If Steve Bruce was looking for any comfort from Birmingham City's current predicament on Saturday night, he certainly would not have gleaned any from events earlier in the day at Villa Park.
Three hours before Bruce's Blues side suffered their embarrassing annihilation at Eastlands, he was able to witness live on television a ruthless destruction of Aston Villa by the team from the other half of Manchester.
And with Bruce's Blues now having to play Manchester United twice in the next three games, starting with
tomorrow night's Carling Cup quarter-final at St Andrew's, watching the quality of Sir Alex Ferguson's rejuvenated side would have sent a shiver down the spine of the Blues boss.
"They are a class act," said Bruce's main Second City rival, Villa manager David O'Leary. "The bottom line is that we were outclassed by a far better team. and Wayne Rooney is just getting better and better.
"I have never known a lad at such a young age as good as him. If he plays well, United play really well.
"When he's not in the England side they're not as good, like when Arsenal haven't been when Vieira or Henry weren't in the side.
"What you see is what they've got with United. Rooney, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, Giggs. They're littered with quality. Take out the Champions League and they should never have got knocked out of that, and they are on a rich vein of form in the league.
"If you look back on all their champion-ship wins, U n i t e d have got m o r e points now than they had then at this
time of the season and the really worrying thing is that United tend to get better and stronger in the second half of the season.
"It's too easy to disregard United. You maybe can't deal with Roman Abramovich and his millions at Chelsea but they will be saying
'we want to win the league' and they will also be saying, if not, then they want
to finish second and win some cups."
O'Leary is hardly in a position to feel too complacent himself. His Villa side were long since dismissed from the Carling Cup by Doncaster Rovers and they are only five points clear of Blues, only one ahead of Bryan Robson's West Bromwich Albion, who must also take on the full might of Manchester in the third of United's four successive meetings with West Midland opposition, at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.
But at least he and his Villa contingent have realistically learned not to expect anything from games against United, after more than a decade without a win over Ferguson's men.
"They've come here for the last ten years and outclassed people," said O'Leary. "Sir Alex must love turning up here. He'd like every FA Cup semi-final to be here."
As to what can be expected from United on their next trip to the Second City tomorrow night, Bruce can expect no mercy from his former manager, who has vowed not to play a weakened team at St Andrew's.
"We will play our strongest side," said Ferguson. "There's no question about it but I'm going to put all the younger players in the squad, like Brown, O'Shea, Bardsley, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Park, Rossi, and hopefully Saha, who we had to send home today with a virus."