Manchester United looked like being beaten for the first time in 23 for long periods of a second enthralling encounter against small fish Wolves on Saturday, but goals at the end of the first, and the very end of the second half from Park Ji-Sung sent Wolves fans on an agonizing trip home wondering just how their side had spurned yet another golden opportunity to turn over the Mighty Red Devils and try to fathom how this side, this squad, and this club of ours is left to languish in 19th position in the Premier League.
With the fire in their bellies, and confidence on a high after scoring two on their last visit here, and pumped up from last weeks shock win over neighbors Manchester City, Wolves looked more than a decent match for the majority of this game, looked the more likely to win it, and came away with nothing.
The league table doesn’t lie, and the neutral will have seen this score flash up at full time and shrug their expectant shoulders- Wolves lost at United- no surprise there then, but to anyone inside the ground, or those watching on television or whichever other means, radio, internet, you name it- we could all only wonder how ‘this’ had happened again.
Similar to the Carling Cup encounter little over a week ago, the game took a slow start, but of either side, Wolves proved the more comfortable on the ball, maintaining possession and knocking the ball around with confidence, whilst the home crowd began to grumble at the sight of not just the ball sticking to the gold & black but every time United managed to find the ball only to repeatedly give it away.
Considering the fashion in which Matt Jarvis terrorized Wes Brown repeatedly in the cup encounter it came as some surprise to see the defender left with the hapless task of trying to tame the Premiership’s fastest up and coming player, and once more, true to form, Brown was being given the run around from the early exchanges.
With Karl Henry proving he is not afraid to continue to put his foot in, marshaling the midfield with calm control, careful distribution and timely tackles, Nenad Milijias enjoying a third consecutive run out in the Old Gold, knocking the ball around with general precision, give or take the odd stray or read pass that was cut out, Jarvis and Stephen Hunt were left to push forward onto the United rearguard and repeatedly unsettled them with charging runs packed full of menace and intent.
If the back line, Stearman and Berra commanded the center, succesfully clearing away anything that came their way, Foley was his calm and industrious self on the right, and whilst many lambasted Bebe on the United right for a series of wasteful, wayward crosses, few were as quick to acknowledge that Stephen Ward hardly gave him a yard and forced Bebe into several early crosses, most of which ballooned over everyone or ended up in the stands.
With Kevin Doyle leading the line in exquisite fashion, Wolves were increasingly taking a strangle hold of the game, when coming towards the end of the first half, Gibson was for the first time given far too many yards to progress forward from an advanced midfield position and was allowed to slip a ball inside the box to the on rushing Park who steered the ball past Marcus Hahnemann thanks to the help of a deflection.
It was demoralizing to say the least and there was a fear that conceding a relatively soft goal after controlling long periods of the half, that Wolves heads would drop.
In all seriousness, United did start the second half looking rejuvenated from the goal.
There was a sense they had a sniff of blood, but Wolves looked like they were under orders to steady the ship and did so effectively. Again the home crowd showed dissatisfaction as Wolves again took the game by the scruff of the neck and began causing anxiety amongst the huge home support- evident from the fact that all the noise was coming from the visiting supporters who knew this game was far from over.
Clearly sharing the sentiment, Mick made his intentions clear just after the hour when he threw on both record signing Stephen Fletcher and fellow striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
Within a minute, United were left stunned when Wolves crafted some fine build up play to feed the Blake, who with his first two touches, took the ball down with his back to goal, turned his man, and drove the ball home to send to visiting fans into raptures.
Not long after, Stephen Fletcher had the chance to both put his name in the history books and quiet possibly earn Mick the adulation as a tactical mastermind, but after Michael Mancienne delicately nodded perfectly into the path of the Scot, he blazed the ball high beyond the bar when in all reality he had the time to have brought it down and probably taken a touch before unleashing his effort.
It was not to be, and as the game wore into it’s later stages United began to press. The home crowd drew a second wind, mostly exasperated with their sides performance but Wolves, again and again through Stears and Berra at the back appeared ready for anything.
There can be few complaints with the four minutes of time added on considering the second knock of heads Stearman had taken, but it was no comfort to anyone with a gold vein when Park cut in from the right, danced past two defenders, and flashed a left footed drive past Hahnemann at his near post.
It had been another outstanding performance from Wolves, but when the ball nestled in the net as the clock hit the 94th minute hearts were shattered once again and you must wonder how many times we can take this devestation before it begins to take it’s toll on the fans, then the players psychological state. Arsenal next, and last seasons injury time defeat fresh in the memory. Doctor, 27,000 oxygen masks delivered to Molineux by Wednesday please. Get ready for another roller coaster.
New York City Wolf
Marcus Hahnemann (7)
Some have pointed the finger at Marcus for being beaten at his front post for the winner. For both goals Park was meeting, or running with the ball at pace with the goal keeper unsighted. He caught cross after cross and pulled off a cracking save in the first half. Sometimes, as the younger keepers will attest, he makes it look easy. Marcus will modestly suggest ‘it just comes with experience’ but his making it look easy should not lead any of us to overlook his talent.
Kevin Foley (7)
Has shown over the course of the last three games, the player we know he can be. Excellent positioning and his over lapping is a nightmare for midfielders and defenders alike who come up against him.
Stephen Ward (7)
Still not given the credit he deserves in my opinion. Bebe is considered one of the best in the league but Ward forced him into a series of blundering crosses.
Richard Stearman (8)
Let’s remember how young the player is, and by now he must have between his time with Wolves and Leicester more experience in the Premier League than most. Rose time and again to clear the lines and showing a confidence moving forward with the ball. A commanding display and I for one am joyed that he is being given his chance in the side.
Christophe Berra (7)
Another player I find under rated. For me he has proven Mr. Consistency over the course of the past season and a half in particular. He is dependable and almost always there when you need him. His timing and work man like approach sometimes mask his reading of the game and his control over it.
karl Henry (7)
Those who suggested he might not win his place back after suspension must surely have changed their minds by now. Henry has come so far over the last four years, and he controlled the midfield like an old pro with excellent tackling, careful control and some forward running.
Nenad Milijias (7)
The pace of the game suited him in the first half and his rising confidence is evident in his own anger, when he has mistimed a pass, or with others, when they have proven a little slow on the uptake. His quality can not be questioned. He has enjoyed three in a row, let’s hope he is given another three to really get into the position and show us his true worth.
Dave Edwards (6)
Full of industry and a combination of his battling qualities, chasing down and ability to shake up the opposition whilst in attack again goes unrecognized. Gives his all and on a better day may have made or scored one himself.
Stephen Hunt (7)
Still not a hundred per cent? Wait til he is. a menace going forward who strikes fear into defenders with his unpredictable runs and undoubted quality on the ball. May have scored if he had met Jarvis’ cross with his head rather than trying to get a toe on it.
Matt Jarvis (8)
Would not have looked out of place in the United side, which isn’t saying much considering we were the better side through most of this game. His confidence seems to rise with each game, and his comfort on the ball, his willingness to run at defenders, his delivery. The England calls for this lad are fully justified.
Kevin Doyle (8)
Let’s not get used to his quality but continue to sing his name- for me he is up there with some of the best in the Premier League, his vision, his movement, the way he holds the ball up, his distribution and always a threat on goal. Excellent.
Sylvan Ebanks Blake (9) 66 mins
Blake steals a nine based on the fact he achieved the dream, and answered our prayers, withstanding the pressure of the occasion, showing great control, an excellent turn and sharp shooter finish to draw us level. His introduction and profit is the stuff dreams are made of. If only…….
Stephen Fletcher (5) 66 mins
Fletch. If only Fletch could have shown the same composure and instinct in front of goal Mick would by now have been hailed a tactical genius and we most likely would have walked away with a Manchester double under our belts. He isn’t eleven players, but his wide open miss and the fact his giving of the ball away led to the winner marked a very bad day at the office.
Made a real nuisance of himself around the park, was quick, harrying, good in the tackle, and perfectly laid the ball off for Fletch. Delighted to have him around the place.