherdan Shaqiri's inswinging and bouncing cross from the right was headed home by Alexander Frei for a 2-0 lead. The draw United needed was out of reach. An onslaught in which the substitute Federico Macheda shot against the bar saw Phil Jones head the ball fractionally over the line in the 89th minute, but that goal did not suffice.
While Basel cannot be described as buccaneering it took a long time before they were pinned down and United were indifferent in midfield. This was the sort of occasion when the illusion collapses and the onlooker realises that all Ferguson's feats are being achieved with a group that is not awash with excellence.
There is now a rare test for United since this is the first occasion since the 2005-06 campaign that they have taken their leave so early of this competition. Morale will have to be sustained and while Ferguson is disinclined to thirst after footballers who can command record transfer fees United should, in view of the means, have personnel with more imagination than those at work here.
United's confidence suffered early damage. The goal made a mockery of the idea that the visitors would be resolute. Shaqiri crossed low from the left but it was the visitors themselves who heightened the danger. The goalkeeper David de Gea did no more than brush the ball out and Marco Streller converted with a good half-volley.
United's expertise lingers to a degree and that was a precious attribute when they strove to respond. Territorial occupation was achieved by the middle of the first half but it was also likely that the Basel manager, Heiko Vogel, was ready to concede territory. The resulting congestion is familiar to United from many of their matches and they were not noticeably flustered then.
Even so, the visitors did not quite complete their plans. Rooney was glaringly guilty when he was set up by Nani in the 30th minute and simply miskicked while in prime position. There was an even worse setback when Vidic had to be carried off on a stretcher after being injured by a challenge from Streller. Jonny Evans took over in the back four.
The pause of the interval should at least have let United gather their thoughts. There was purpose after 49 minutes when Rooney drove into the left of the penalty area and put his finish a little beyond the far post. To United's frustration, however, Basel were unwilling to be pushed back entirely until the game was in its final phase. It took an outstanding effort by De Gea to stop the lead being extended when he tipped Shaqiri's free-kick over the bar in the 53rd minute. Basel had come very close to victory in the 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in September. It must have made them all the more resolved to deny the opposition encouragement in this match.
United could respond with intent here since there was no longer any sense in restraining themselves and a leveller was almost taken in a curious manner. Nani flighted a delivery and the Basel left-back Marcus Steinhofer crashed it against his own crossbar.
Ferguson's men had an increasing degree of control, yet there was not quite a barrage as the match approached its last 15 minutes. In the circumstances, an intervention by someone like Rooney looked essential but he seemed little more than a fairly ordinary striker in this match.
United, it is understood, are not the devil-may-care side of times gone by, but it still came as a little surprise that there was no vehemence until the cause was all but lost. Ferguson would have realised once more that there is much yet to be done at the club.