Things improved but a broken leg for Dion Dublin, a centre-forward who repaid a slice of his £1million fee from Cambridge with a late winner at Southampton, had compounded a growing problem in attack.
Ahead of the visit of Oldham Athletic, the Reds had won only one of the last 12 fixtures and that was when a Mark Hughes strike edged Brighton out of the Coca-Cola Cup 2-1 on aggregate, following a draw on the South Coast. The previous four matches had failed to yield a single goal and included three successive defeats, with Wimbledon’s triumph at the Theatre of Dreams coinciding with the “worst performance of the season” in the manager’s mind.
Aston Villa ended any hopes of a run in the Coca-Cola Cup and two successive bore draws with Torpedo Moscow led to a penalty shoot-out defeat in Europe. The natives were perhaps not quite restless but, having gone so tantalisingly close to glory only a matter of months earlier, the dream of ending what was now a 25-year-wait for the league title seemed as far away as ever.
On November 21, with Joe Royle’s Latics preparing for a local derby, United were in dire need of inspiration. Phil Shaw was moved to write in The Independent: “Oldham's visit to Old Trafford could prove a watershed for Manchester United and Alex Ferguson's managerial tenure. If the Stretford End were still standing, the message from the masses would be simple: 'Give us a goal'. United would probably settle for victory by any margin