By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - It will be no consolation to David Moyes or Manchester United but, in stark statistical terms, Moyes enjoyed more success in his first - and last - 51 matches in charge at Old Trafford than Alex Ferguson did.
The reality is, however, that Ferguson had another 1,449 games to prove himself as the greatest manager in English soccer history while Moyes can only imagine what might have been if the United board had kept faith in him as their predecessors did with Ferguson 27 years ago.
Ferguson left Aberdeen to come to Old Trafford, replacing the sacked Ron Atkinson, on November 1, 1986, and his first match as United manager ended in a 2-0 defeat at Oxford United.
That loss left United 20th in the 22-team First Division with 13 points from their opening 14 games. Liverpool were top, as they are today.
Ferguson's first win came on November 22 when a first-half goal from Danish midfielder John Sivebaek gave United a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers in front of 42,000 at Old Trafford.
But early results were generally indifferent, with a defeat at Wimbledon and draws with Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa leaving United just three points clear of bottom club Chelsea heading into Christmas.
Gradually the tide began to turn and a 1-0 win at Liverpool on Boxing Day, with Norman Whiteside scoring the only goal, was the first flickering of what the future held in store.
United, who had started the season under Atkinson with three straight defeats and were bottom in September, finished the season in 11th place with 14 wins, 14 draws and 14 defeats.
It was not until the start of the following season that Ferguson's influence really began to be felt.
Exactly a year after he took over, United were fifth, with just one defeat in their opening 14 games, and they ended his first full season in charge as runners-up to Liverpool, beaten only five times in their 40 league matches.
But Moyes, who was dismissed by United on Tuesday, made a better start than Ferguson.
Despite a disjointed pre-season and United's failure to bolster the squad sufficiently in the August transfer window, Moyes's first official match in charge ended in a 2-0 win over FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield.
His first competitive match was also probably United's best performance under the 50-year-old in the Premier League - a 4-1 win at Swansea City on the opening day of the league season.
A goalless draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford followed before Moyes's team were beaten for the first time, 1-0 by Liverpool at Anfield.
But it was the second defeat that really sounded the warning bells when Manchester City came to Old Trafford on September 22 and swiped United aside 4-1.
City had taken an early lead through Sergio Aguero but the match was evenly poised. It was what happened next that suggested things were changing for the worst at Old Trafford.
Yaya Toure, Aguero again and Samir Nasri scored three goals in a five-minute spell either side of halftime to put City 4-0 ahead. Wayne Rooney scored a late consolation for United but the boos and jeers around the ground at the end left no one in any doubt what the fans thought of such a capitulation.
Ferguson had no European distractions in his first season in charge but they provided a welcome relief for Moyes as United came through the group stage of the Champions League unbeaten.
United had recorded a 5-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen along the way, the only time they scored five under Moyes and their best victory of the season.
They also went unbeaten in all competitions for two months between the beginning of October and the beginning of December and then won six successive games in the second half of December
before results turned against them again.
Ferguson's first 51 games at United produced 23 wins, 17 draws and 11 defeats. Moyes's first 51 ended in 27 wins, nine draws and 15 defeats.
Ferguson had to wait four years until he finally brought silverware to the club when United beat Crystal Palace to win the FA Cup in 1990.
In today's cutthroat soccer world, Moyes never stood a chance.
(Editing by Robert Woodward)