It was billed as a ‘David vs Goliath’ contest in the build-up; unfortunately Wolverhampton Wanderers failed to adhere to their part in that Biblical contest as they shipped five goals for the third time in four games and flopped miserably to the foot of the English Premier League. After a midweek humbling in Spain resulting in elimination from the Europa League, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were never in danger of emanating the Phillistine giant as they showed little mercy to 10 man Wolves whilst addressing their inferior goal difference on title rivals Manchester City.
Like every game across the country on Sunday, football took a backseat as the occasion opened in the correct and respectful manner with a minutes applause from players and fans for the Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba who remains in a critical condition following his collapse during a FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening. We echo the sentiment displayed on the advertising hoards at Molineux ‘Fabrice, you are in our thoughts and prayers’.
Having chased down and recently leap-frogged neighbours Manchester City at the Premier League summit, the visitors set out their stall with three strikers in Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Whilst attacking wide man Ashley Young and the evergreen Ryan Giggs were left on the bench, United were still able to boast a daunting midfield of Scholes, Carrick and Valencia in support of their front three. Patrice Evra and Rafael played either side of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in a standard back four.
The home side and interim manager Terry Connor were afforded no such luxuries in terms of selection with Jamie O’Hara and Nenad Milijas joining Karl Henry on the midfield treatment table forcing Kevin Foley into the engine room alongside David Edwards and youngster David Davis making only his second ever senior appearance for the club. Given the situation, the less said about the two current fit midfielders needlessly sent out on loan, the better! Foley for O’Hara remained the only change to the team that started the soul destroying 2-0 home defeat to Blackburn 8 days earlier.
Without setting the world alight, Wolves began in front of another encouraging but far from expectant packed home crowd rather encouragingly given their recent failings. Kevin Doyle glided past a few challenges keeping neat control before turning and shooting tamely with his left foot into the awaiting arms of David De Gea in the early stages. David Davis the academy graduate picked up on an impressive debut the week prior looking anything but overawed in his midfield task up against the legendary Paul Scholes with a number of timely tackles and sensible passes to keep his team flowing. An interesting battle between Matt Jarvis and Rafael ensued on Wolves left flank for the opening 20 minutes with each player showing their hand and getting one up on the other in a succession of meetings in the corner. Jarvis turned infield onto his right foot after 17 minutes delivering an inviting cross towards the back post which narrowly missed the head of Steven Fletcher before dropping agonisingly wide of post. At the other end the United front trio was in full flow, passing and moving through the Wolves back four creating chances for Carrick and Valencia who shot narrowly wide from deep inside Wolves territory.
With the home crowd rising to the occasion and the team responding to a positivity that has been absent from the Molineux grounds for too long, normal service was resumed on 21 minutes as the atmosphere killers took the lead through Jonny Evans. It is an old practice for the underdog that when playing an opposition that can hurt you in a variety of ways to make sure you at least do the basics right – marking and defending set pieces are an absolute must. Wolves did neither as a corner floated from the right side found Michael Carrick who had time to cushion into the path of another unchallenged team mate in Jonny Evans to give the Red Devils the edge. Whilst a few fans rose in a rallying cry to the team having slipped a goal behind, the majority in the Southbank end of the ground had forgotten the bright start and quickly returned hounding every mistake and lacklustre effort from hence forth.
Although he has been found wanting positionally on more than one occasion this term, one thing that can never be taken away from Wolves right full back Ronald Zubar is his pride in the shirt and willingness to succeed often beyond his capability. As one of few who epitomise the passion in the stands, Zubar left Evra in his wake with two trademark lung bursting jaunts down the right flank although his final delivery was poor. His passion fuelled aggression was to cost him however; he first received a yellow card after taking exception to the amount of time Rooney was affording himself on the ball and crunched him from behind evoking a response from the crowd but leaving him in danger for the rest of the game. It was almost inevitable when on 40 minutes Zubar was ejected for another tackle from behind on Danny Welbeck in front of the dugouts leaving the referee little choice but to produce a second yellow for the naïve carbon copy of his first caution. United sought to put Wolves to the sword thereafter with two more goals to kill the tie before half time. Eggart Jonsson was introduced in a re-structure to the Wolves shape but missed a header from which Manchester United broke from front to back with Antonio Valencia impressively covering the length of the field before smashing effortlessly past Hennessey to double the advantage. With Wolves in disarray at the mammoth task which lay ahead, a third followed before half time as United attacked down the right once again as Stephen Ward backed further and further away from the lively Valencia who was given acres of space to pick out the advancing Welbeck with a simple pass for 3-0, much to the discontent of the natives.
The officials were given a hostile reception as they vacated the field at the break after showing two yellow cards to Zubar but failing to reciprocate on a number of robust challenges from the away side. After opting out of a possible penalty decision when Rafael clumsily stumbled into Matt Jarvis at 0-0, modern stereotypes were in place although to blame the officials in what was evidently always going to be an easy day for Manchester United would have been clutching at straws.
The visitors emerged from the dressing room almost a full five minutes before their hosts after the interval with what could be assumed as a ringing endorsement from their boss to set to work on the sizeable goal difference advantage that City currently held over United in the table. They continued where they had left off with Rooney picking a pinpoint pass fully 40 yards to the feet of Welbeck who laid in the busy England frontman for a low curling shot which Wayne Hennessey tipped round the post at full stretch.
United danced around the 10 men of Wolves with ease keeping the ball and enforcing one touch pass and move plays that set them a class apart. With Wolves hopeless and helpless all at the same time, Rafael made his way into the penalty area with Stephen Ward nowhere to be seen once more and chipped a cross onto the head of the ‘Little Pea’ Javier Hernandez for fourth and easy leaving Wolves fans fearing a cricket score.
What followed the fourth goal was by far an out the story of the afternoon. Whilst it will remain largely unmentioned as the daily newspapers and media salivate over another cutthroat United performance, as a lifelong supporter and follower of one of the smaller clubs in the ‘best league in the world’ it was by far and out one of our finest hours. With the team sitting bottom of the pile, a dishevelled 10 men being walked over by the reigning champions, no hope and imminent return to the Championship the supporters could take no more. They were downtrodden and beaten so badly once more, having moaned and complained until they were blue in the face for the best part of a season in despondence at the clubs hierarchy, with the backs pressed firmly against the wall – they were left with no option but to stand, embrace and retake their beloved club as the entire ‘Southbank’ end behind the one goal stood in unison following the fourth goal . . . and proudly sang.
An entire seasons worth of misery had culminated in a unison which made the hairs stand on end. Somewhat appreciative of their team’s efforts in vain against one of the world’s finest, the supporters rallied and deafeningly chorused all of their trademark songs even as their team continued to be taken to the cleaners in front of their very eyes. With an entire end standing, the patriotic style songs and cheers quickly turned ironic given the situation. A Mexican wave ensued alongside the cheering of Manchester United’s 5th goal finished exquisitely once more by the Mexican Hernandez. By this point the focus was very much on the crowd who responded to a decent passage of Wolves possession with a chorus of “it’s just like watching Bilbao” leaving the visiting fans feeling like they had stepped into the twilight zone due to the home crowds emphatic response given the humbling that was taking place on the field. The odd few chants were directed towards the executive boxes asking CEO Jez Moxey to “give us a wave” whilst turning on the chairman with a derisory “forget the football and build a stand” rendition. Every completed pass, free kick decision and attack minded move was greeted with exaggerated cheers and such tongue in cheek remarks as “we want 1, we want 1” and “we’re gonna win 6-5”. Whilst questioning the geography of the away support with a proclamation of “you only live round the corner” the Wolves support put a comedic twist on their recent perilous plight by asking United’s fans “how sh*t must you be, cos’ you’ve only scored five” leaving the visiting fans evidently confused. All this talk from the terraces is a fitting segment because what was happening on the pitch was an exhibition and beyond the farcical. For the first time in a long time, the supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers were united in a common cause to make the best of an ominous situation. In one final funny spin, Wayne Hennessey was urged to go up for a last minute corner by the crowd as if they were chasing a desperate last minute decider, something which was far from reality.
If anything it was just a 45 minutes for the ardent support to step away from the harsh reality and imminent prospect of relegation after a failed bid to stabilise the club in the top flight. From the humiliation on home soil against rivals West Bromwich Albion, to the 6 consecutive home losses, only two wins since November, embarrassing recruitment of a new manager and open season on their goal, those to whom the fortunes of the club mean the most retaliated when presented with the choice of whether to laugh or cry in the only way befitting of such a helpless situation in which they have no control.
Terry Connor is the shield in which the owner and chief executive continue to blindly rally behind although the paying public can see well beyond their false face weekly statements. A man who has never had the responsibility of full management was thrust in to the deep end, up the creek with no canoe. The remnants of the Mick McCarthy era linger on providing little in the way of options or answers. Their first appearance at the bottom of the table has long been foreseen and to many, overdue. Mathematically there is always a chance but to those who watch Wolves on a weekly basis there is nothing present to suggest they have the ability or the fight to escape this relegation battle. After conceding 19 goals in five games and just a solitary point in the process, those responsible appear to have downed tools and given up the ghost. The next two games against Bolton Wanderers and Norwich City present two occasions when a loss may not be greeted with such acceptance and good nature as this one. The brief rest bite from the common hostilities inside Molineux was refreshing but one assumes it will not continue should results not take a dramatic turn for the better.
At the other enviable end of the spectrum, the champions have cruised to a four point lead over Manchester City in the all-Lancashire two horse race for the title, with the Blues still to play this week. With only one trophy available to win this season, Alex Ferguson’s efforts will now be 100% concentrated on the domestic task that lies ahead.
As the fans promised to ‘never die’ whilst keeping the ‘Gold flag flying high’, Wolves face a similar transitional period and re-grouping that took place 7 years ago as they filter through the deadwood and decide where they go from here on the back of a season that will live long in memory for all the wrong reasons. To an outsider this will seem like a premature epitaph, but those who have witnessed first-hand have little ammunition to argue otherwise.
Still as always, often for our sins – forever, we are Wolves.