By Ed Elliot, PA
Manchester United’s players were subjected to chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” from their own fans as their faint hopes of Champions League qualification were extinguished by a 4-0 thumping at Brighton.
Goals from Moises Caicedo, Marc Cucurella, Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard humiliated United and ensured they will finish with their lowest points tally of the Premier League era.
Protesting travelling supporters once again took aim at the club’s ownership, in addition to their outclassed and outfought team, on a remarkable and chastening evening in front of record crowd of 31,637 at the Amex Stadium.
Ralf Rangnick’s sixth-placed side were second best for the duration and can now only accumulate a maximum total of 61 points this term – three fewer than they managed in 2013-14, which began under David Moyes and finished with the caretaker management of Ryan Giggs.
United’s performance was arguably their worst of a miserable season – which has featured 11 defeats – to highlight the extent of the job facing incoming manager Erik ten Hag
A stunning victory for rampant Brighton was a first in nine games on home soil, dating back to Boxing Day, to boost their hopes of a first Premier League top-half finish.
United were bullied from the outset and it did not take long for chants against the club’s owners to emerge from the travelling support.
Cries of ‘love United, hate Glazers’ and ‘we want Glazers out’ rang out in the early exchanges amid a blistering start from Brighton.
Albion then took a deserved 15th-minute lead to further dampen the mood among the disillusioned away end.
Ecuador midfielder Caicedo made the breakthrough, firing through the legs of Victor Lindelof and into the bottom left corner from distance to claim his first Seagulls goal after Gross’ initial effort was blocked by Alex Telles.
Brighton’s boisterous fans created a carnival atmosphere and were clearly determined to enjoy the penultimate home game of their club’s finest Premier League season.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s maiden appearance at the stadium brought a mixture of awe and derision from the majority in attendance.
The Portuguese star – who repeatedly attracted both camera phones and jeers – barely had a sniff in the opening period and suffered a whack from Joel Veltman for his troubles. He later fired well over from a free-kick, before being booked for a sliding challenge on Lewis Dunk.
Impressive Albion should have doubled their lead three minutes before the break.
Raphael Varane made a complete mess of Robert Sanchez’s long kick forward but former United forward Danny Welbeck squandered a golden chance by lobbing over with only David De Gea to beat.
Interim boss Rangnick reacted to a dismal opening 45 minutes by introducing Fred and Edinson Cavani.
However, things swiftly went from bad to worse for the visitors.
Left-back Cucurella joined Caicedo in claiming his first Albion goal, doubling the hosts’ lead by sweeping into the roof of the net after Trossard pulled the ball back from the left.
German midfielder Gross expertly slipped the ball beyond De Gea in the 57th minute before Trossard bundled home from close range just three minutes later after Diogo Dalot cleared Welbeck’s initial dinked effort off the line.
A brief interlude as VAR checked Trossard’s goal for a possible handball gave United’s followers chance to vocally question the commitment of their side.
It could have been even worse for the away side as Alexis Mac Allister hit a post as he and Gross attempted to walk the ball in.
To their credit, United’s players showed increased fight in the closing stages and threatened to reduce the deficit.
Albion goalkeeper Sanchez saved well from Cavani and Bruno Fernandes. The Spaniard also kept out United substitute Harry Maguire, with Cavani’s subsequent tap-in ruled out for offside.
Confirmation of the record crowd further increased the noise inside the ground, with United’s supporters showing their sense of humour by chanting ‘you’ve only come to see Ronaldo’ ahead of a long, despondent journey home.