Another late, late United show saved the champions from a humiliating defeat against resurgent Sunderland.
Anton Ferdinand's 93rd minute deflected own goal took the gloss of what should have been a famous victory, the first for the North east side at Old Trafford in 41 years.
There would have been no complaint from Sir Alex if his team had slipped to defeat. United lacked cohesion, ideas, and most alarmingly, the ability to play successive passes to team mates.
The manager might consign the 2-2 draw to the effects of fatigue. Perhaps, the helter skelter schedule of the early season, with its Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday appointments, caught up with his players. Certainly, there was little merit in United's overall display and most of the players put on a performance studded with inattention.
Evra, Berbatov and Rooney apart, United's playing cast will take few positives from the game. Against a spirited side with two in-form strikers, Sir Alex, back to his tinkering worst, played the greenhorn Welbeck and the unconvincing Nani in his midfield quartet. With Scholes and Fletcher well below their best, United struggled from start to finish.
Few would deny Welbeck his chance but the gangling Manchester youngster looks nothing like the winger Ferguson predicted would crash into Fabio Capello's World Cup party this season.
Whilst his showing here was not quite as dismal as the League Cup final disaster of last term, Welbeck's performance could have been used by the pundit Alan Hansen as prima facie evidence justifying his infamous assertion that nothing can be won with kids.
Welbeck's contribution was minimal. In fact, so little did the home grown striker offer on the flanks, either as an attacker or in the provision of protection for the rip-roaring Evra, that a concerned Ferguson shifted Rooney out to the left, with Welbeck asked to disturb the composure of the the rugged Ferdinand and Turner.
It was an unequal contest, leading to the opinion that the gap between the League Cup, where Welbeck appears to thrive and the Premiership, is a chasm.
Nani, older but no wiser, was also no better. The Old Trafford trap door is opening and he appears incapable of avoiding the plunge.
Selection in the starting 11 should have been welcomed as an opportunity to prove wrong his doubters after the poor reviews that greeted the Portuguese winger's display at Stoke.
Though he saw plenty of the ball, Nani lacked the directness, the touch and whisper it softly, the technical ability to go past the last defender and deliver the consistency of crossing upon which United's 4-4-2 system depends.
Nani has talent, although his greatest skill appears to be hiding it from the watching public. Understandably, patience is wearing thin.
If the Portuguese needs clear proof of the future that awaits him, he need look no further than the Sunderland team sheet.
The presence of Bardsley and Campbell serves as powerful testimony to the truism that the United bus waits for no man but Nani would be even better served if he studied the life and times of one Kieran Richardson.
The Londoner, sent off harshly for two bookable offences, was once a highly-rated youngster at United.
Sir Alex was soo keen on the player that legend has it, Richardson's family were 're-located' to the north, so that United could take custody of the exciting prospect.
Time was less indulgent than Sir Alex. Richardson found himself challenging Giggs, Park and then Ronaldo for a place in the United lineup. Chances to impress were few and were rarely taken.
Richardson did better in the less rarefied environment of the Hawthorns, while on loan to WBA and even turned out for England, scoring two goals on his debut.
Was this finally, the platform for a glorious United career?
No! The midfielder returned to United and to the mediocre standards which had distinguished his previous shifts in the club's colours. Roy Keane took Richardson to the Stadium of Light for £6 million to sighs of relief and much laughter at Old Trafford.
The United manager might not even recoup that amount were he to decide to cut his losses on the disppointing Nani. There has never been a better time to be a left winger at United.
Ronaldo the King has gone. Park is not United class. Tosic appears not to be trusted and the manager dare not pluck another youngster from the reserves. Nani, given the chance to make the position his own, shows no sense of timing.
It was a quality his team mates shared throughout a match which was an impressive advert for the team building now under way at Sunderland.
Steve Bruce is on his way to producing a very useful outfit. A little more quality at fullback and more invention in midfield and Sunderland could challenge seriously for a European place.
The visitors came to Old Trafford with the conviction that an upset was possible. The striker Jones dominated the lack lustre Vidic with all the ease of a matador and with Sunderland's midfield and the busy Bent willing to take the game to the home side, Bruce was not alone in sensing an opportunity for victory at his alma mater.
Bent's neat finish early on, after he was given far too much time to turn and shoot, was matched by the athleticism of Berbatov's second half bicycle-kick.
If United thought they would push on for victory after the Bulagrian's rescue act, they were soon proven wrong.
Jones powerful header did for Vidic and Foster and it was only Evra's strike and Ferdinand's intervention that saved United's blushes.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!