Yesterday, though, supporters who once shuddered when they saw his name on the team-sheet [one United fanzine's end-of-season survey has a "worst David May moment" category] rose to cheer him off. May, standing in for Steve Bruce, had scored the goal that maintained Manchester United's dogged pursuit of the Premiership leaders, Blackburn Rovers.
They are now two points behind with a superior goal difference, each club have two matches remaining with Blackburn taking the stage first, at home to Newcastle United tonight. Anything but a win and United are back in charge of their own destiny.
May's exit actually came after 24 minutes due to a torn back muscle - he should be available for the FA Cup final but not for Wednesday's match with Southampton, when Bruce will return. Nothing of note happened after his departure. United, having started at a gallop, gradually slowed to a trot before almost seizing up completely as tension gripped the champions and their supporters.
It mattered not, Sheffield Wednesday elaborately passed their way around the midfield with all the urgency of a team sitting in mid-table comfort with their minds on the post-season tour. They seem unaware that they could yet be relegated, although it remains unlikely.
Their opponents had been getting in the pot-hunting mood early yesterday. A series of unsung heroes were honoured before the game, from the reserve team player of the year to United's groundsman, winner of the Premiership award.
Then the least celebrated red of them all stepped up. There are no T- shirts paying homage to May available from the street traders on Sir Matt Busby Way, yet he was United's most potent attacker yesterday. The central defender might have scored after four minutes, Chris Woods tipping his header against the post.
Woods had already saved well from Denis Irwin, but he was unable to achieve a treble from the subsequent corner. It was half-cleared to Paul Scholes who cut inside then pulled the ball back to May. Ian Nolan, on the line, could only help his stabbed shot in.
Another full house sat back and waited for the rout. It never came, instead the Theatre of Dreams became a warehouse of slumber. Paul Ince and Mark Hughes, as ever, were the liveliest of a soporific 22 players, but Brian McClair and Des Walker the most effective. One began most of United's better moves, the other ended them, notably when he cleared from Cole 12 minutes from time.
By the end United, if not quite booting the ball into row E of the stand, were kicking it anywhere upfield while their supporters anxiously whistled for time. But, as Kenny Dalglish keeps saying, points are more important than performances at this stage of the season and United got the three they needed. Over to you, Blackburn.
Manchester United (4-3-1-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, May (P Neville, 24), Pallister, Irwin; McClair, Ince, Sharpe; Scholes (Butt, 52); Cole, Hughes. Substitute not used: Walsh (gk).
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Woods; Atherton, Pearce, Walker, Nolan; Williams, Hyde (Waddle, 62), Sheridan, Bart-Williams; Whittingham (Poric, 81), Bright. Substitute not used: Pressman (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).
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