Dan kindly volunteered to put together the report for last night’s match, as he made the journey to Old Trafford for what proved to be a controversial night. He reports:
For 25 long minutes at Old Trafford it appeared that our, somewhat divisive, manager might be in the process of pulling off quite a coup. A leftfield, unexpected starting line-up, announced to a shock media shortly before kick-off had commentators tearing up their research notes – and possibly those of Sir Alex Ferguson and his team too. Could Mick McCarthy have outwitted the Uber Lord King of the Mind Games?
Don’t get me wrong. Within those 20-odd minutes with the scores still standing level, United never really had too much to worry about from a Wolves team with the whole 10 outfield players rotated from White Hart Line. But then United didn’t look particularly worried about anything in general, which was surprising considering the 0-1 defeat to Villa at the weekend.
Wolves lined up with Hahneman keeping his place, and a back four of Elokobi and Mancienne in the middle, Zubar on the right and Matty Hill on the left. They were protected in the centre of midfield by Castillo and Foley, with Surman at times slightly more advanced. Halford and Friend, recalled from loan at the weekend (his name wasn’t even on the programme squad list), operated the wings, with the Hoff upfront.
A curious tempo to the game ensued. Whilst United had changes in their side, a team featuring Vidic, Rooney, Berbatov and Scholes should really have mauled us. We were opened up a couple of times, with Hahneman being called on to competently save from Rooney at short range and balls in to the box not always cleanly dealt. We even managed to carve a couple of chances ourselves – a Halford long throw eventually fell to George Friend who fired over when he should have kept his head down – but there was little outlet for us to use to relieve what pressure we needed to soak.
Our best football was played in the middle by Foley, Surman and Castillo who neatly at times knocked the ball around at close quarters – Foley in particular caught the eye, enjoying the opportunity of a more central role. But without an industrious Dave Edwards, spirited front line or cultured left peg of Milijas, we were never really able to work our way up to the final third with conviction.
Up front, Maierhoffer lolled around, pointed a lot, shrugged and got involved in some daft muscle flexing with Vidic. I recognise he’s a target man and thrives of service – but there were plenty of balls put his way and he didn’t get on the end of them to bring other people in and kept too far away from the action. He’s certainly a character – but not one that fits with the Wolves ethos of teamwork and unrelenting hardwork at the moment.
A Zubar handball bought about a well taken Rooney penalty to break the deadlock, which arrived as a few United fans were growing a touch restless at their lacklustre gazillionairres and it was always going to be a big ask to come back after Vidic powerfully headed from a corner just before half time.
Iwelumo, Jarvis and Dave Jones were bought on in the second half but couldn’t make the required impact to create a good enough response. It was good to see Jones back, who bought with him some more varied, reaching passes that managed to find Jarvis later on in the game out on the left, but an ongoing lack of guile and strength from the winger prevented him from putting in any telling balls when he got to the touchline.
Pure, unadulterated yet mercurial class from Berbatov allowed substitute Valencia to score in the box after an hour as United strolled their way to the final whistle.
The real talking point here of course is McCarthy’s selection. What’s to be learned from it? Well, for me the positives were the two centre backs who played efficiently and as a unit. Mancienne in particular looked like he relished the Old Trafford floodlights, tackling and carrying the ball to try to spark something. I’ve already mentioned the middle three, but I thought Matt Hill worked hard too. Elokobi looked more focused and confident, though his distribution made for a couple of nervy moments.
All the players deserve credit though. It must have been a tough ask to play together for the first time like that, with the prospect of a potential thrashing given the gulf in class. The fans stuck with the team which was good too considering the controversial selection. Whilst the media has latched on to some of the “We want our money back” chants, being in the United end (my Dad and I sat amongst Scandinavians) it was tricky to hear if there was anger or irony in their voices.
So – bring on the debate. The question I’ve been asking myself is: Should we be happy to take three points from the last two games? I’ve been saying, emphatically, ‘yes’. But as the traffic jams grew longer and on the M6 heading back and news of Brum in sixth blasted out from 5Live, ‘four’ started to sound much better.