When Old Trafford slips into a torpor at the mediocrity served up on nights like these - and the 62,606 crowd was well below capacity - there seems to be just one man who can save this club. Unfortunately for United, Wayne Rooney was sitting out the second game of the two-match suspension he earned with a red card against Villarreal and, watching this, the 19-year-old will have realised that he might just have to play the role of saviour for his club as well as his country.
No one else seemed capable of turning this game, not least Ferguson's assistant Carlos Queiroz, who never seemed likely to perform a tactical intervention on the scale of that produced by his compatriot Jose Mourinho at the weekend. For United there seems to be no Plan B at the moment, especially when they have a bench drawn mainly from the outer reaches of their senior squad and the youth teams, and there was further bad news in the aftermath.
Ryan Giggs sustained a fractured cheekbone in a challenge with the former Arsenal defender Stathis Tavlaridis, although he was only withdrawn with eight minutes remaining, with the United bench unaware of his plight. For Ferguson the injury crisis gripping his squad has deepened even further, with Giggs now out of Saturday's match against Tottenham Hotspur, taking the total of first team players out to nine.
With his team still leading Group D by a point from Villarreal, it was perhaps no surprise that Ferguson appeared not unduly concerned by his team's failure to break down Lille and he said that Scholes' red card had given him cause to re-think his substitutions. The United manager only went as far as describing the referee Stefano Farina as "fussy", but it was difficult to see what other course of action the Italian could have taken when presented with two tackles as poorly timed as those executed by Scholes in either half.
When he comes to retire, Scholes' legacy in the English game will take its rightful place among the greatest but it will include few memories of his finesse in the tackle. For a player so brilliant in attack, he is one of the clumsiest tacklers in the Premiership and offered little in the way of protest for the two cards dealt him. The first was given for a foul on Mathieu Bodmer, the second for a rash challenge on Jean Makoun in the 63rd minute.
"He had three fouls against him all night and one was for handball when he clearly headed it," Ferguson said. "In European football you have some referees who are very strict and we got one tonight. I thought it would be one of the more difficult games. They entrenched themselves in their own half and were aggressive and fit.
"At half-time I thought we could do something, that we could make alterations to the team. Especially with Ronaldo on the left-back, we thought we could do well and for a short spell we did. Then with half an hour to go we had the sending-off and the first thing to do then is to make sure that we don't do anything stupid."
It was the Lille manager Claude Puel who cut to the point when he noted that although Scholes would miss the match in the Stade de France in two weeks' time, Rooney would return. Even with the relaxation of the 4-5-1 system to give Scholes more freedom behind Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Dutchman looked isolated and had just one serious chance when he met Phil Bardsley's cross from the right on 17 minutes.
The patchy concentration of Rio Ferdinand was in question in the first 10 minutes as a ball back to Edwin van der Sar was allowed by the England defender to run through unchecked to the United goalkeeper. Peter Odemwingie dashed in and only the experience of Van der Sar saved the moment as he pulled out of a potentially calamitous clash.
United's best move came on 16 minutes when a short free-kick from Giggs on the right found Bardsley and his chip into the area was laid off by Ferdinand to Scholes, who cracked a shot just wide of goalkeeper Tony Sylva's right post. With 10 men, and time running out for United, a Ronaldo cross was palmed out by Sylva and later the winger saw a free-kick from the right skim across the area.
Even then, the Lille substitute Geoffrey Dernis was granted the space to strike a shot just wide of the post. Old Trafford's only moment to smile was when Park Ji-Sung, sent on for Giggs, took the captain's armband and opted to wear it himself rather than hand it to a senior team-mate. They appreciated the confidence but the Korean could do little more to change the mood, or the result.
Manchester United (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Ronaldo, Smith, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs (Park, 82); Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Miller, Pique, Ebanks-Blake, Rossi, Martin.
Lille (4-5-1): Sylva; Chalme, Tavlaridis, Rafael, Vitakic; Debuchy (Keita, 82), Bodmer, Makoun, Acimovic (Dernis, 60), Tafforeau; Odemwingie (Moussilou, 73). Substitutes not used: Malicki (gk), Cabaye, Gygax, Plestan.
Referee: S Farina (It).Reuse content