Manchester United’s 2010/11 unbeaten record came to an end with an anaemic display against the Premier League’s bottom side Wolverhampton Wanderers. While taking nothing away from Wolves’ resilient and determined display, in truth United were a pale imitation of the side that has set the pace for the title chase this season.
After a bright start from United and a third minute goal from Luis Nani, it looked like United would be coasting to seven points clear of Arsenal following the Gunners’ catastrophic collapse at Newcastle United earlier in the day. However, poor set-piece defending dogged United’s defence once more, but fortunately for the Red Devils Chelsea could not capitalise on the defeat when they lost to Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.
After Nani’s opener, George Elokobi rose to meet Matt Jarvis’ inviting cross following a short corner, and powerfully headed in after 10 minutes to atone for his muddled defending for Nani’s opener. From then on Wolves grew in confidence, and after Nemanja Vidic gave away a needless free kick on the left, Nenad Milijas swung in a great cross which found Kevin Doyle – it was initially unclear whether it would be a second for Elokobi, but Doyle seemed to get the decisive touch.
After conceding two goals from set pieces against Blackpool, United seem to be struggling badly in the air, and matters were not helped when Rio Ferdinand was forced to pull out of the squad following a potential calf injury in the warm-up. With the England centre-back missing for up to two weeks, United will hope that aerial frailties will not cost them in the crucial Manchester derby next weekend.
In what is becoming an worrying trend for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in recent weeks, the passing from the majority of the players was often imprecise, not helped by a boggy pitch and swirling winds around Molineux. Even the introduction of Paul Scholes did little to improve the team, as the playmaker’s most telling contribution ended up being a Superman-style diving handball towards goal that earned him a yellow card.
While Wayne Rooney looked to have found his goalscoring form against Aston Villa last weekend he dipped to the present season’s mood here, snatching at chances and being let down by poor control and shoddy passing. Indeed Dimitar Berbatov may feel aggrieved that it was he, and not the England striker, that was replaced for Javier Hernandez in the search for an equaliser.
To simply label this as a poor United performance would be doing Wolves a disservice, and Mick McCarthy deserves high praise for the confident manner in which he set out his side. Although Wolves’ attacking play naturally invites opponents to counter-attack (some would say that this is perhaps one of the reasons why they are currently bottom), McCarthy’s men were fully worth the three points – with a sturdy defence and Wayne Hennessey continuing to impress in goal, Wolves may finally be able to claw themselves out of the relegation places.