NEWCASTLE: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits Manchester United are in for a bumpy ride as he tries to rebuild his struggling team, but Sunday’s visit to Newcastle offers a golden opportunity to finally end their dismal away record.
United’s limp goalless Europa League draw at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday left them without an away win in their past 10 games.
They have not won on their travels since the dramatic Champions League escape act against Paris Saint-Germain in March.
United last endured a longer streak of futility on the road when they failed to win 11 away games between February and September 1989 – an era that qualifies as among the bleakest in the club’s storied history.
Solskjaer’s side rarely threatened to end their barren run as they failed to muster a single shot on target on the artificial turf against Alkmaar.
The former United striker has been unable to coax enough goals from his forwards, while a lack of creativity in midfield is a major problem.
Add a defence that remains creaky despite the expensive signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and it is easy to see why United are in such disarray.
Even Solskjaer concedes United no longer strike fear into opponents in the way they did during Alex Ferguson’s glittering 27-year reign.
“We’re not in the ’90s now so it’s a different era, a different group that we’re building,” Solskjaer told reporters after the Alkmaar stalemate.
But having turned to a host of promising but raw youngsters including Mason Greenwood and Axel Tuanzebe, Solskjaer is keen to present the impression that patient faith in youth is United’s best path to recapturing the glory of the Ferguson era.
“We know there are going to be ups and downs. I’m ready to see these boys blossom,” said Solskjaer, who could be without the injured Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard on Saturday.
“There’s not many clubs with our stature that play the young players that we do. They’ll have a chance to come through and we’re sure that some of these will be part of a successful team.”
While that approach reaped rich rewards with United’s famous Class of ’92, Ferguson had already built solid foundations for David Beckham and company to flourish on.
Solskjaer is working on much shakier ground and, with fans quietly seething about the way United owners the Glazer family have allowed the club to spiral into mediocrity, his status as an Old Trafford icon may not be enough to keep the critics at bay for much longer.
Currently languishing in 10th place in the Premier League after winning just two of their first seven games, United are in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory at St James’s Park this weekend.
They have not scored more than one goal in any game since beating Chelsea on the opening weekend of the season and if they cannot break that sequence against crisis-torn Newcastle the alarm bells will be ringing louder than ever.
Second-bottom Newcastle have won only once in eight games in all competitions since Steve Bruce took over and last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing at Leicester ranked as a low point even for a club of the Magpies’ chequered recent history.
Former United defender Bruce, caught in the middle of a furious feud between Newcastle fans and Magpies owner Mike Ashley, is without a win in 21 meetings with his old club.
And despite Solskjaer’s woes, it is self-preservation that will be on Bruce’s mind when he goes head to head with his fellow United legend.
“I think I’ve got enough on my plate to worry about at the moment rather than worry about what Ole’s got on his, but I wish him the best of luck,” Bruce said.