Finishing fifth in the Premier League table, while scoring just 46 goals made Louis van Gaal's departure from Manchester United inevitable. Here are the eight matches that doomed the Dutch manager.
From a full season's distance, beating a Spurs team who would eventually challenge for the title and would not lose again in the Premier League until December looks a decent result.
In truth, however, the pattern of the season was laid out by Van Gaal's team. United were stale, stodgy and needed an own goal from Kyle Walker to win after Wayne Rooney's lumpen touch played the ball on to the defender.
It all signalled that the achingly dull football with which United closed out fourth place in 2014-15 was back in session. Afterwards, Van Gaal sang The Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four" to mark his birthday, but there had been little else on show to celebrate.
Reaching the Champions League was the previous season's target. Reaching the knockout round was this term's. Defeat in Eindhoven suggested that would be no formality and it proved a terrible cost.
Luke Shaw had been the bright spark of early season, fitter, stronger and the team's most threatening attacking outlet when overlapping from left-back. His campaign was finished by a hefty challenge by Mexico's Hector Moreno, which shattered Shaw's right leg in two places.
United took the lead but eventually succumbed. That night, Shaw's loss was the leading concern, but the manner of defeat suggested trouble ahead.
Many of United's defeats under Van Gaal have seen an unravelling of the tight controls he desires preluding a descent into unmanageable chaos. This was a most striking example.
A previous goalless draw with PSV had placed hopes of reaching the last 16 on a knife's edge, but at 2-2, and PSV drawing with CSKA Moscow, United were going through, yet conceded a late goal to Wolfsburg's Naldo, just as PSV went ahead.
At last, some excitement after months of drudgery, yet it derived from the high farce of United's utterly disorganised performance rather than thrilling attacking play. Nick Powell, who had not played for the first team for 15 months and was imminently headed for Hull on loan, was bizarrely sent on as a substitute. He proved himself no Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Four losses in a row followed that night in Germany, and pencils were sharpened for the obituary of Van Gaal's United tenure. This Boxing Day lunchtime kickoff was the lowest point. Goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic had given Stoke their eventual winning margin by the 26th minute, yet United idled the rest of the game out, toothless in attack.
Jose Mourinho, sacked nine days earlier by Chelsea, had become a spectre to haunt the Dutchman. It was at this point that the identity of Van Gaal's successor became an open topic of discussion.
And yet Van Gaal proved himself a survivor. After Stoke, United lost just one of their next nine games, a home defeat to a handy Southampton team on Jan. 23, having won 1-0 at Liverpool the previous week. And in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Jesse Lingard, young talent was adding a veneer of respectability to a manager who prides himself on honing promising prospects.
Then came this visit to Wearside and a return to the uninspired fare that galled United fans. David De Gea, outstanding all season, dropped a clanger in diverting Lamine Kone's header into the net. Van Gaal was forced to admit, with three months of the season still left, that returning to the Champions League would be "very difficult."
Dutch observers frequently refer to Van Gaal as a lucky manager and he struck fortunate gold in the unearthing of Marcus Rashford, a late call in the Europa League against FC Midtjylland. Rashford scored twice in that game and then against Arsenal. A revival suddenly seemed possible before a 1-0 Mar. 6 loss at West Brom. At Anfield, the bandwagon crashed again.
Beating the Danish minnow had set up the first ever European tie with United's avowed rivals, and humiliation followed at Anfield, ending Van Gaal's previous 100 percent record against Liverpool. It was a return to listless, shapeless football of a type that meant Van Gaal will be lamented by few United fans. Liverpool's two-goal lead all but killed a return leg that was drawn 1-1.
A reunion with Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs provided telling evidence of the two teams' development since their early August meeting. Though the home team were drawn into United's quagmire for the opening hour, they then plundered their goals in a fashion beyond Van Gaal's leaden team. With Manchester City lately recovering their step, the top four ebbed beyond reach.
Three strikes in six second-half minutes from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela broke a tepid resistance that had been weakened by injury to teenage defender Tim Fosu-Mensah, another kid on whom Van Gaal had come to rely. Rashford, meanwhile, had been subbed off at half-time, with Ashley Young asked to play a centre-forward's role he had not fulfilled for a decade.
Reports later emerged of a half-time row between Van Gaal and his players, with Rashford at its epicentre.
A month earlier, United had travelled to Upton Park for an FA Cup quarterfinal replay and had come away with a 2-1 victory. That, and winning the semifinal against Everton, gave Van Gaal chance to sign off with silverware.
City's slide, meanwhile, had opened up a return route to the Champions League. Six points from their last two matches and United would make the top four. With destiny in their hands, they fell at the first hurdle -- on the occasion of the final match ever staged at West Ham's outgoing stadium.
Anthony Martial's double put United into a 2-1 lead, but they could not hold off the tide of emotion that powered the Hammers to a farewell victory. United were done in by a pair of crosses, as first Michail Antonio and then Winston Reid crashed home headers. That left City needing only a draw from their final game at Swansea. They duly collected it, limping across the line, yet still denying Van Gaal the position in the table that might have saved him.