“The finest English footballer the world has ever seen,” Alan Keegan, the stadium announcer, declared as he read out Charlton’s remarkable, evocative achievements, punctuated by his “humility”, and there was absolute, respectful silence as the whistle was blown for a minute’s reflection.
There were scarves, banners, tributes, photographs, images, memories everywhere. The stadium dripped with history, with Charlton’s influence, spread over 70 years, throughout this club. “A hero to millions,” Keegan said. He was that.
Would it overwhelm some of these United players or would it inspire them? When a cross floated in from the right, after a poor tackle by Maguire, drifted over Raphaël Varane and was met by Diogo Goncalves, the fear was the former. Fortunately the forward’s volley cannoned back off a post, but undeniably Copenhagen were far more threatening.
With Bayern Munich winning away against Galatasaray, taking them to nine points, United knew prior to kick-off that the best they could realistically hope for was second place in the group. But it was also a result that gave them more of a chance of reaching the last 16. If only they could win.
For that United needed to show some urgency and incision but their build-up play was slow and deliberate and it allowed Copenhagen to sit in and attempt to catch them on the counter-attack. They certainly were not stretched, save for a rapid break involving Antony, and already there were apprehensive murmurs.
As Marcus Rashford felt he had no other option but to play the ball back to goalkeeper Onana from the halfway line, he threw his arms up in frustration, which was as unhelpful as it was revealing.
In truth, and as much as we had stepped into Old Trafford in the hope of an appropriate spectacle, it was embarrassingly comfortable for Copenhagen, who were moving the ball around the pitch under minimal pressure, it appeared.
That was summed up when full-back Peter Ankersen shifted one way, went the other and Rashford pressed him before giving up and just jogged.
So far this was, emphatically, not the Champions League night that had been dreamt of. Instead United looked like what they are: a struggling team devoid of confidence and needing something, anything, to provide the impetus to kick-start their disjointed campaign.
Finally they had a real chance. They broke and suddenly Rashford was completely unmarked running through the centre, demanding the ball – if only Sergio Reguilón could find him. Instead the full-back’s pass was woefully underhit – he held his face the moment he struck it – and sadly there were even boos as the half-time whistle was blown. Maybe that was because the referee had not added any time, but this was terribly underwhelming.
It was no surprise to see United back out early and it was no surprise to see a change. On came the Dane, Christian Eriksen, replacing the frankly poor Sofyan Amrabat – the game had passed him by – as they searched for some creativity.
Yet it was Copenhagen who again should have scored when only a fine one-hand save from Onana denied Lukas Lerager. Soon after that, Mohamed Elyounoussi volleyed over when well placed.