Just past the hour Queens Park Rangers were threatening to register this season's most surprising win, the troubled club closing in on three points at their 13th attempt. Then, in front of the watching Harry Redknapp, Jonny Evans answered Jamie Mackie's 52nd-minute opener and strikes from Darren Fletcher and Javier Hernández continued QPR's dire season and kept them rooted to the bottom on four points.
Mark Bowen, the trusted assistant of the sacked Mark Hughes, was in charge as Redknapp prepared to take charge on Sunday morning. Bowen coaxed a hard-working, steely effort from a team who have serially disappointed, until Anton Ferdinand's 61st-minute introduction for Armand Traoré precipitated United's opening two goals. For each of these the defender failed to make a challenge to illustrate the lack of depth and quality that is the indictment of Hughes' recruitment policy.
"He's being philosophical, he's obviously disappointed," said Bowen of Hughes' removal on Friday. "As Sir Alex [Ferguson] touched on, it's maybe a lesson for people you can't bring in 10, 12 players [in one summer]. But the fact is this football club had to do it. I keep saying whether it was 13, 14 players let go last season, there's not one of them who went to a Premier League club or any club of significance with the exception of Joey Barton, maybe.
"So we had to do it – try to bring in quality. We have. We know we've brought quality in but what's caught us out is those quality players getting used to the demands and everything that's expected in Premier League games."
If this last comment damns Hughes' buys by suggesting they lack the one prerequisite for survival, experience of the division, Bowen denied there had been a dilution of camaraderie. "Believe me, it's no different to any other club I've been at and I consider the team spirit at other clubs I've been at good. There's players there, there's qualities in them that can move this club forward, make it a better club. It doesn't seem like it now, because it's bottom of the league, but what had to be done had to be done."
Had Hughes seen his sacking coming on the eve of the trip to Old Trafford? "Well, I think it was a shock on Friday morning," Bowen said. "But what's gone on with the results over the past few weeks, especially the big games – Reading [drawn] and the Southampton game [lost] – I daresay for Mark that you're hoping for the time to change it. But it caught up with us."
Bowen is clear that Hughes wants to return to management. He said: "Absolutely. Listen, he's a mate so I'm going to sing his praises, but we've been doing this job for 10 years and never been relegated, we've been outside the top 10 of the Premier League twice. So why shouldn't he carry on? Basically last May, Mark Hughes was a hero because he saved this club. And the owners played a big part in it as well with the backing of Mark – no doubt about that.
"You go from being a hero and 10, 11 games later, people are saying: 'Well, is it the end of your career?' Come on guys. The fella's a top manager and top coach."
For United this was the 13th time in 20 games they have conceded first, including the last five outings, and the ninth they have won from that position. "We're very frustrated," Fletcher said. "It shouldn't take going a goal behind for us to start playing. The only positive thing we can take from it is that every time we do it we seem to respond. But we can't keep making a habit of it."
Man of the match Jonny Evans (Manchester United)