Manchester United manager David Moyes conceded that he was finding his job harder than he could ever have envisaged after a chastening 3-0 home defeat by bitter rivals Liverpool.
The loss on Sunday was United's ninth of the Premier League campaign - five of which have come at home - and carried echoes of the 4-1 humiliation at Manchester City in September that foreshadowed the club's current struggles.
The defending champions mustered just one shot on target in the entire game, while Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claimed with some justification that his side "could have scored five or six".
In the end the visitors had to content themselves with a brace of Steven Gerrard penalties and a late Luis Suarez strike.
Gerrard squandered a chance to complete a rare hat-trick of penalties when he sent a third spot kick against the post, but the scoreline was still enough for United striker Wayne Rooney to brand it "one of the worst days I've ever had in football".
With United 12 points below the Champions League places, having played two more games than fourth-placed City, their hopes of reserving a berth in Europe's premier club competition via the league are all but dashed.
They also trail Greek champions Olympiakos 2-0 ahead of the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie tomorrow, making their chances of qualifying by winning the tournament appear almost equally remote.
It is only 10 months since Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager after overseeing the club's 20th league title triumph, and Moyes admits that the pace of United's decline has taken him by surprise.
"The job was always going to be hard," he said. "Is it harder than I thought it would be? Yeah, I would say so."
United have beaten only one of the teams currently in the Premier League's top nine - Arsenal, in November - but despite the damning statistical evidence, Moyes played down suggestions of a malaise. "That tells you we're not doing as well as we should be," he said.
"We have to play better and make ourselves harder to beat, harder to play against, and we are also going to have to make sure we are creating and taking more opportunities."
He insisted his players remain confident and said they would approach the game against Olympiakos at Old Trafford fully believing in their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
"I think everyone wants to win, no matter what game you play, and give the supporters something to shout about."