It was difficult to tell whether Manchester United supporters were taking the piss out of Marouane Fellaini or offering genuine encouragement. The overzealous cheers that greeted his every touch were similar to those usually reserved for The Big Man Up Front, a la Peter Crouch or Andy Carroll, and the £27.5 million Fellaini was bringing a touch of mid-table chic to Old Trafford.
And yet they will roar his name even louder on Saturday after he finally scored in a Manchester United shirt. It will not register as the Belgian's first official goal in red, but it is progress for a player who came to symbolise the doomed David Moyes era.
A 76th minute substitute, Fellaini and compatriot Adnan Januzaj galvanised a wasteful United side startled by Valencia's fortuitous equaliser. Fellaini was neither jeered nor booed, yet he could easily have wilted as the sardonic cheers rang around Old Trafford.
In 2008, the Tottenham left-back Gilberto provoked sarcastic cheers from Spurs fans whenever he made a successful pass after a calamitous mistake gifted PSV Eindhoven a goal at White Hart Lane. The friendly atmosphere - and fixture - at Old Trafford was somewhat appropriate yet also potentially damaging to Fellaini. He defied expectations, though.
His mere presence prompted a horrendous mistake from Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves, who should have easily claimed a Tyler Blackett's long ball yet mistimed his run. Fellaini effortlessly killed the ball on his chest and slotted it into the empty net before milking the delight of the Stretford End. For those present, it might be a moment they regale their grandchildren with: I saw Marouane Fellaini score.
That would be a disservice to Fellaini. He played like a carthorse last season but showed at Everton he is nothing of the sort. There were mitigating factors behind his decline under David Moyes in red; the timing and cost of his transfer fee, his association with his former Everton manager, United's paucity of midfield options and a wrist injury contributed to a disastrous debut season. His memorable moment, in what he will hope was an aberration of a season, was when he dribbled the ball out of play against Bayern Munich.
And yet in his first cameo under Van Gaal he looked transformed. Confident on the ball and quicker in possession, there was a patent improvement in his positioning and his passing. His goal was fortuitous, but Fellaini, like all good goalscorers, displayed that striker's instinct that was lacking in 2013-14.
A replacement for Javier Hernández, Fellaini was far from a like-for-like replacement. He could have spent the duration of his fitness test in the final third but was eager to receive the ball, dropping deep and linking the midfield and attack. It will be fascinating to see where, if anywhere, Van Gaal plays him when the season gets underway.
Van Gaal derives a level of performance few coaches can. Ferguson's last two titles came with bloated and unbalanced squads ridden with dead wood, and Van Gaal will have to wield the axe wider as United aim for a trim squad bereft of European football.
It would be unfair to cull Fellaini after less than a year when others have survived so long at the club. He still has a purpose at United.Suggest a correction