For David Moyes it was the first time he had faced questions about whether his position at Manchester United was vulnerable. Was his future on the line? Had there been any assurances from the people at the top of the club? How much longer could he expect the supporters to stomach it?

The tone has certainly changed since those wretched defeats by Olympiakos and Liverpool and there were even more seats filled inside the Europa Suite at Old Trafford for his latest press conference than that day, last July, when he walked out in front of all the flashing bulbs for the first time as United's manager.

The job, he now admits, has been harder than he had imagined. Another bad result against Olympiakos, who lead 2-0 from the first leg, and the bottom line is no one can be sure whether the club's supporters will be able to keep in all that pent-up frustration. Or, more to the point, how the Glazer family will consider the possibility of no more Champions League for at least 18 months.

There is certainly the sense that things may be coming to a head and that takes some doing bearing in mind every single piece of information out of Old Trafford since last summer has pointed to this being a club that want to operate to different principles from their rivals. Imagine, for example, if Manuel Pellegrini had taken Manchester City down to seventh in his first season at the club, and on the brink of surrendering any last chance of silverware before the clocks had gone forward. A manager at Chelsea would have been escorted off the premises long ago. Spurs were seventh when André Villas-Boas was fired, eight points from the top. United are 18 behind, and on the edge of being eliminated from the Champions League by supposedly the weakest team left in the competition.

The first leg in Athens ended with headlines such as "Greek Clods", "Humiliated!", "Rocked by the Also-Rans" and "Greek Tragedy". This time around everything has been so harrowing for United lately it has largely been overlooked that their opponents have played in England 11 times and lost on each occasion, scoring only three goals in the process and conceding 34. Olympiakos may yet be obliging opponents for a team with United's needs.

On the flipside it is not since the end of October, when Norwich lost 4-0 in the Capital One Cup, that Moyes' men have won at Old Trafford by a score that would see them go through on aggregate. They have managed only 18 home goals in the league – the same as bottom-placed Fulham – and it is not always entirely convincing listening to Moyes. This was his opportunity to remove some of the pessimism with a statement of boldness and conviction but, if anything, it was the guy sitting to his right who sounded the more impressive.

"Everyone wants to fight for this club," Patrice Evra said. "Everyone loves this club. We know we had a bad game in the first leg. I think even a three-year-old Man United fan has been hurting by all the problems. But in life you always have a second chance. I'm not telling you we are going to qualify but I can promise we are all going to fight and respect the shirt."

Moyes talked about the sympathetic meetings he had had with Sir Alex Ferguson. "He has been incredibly supportive. I speak to him regularly. I see him at the games, I have a few minutes with him, he told me when I came in it would be a difficult job but he's always there to help. Him, David Gill, Ed [Woodward], all of them –- they are all very supportive."

What he really needs, though, is the players' backing and the latest leaks out of the dressing room are not exactly glowing for Moyes and his staff, in particular the coach who now goes by a deeply unflattering nickname. Footballers can be brutal sometimes and, behind his back, that coach is apparently being referred to as "fuck off (name)" – on the basis that is so often the first response when they hear his instructions.

In football that kind of insult is actually quite common. A Strange Kind of Glory, Eamon's Dunphy's book about his time at Old Trafford, tells one story about a sheet of paper being passed around the team bus showing a caricature of Matt Busby, with his nose as a penis, his cheeks as two testicles, and the caption: "Bollocks Chops". Carlos Queiroz was hardly the most popular man when he was Ferguson's assistant and Eric Harrison, the coach who nurtured the Class of '92, is probably better off not knowing some of the names they used to call him.

Plainly, though, it is not ideal, at a time when the manager is desperately trying to create the impression that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Has he lost the dressing room? The way it has been described to this newspaper is that he never actually had the dressing room. That does not mean the players were against his appointment. Indeed, some were actually relieved, for selfish motives, that it was not José Mourinho, on the basis they had seen his treatment of Iker Casillas at Real Madrid and – footballers always thinking of themselves – suspected he would bring in his own players.

Yet Moyes had to win their full approval and, unfortunately for him, that process has never really happened. Nemanja Vidic's decision to cut himself free this summer is a case in point. Vidic was not even willing to discuss the possibility of a contract extension.

There have even been sporadic complaints from players behind the scenes – and this is maybe the most surprising part – about Ryan Giggs. A legend at Old Trafford, Giggs is now player-coach in a dressing room that operates in a different way from when Ferguson ruled the place. Giggs, one imagines, understands that points should come before popularity.

As always in football, the only way of shifting the mood is to start winning. "I have a great job and I know exactly the direction I want to go in," Moyes said. "It has not been the season we hoped but I have ideas of what I want to do and what I want to put in place when the time is right. But the most important thing now is to get the Olympiakos game played and hopefully get through."

This piece was corrected at midnight Tuesday in the fourth paragraph to say 'any last chance of silverware before the clocks had gone forward' rather than back.