Mark Hughes bemoaned the "poorest start we could have hoped for" after Stoke City slumped to a 3-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester United on Tuesday.
Louis van Gaal's men went ahead in the 14th minute through Jesse Lingard - who scored United's first goal in the opening 45 minutes at Old Trafford since September - before Anthony Martial's curling finish made it two nine minutes later.
Wayne Rooney's 99th Premier League goal at Old Trafford ended the match as a contest in the second half as Stoke suffered a defeat that means they have won only once in their last five league games.
The loss of Philipp Wollscheid through injury made it a particularly damaging night for Stoke, who are struggling for defensive options, with Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson and Geoff Cameron also unavailable.
Hughes said: "We didn't start in the right manner to be honest and that was the story of our night.
"We conceded early on, were too passive around our own box and in the defensive third. We didn't get close enough to people to affect what they were trying to do.
"We conceded a poor goal and allowed runners off the back of people, obviously allowing the cross to come in [for Lingard's goal] in the first place was a mistake from our point of view.
"What you talk about before you come to Old Trafford, you try to keep it 0-0 for as long as you can and see how the game pans out. Unfortunately we conceded another poor goal and got a little bit strung out.
"It was clear that Phil Wollscheid was struggling with an injury and we had to make changes. From that point it was always going to be a difficult night for us.
"Second half I thought we were better in terms of at least trying to have a go but you run the risk of being caught on the break, which we did. In fairness at the end it was probably a damage limitation exercise.
"They got the perfect start, we had a similar situation when we played United over the Christmas period, we scored early and that lifted us. It was the perfect start for them and the poorest one we could have hoped for."
Asked about the injury situation in defence, Hughes added: "We are a little bit threadbare, we took a risk where we only had Phil Bardsley on the bench and it came back and bit us. We are hopeful Ryan's close, if not then we will look to see who is in the building."