Sir Alex Ferguson's Champions League gamble backfired badly as not even the returning Wayne Rooney could conjure up a Battle of Britain goal against Rangers.
In truth, it was less of a battle, more a stout rearguard action on Rangers' behalf, which was fully deserving of a point at Old Trafford, if only for their strict adherence to Walter Smith's limited game plan.
A bad night for United was made even worse by a serious injury to Antonio Valencia, who suffered a broken bone around the ankle that will doubtless rule him out for several months.
Let loose again after the maelstrom that has engulfed his private life, Rooney barely got a decent sight of the Rangers goal, let alone come close to finding it.
Darron Gibson did threaten with an array of pot shots but a much-changed team had run out of ideas long before the six minutes of injury time Valencia's horrific misfortune forced.
Rooney's name was one of 10 changes to the United team that faced Everton. Rio Ferdinand's was another.
It was a staggering number for the first game of club football's most prestigious competition.
Ferguson has made similar mass alterations before but he usually reserves it for the last couple of games in the group phase, usually when qualification is already assured.
For all the United manager's talk of a Rangers history he grew up on during those childhood days in Govan, it is a measure of how far Scottish football has fallen that he felt able to take on the challenge of beginning another European season with a win by placing his trust in Champions League rookies Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling.
It is a measure of Ferguson's old club's obduracy that the move backfired so spectacularly.
From the first whistle, United met two lines of blue; the first of four, the one behind of five, that offered precious little room to breathe.
Gibson's trusty right boot can usually be relied upon for a pot-shot or two and the Irishman did go close on a couple of occasions.
United also had a penalty claim for handball against David Weir turned down, Rooney smart enough to vent his frustration at the goal-line official who will become a familiar presence as the tournament progresses.
Yet it summed up the hosts difficulties that Rooney should be racing back into his own half trying to retrieve possession when he turned his left ankle.
As he hopped away from the innocuous incident, Old Trafford, except the 3,000 or so Rangers fans who had trooped south of the border under so much scrutiny after the disgraceful conduct Manchester endured around the UEFA Cup final two years ago, held its breath.
Ferdinand provided the instant diagnosis. Not sure. Then came the thumbs-up sign that meant Ferguson could breathe again.
Rooney had mustered just one shot at the Rangers goal, which Allan McGregor dealt with easily enough.
It seemed the visitors had parked all those buses that had taken them from their Wigan holding base bang in front of the goal.
Kenny Miller put in an industrious shift as a lone front-man but there was never any pretence at trying to offer him any proper support.
The monotonous flow of the game continued after the interval, with Gibson flashing a volley wide after he had latched onto Madjid Bougherra's clearing header.
Yet its inexorable one-way route was halted by Valencia's departure.
It took medical staff almost five minutes to treat the South American, who left the field with an oxygen mask round his mouth, the distress of Kirk Broadfoot obvious, even though no blame could be attached to the Rangers man.
The only positive from United's perspective was that Valencia's replacement was Ryan Giggs. Long-term the consequences could be pretty dire.
Bobby Zamora has just been ruled out for four months after suffering a similar injury on Fulham duty at the weekend and with the transfer window closed, United will now have to rely on Giggs, Nani and Gabriel Obertan for pace out wide.
The introduction of Michael Owen had a touch of desperation about it at a time when Rangers were starting to make a nuisance of themselves, even to the extent of having more shots on goal than their hosts.
Not that the statistic translated into a meaningful save for Tomasz Kuszczak, who was watching from the other end of the field when Gibson sent another long-range effort fizzing over.
The first corner of the entire contest came thanks to a deflected Gibson shot six minutes from time. United wasted it.