MANCHESTER: David Moyes is discovering what he probably suspected but dared not say: that Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, had been living on borrowed time.

Saturday’s headline shock of a 2-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion which added up to the champions’ poorest start to a season since 1989 was the ultimate reality check. It illustrated, conversely, how the aggressively intimidating personality of Sir Alex Ferguson had kept a comparatively modest squad in contention for all the major prizes.

Albion proved evidence for the rest of the Premier League that Ferguson’s “12th man” influence has gone, that new manager Moyes is still discovering his squad’s strengths and weaknesses and that Old Trafford is no longer the fortress of old. A first home defeat of Moyes’s reign edged United down to midtable, eight points off the lead.

All the goals came in the second half. On-loan midfielder Morgan Amalfitano scored a superb Albion opener after outpacing both Michael Carrick and Ferdinand. Rooney levelled almost immediately with a curling free kick but Albion hit back again. Jonas Olsson headed against the bar before David De Gea was beaten again by England Under-21 international Saido Berahino.

Ron Atkinson, former manager of both clubs, believes United are playing, in effect, with only nine men because the wingers are not providing enough in defence or attack.

Injury problems

On top of that it’s no secret that Rio Ferdinand has been hampered by fitness issues for the past two years and that Nemanja Vidic is now being troubled by injuries; midfield, where Moyes clearly has doubts about Shinji Kagawa who was hauled off at half-time, is still work in progress after the transfer deadline arrival of Marouane Fellaini.

With Robin Van Persie afflicted by minor injuries, excessive demands have been cast on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney. He has been exceptional so far but even Rooney cannot carry the team in every game in Premier and Champions League.

Moyes knows it. After Saturday’s defeat, and with Shakhtar Donetsk ahead in the Champions League, he said: “It was a poor result and a poor performance. We never really got going. It’s not a lack of trying but we’re not quite opening up teams the way we would like. We need to do that better.

“There are a lot of teams here at United. We play all the players. I’m getting to know them a lot better.”

That could be bad news for some of his squad both in January and next June.