Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United need to find their “spark” again after they were held to a third goalless draw in a row by Crystal Palace.
The Red Devils never really looked like scoring in a drab encounter at Selhurst Park, with their failure to win a blow to their already slim Premier League title hopes.
The result means Manchester United are 14 points behind leaders Manchester City, with the two sides meeting on Sunday.
Asked about his side’s recent form, Solskjaer told BBC Sport: “Of course it’s a concern.
“When you have three clean sheets in a row, that will help you win games – but we haven’t produced the quality.
“We just have to find a spark again, the quality again and try to win the games.”
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville accused the team of “sleepwalking” and putting in performances that will give their top-four rivals a boost.
“It wasn’t a good night for United,” the Sky Sports pundit said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, you can’t be boring and that was boring.
“They are sleepwalking in games. They are going to end up in a top-four race if they are not careful.”
The visitors dominated possession but struggled to create many meaningful chances, with Nemanja Matic going closest in the first half when he forced Vicente Guaita into a decent save.
Palace did not manage a shot on target until early in the second half when Jordan Ayew fired straight at keeper Dean Henderson after a good one-two with Christian Benteke.
However, the hosts almost pinched it right at the end when Patrick van Aanholt was put in on goal, but he was denied by Henderson.
The point for Crystal Palace moved them on to 34 points and 11 points clear of the relegation zone as Roy Hodgson’s side edge closer to securing another season of Premier League football.
A poor result before crucial period for Red Devils
This is the start of a potentially season-defining month for Manchester United. After facing their city rivals on Sunday, they have games against AC Milan in the Europa League, as well as an FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester.
It was, therefore, important they made a strong start to March. Solskjaer’s side have only lost once in the Premier League since 1 November, but too many of their recent games have ended in draws.
This was a match they really needed to win to keep up the pressure on Manchester City, but they were far from their best as they displayed a severe lack of creativity.
Even Bruno Fernandes, so often their attacking spark having contributed to 25 goals this season, was below par as he struggled to make an impact on Wednesday’s game.
Indeed, for large periods of this fixture the increasing thickness of the fog that had descended over Selhurst Park was the most exciting thing to develop, as Manchester United played out their third goalless draw in a row.
It could have been worse but for Henderson’s late save. The goalkeeper was playing instead of David de Gea, who missed out for personal reasons.
When pressed for what those reasons were, Solskjaer said: “That’s a private matter. It’ll take the time it takes.”
Palace grind out an important point
It is well documented that Crystal Palace struggle to pose much of an attacking threat without Wilfried Zaha in their side, and they had managed just six attempts on goal over their past two matches before Wednesday.
However, despite their lack of bite, they are well organised and difficult to break down under Hodgson and rarely looked in danger of losing to United.
The Eagles successfully nullified any threat the visitors could pose and, while chances were also few and far between for themselves, they did come closest to taking all three points with Van Aanholt’s late opportunity.
Despite the absence of Zaha, Palace have ground out five points from their past three games and that has them well on the way to a mid-table finish, avoiding any late concerns of being dragged into a relegation battle.
“I can’t fault the players. There were a few times where we got the ball down in midfield and I thought we looked like we could score ourselves,” said Hodgson.
“These guys have spent four years together doing their best to keep the team in the league. I’m so proud of them and so grateful to them for what they’ve done for the club.”
Crystal Palace travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (19:15 GMT), while Manchester United are at Manchester City earlier on the same day (16:30).