Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 2
You've got to admire Aston Villa defender Mark Delaney for his brutal honesty.
Having just experienced such a chilling exposure of his own side's deficiencies, Delaney was asked 'Can Manchester United still make a title challenge?'
"If they keep playing us, they will," joked Delaney.
It was a rare spot of light relief on a day of bitter reality for Villa fans that proved just how far they now trail the nation's best teams, 25 years on from their last league title.
It was also a heartening attempt by one of Villa's more worthy contributors to play down the depressing truth.
This Villa side might be bold and brave enough to eke out enough wins on home soil and scrape enough away points to survive at this level.
But, put them up against one of the country's big four and their only real chance of a result is if the visitors' coach gets stuck on the Aston Expressway.
Villa were humbled and wherever the players flew off to on Saturday night for their Christmas party, it is to be hoped that a night of home truths mixed in with their bottles of designer hooch has the same effect as two years ago.
A similarly depressing defeat to United, a 4-0 reverse at Old Trafford in December 2003, left Villa in the Premiership's bottom three and facing similar volleys of abuse.
The players' festive bash in Dublin that year proved a catalyst. Villa returned to clock up five wins and a draw from their next six games including a League Cup quarter-final win over Chelsea en route to a second-half-of-the-season transformation that earned them sixth place.
This side is good enough to do the same - if badly-missed captain Olof Mellberg's absence with a hamstring injury does not prove too lengthy, and manager David O'Leary can get his long-time loan target Robert Huth to partner him in the heart of the defence.
But they need the tonic of confidence and belief that can't always be got from a bottle.
It might have been an unpopular kick-off time, shown live on TV, and on the last Saturday before Christmas but it still came as a surprise that a Villa-United game was not a sell-out. And it was noticeable that the empty seats were in the home sections in the corners of the Witton Lane and Holte stands.
Essentially, too high a price for too poor a product is the cause of falling gates even at grounds where teams serve up consistently better football than O'Leary's men. And it was not hard to see the cause of the Villa fans' apathy either, once the game got started.
Villa had one early chance when lone striker Milan Baros turned sharply on the halfway line for a run one on one at Wes Brown but he miserably lost his way in a solo attempt to dribble through.
Tellingly, when United got the chance to respond, they countered with two moments of class.
Successive through-balls of real quality were threaded through by Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher.
The first chance saw Ji-Sung Park fire against keeper Thomas Sorensen's left post.
But, when Fletcher then set up Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Dutch master got in behind Aaron Hughes, waited for the Villa keeper to advance, then cunningly lifted it over him.
While Villa had plenty of possession, United had the cutting edge.
Van Nistelrooy's brilliantly cheeky overhead kick was turned over by an alert Sorensen, Rooney had an off target volley from the resulting corner and it took a last-ditch challenge from Delaney to deny Park.
Villa had not managed a shot in the first 45 minutes, so it was hardly a surprise that O'Leary should choose to put on an extra striker at the break as Juan Pablo Angel replaced James Milner.
It made little difference. Within ten minutes of the restart, United were two up.
Park this time carved the hole in Villa's defence before Rooney seized on the opening to slide his shot in off the upright.
Admittedly, Villa's more attacking approach at last sparked a show of defiance.
Gareth Barry caught a statuesque Edwin van der Sar by surprise, going through almost 180 degrees to fire a shot which flew inches wide.
Angel then pulled back from the byline for the disappointing Baros to blast the ball against the bar. And both Angel and Gavin McCann had shots straight at van der Sar which should have tested him more fully.
But United efforts continued to rain on the Villa goal. And, had it not been for the alertness of Sorensen, whose best save was reserved for another even more spectacular overhead from Rooney, and some desperate defending, it would have been a lot more than 2-0.
All in all, as one-sided an afternoon's 'entertainment' as could be imagined at this level and best summed up in the press room afterwards.
A crowd of journalists listened intently as van Nistelrooy dutifully performed one of those mind-numbing, back-slapping post-match interviews.
The Dutch striker (who has been on the winning side on his last six visits to Villa, scoring five goals), opted for the tired, old classic 'This is always a tough place to come' . . . a roar of guffaws greeted this fatuous comment, drowned out only by a second, even louder deluge of laughter when one local wag chimed in: "Yes, the traffic round here's always crap!"