Royalty of Northern Irish sport spotted each other in the posh bit of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand seconds before this all kicked off.
Jonny Evans, who has returned to Manchester United on a one-year contract, took his seat and directly behind him sat Dennis Taylor. The two chatted away, Evans on the half-turn in a way his midfield were not. Smiles and laughs, it was a nice scene.
The conversation had not ended by the time Nottingham Forest were one up, United stymieing themselves. Once Willy Boly allowed a cross to hit him and divert past Andre Onana moments later, Erik ten Hag was left requiring snookers.
United were staring at the prospect of losing two of their first three Premier League matches. In the end they won their fouls and bossed the green carpet, but against better opposition — particularly those who do not lose their captain to a straight red card at 2-1 — United might not find their way back in.
How United would love routine for a bit. Imagine the other Champions League clubs here with a two-goal lead. They cannot do this at Arsenal next week, or against Brighton after the international break.
Man United were stunned when Willy Boly put Nottingham Forest 2-0 up at Old Trafford
The hosts fought back to win against 10-man but will not escape against top opposition
With 10 men and searching for an equaliser, Forest still believed they could leave with something. A fortnight prior, Wolves were left aghast at a failure to award a late penalty which would have given them a point.
Forest and Wolves are not expected to trouble the top half of this division, whereas Tottenham are and dispatched Ten Hag’s side with ease. There is a lot to be done if United are to build on last season and not just tread water.
For that to happen, Ten Hag will need to buck a trend of recent managers, who flourish early on before falling away, and he will be shocked by that first Forest goal, Taiwo Awoniyi with a largely free run at Onana before sitting him down. That Marcus Rashford acted as last man from a United corner must be on the boss. It is his job to set the team up properly.
Ten Hag admitted it was a ‘horror’ start before focusing on the comeback, which is understandable. Behind the scenes he will be somewhat different. Spurs, a lack of running and an inability to follow instruction are still bothering him and the Dutchman cannot ignore the opening four minutes on Saturday, while the team’s warm-up at Old Trafford was also criticised by pundit Michael Dawson on Sky Sports.
‘There were about 10 players just taking free-kicks from outside the penalty area, almost going through the motions,’ Dawson said. ‘They didn’t look ready for the game. At the other end, Forest were going through intense drills. You can tell by the start, United didn’t turn up.’
The body language until midway through the first half was not great either. Ten Hag looked agitated at Diogo Dalot for not listening to tactical advice on tucking inside. Yet, to their credit, United began using the ball better. Eventually, they found a way.
‘Of course, we were upset,’ said Christian Eriksen, who scored the first. ‘But there was only one way forward really after that and it was to let loose. It’s the best feeling when you have the biggest low you can get, then you end up on a high because you’ve won. But obviously you don’t want to start every game 2-0 down.’
Man United boss Erik ten Hag cannot ignore his side’s slow start despite battling back to win
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Onana 6; Wan-Bissaka 7, Varane 5 (Lindelof 46mins, 7), Martinez 6, Dalot 6; Casemiro 7, Eriksen 7; Antony 6.5 (McTominay 85), FERNANDES 8, Rashford 7.5; Martial 5.5 (Sancho 60, 6.5).
Scorers: Eriksen 17, Casemiro 52, Fernandes 76 (pen). Booked: Onana, Wan-Bissaka, Fernandes, Rashford.
Manager: Erik ten Hag 6.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (3-4-2-1): Turner 6; Boly 6, Worrall 5.5, McKenna 6 (Niakhate 56, 6); Aurier 6.5, Danilo 6.5 (Elanga 81), Yates 7, Aina 7; Johnson 7 (Kouyate 70, 6), Gibbs-White 7; Awoniyi 7.5 (Wood 81).
Scorers: Awoniyi 2, Boly 4. Booked: Aurier, Aina, Kouyate, Gibbs-White.
Sent off: Worrall.
Manager: Steve Cooper 7.
Referee: Stuart Attwell 6.
There is mitigation at the moment, with a long injury list. Luke Shaw is a long-term absentee, Mason Mount out too. Raphael Varane exited at half-time and Rasmus Hojlund was unavailable again. His back issues have cleared up enough that he will train this week and could play against Arsenal.
It will not be from the start though and Anthony Martial had another disappointing afternoon. His first proper chance of the campaign yielded just 18 touches and he rarely bothered Forest, his 300th game summing up an eight-year Manchester career.
As if the price, his name and hair were not enough, this adds more pressure on Hojlund. Ten Hag needs him to make a mark without problems. Moreover, the club need to pot some easy reds and quickly.