|photo by Tambako the Jaguar||via PhotoRee|
Manchester United travel to Molineux, on a weekend full of goals, to take on a Wolves side that is notoriously tough to beat at home. United channel Los Blancos today in their all white kits, but it's doubtful they'll remain unblemished for long, as the pitch more accurately resembles a muddy cow pasture than an EPL-worthy playing field.
United open in typical fashion, with another early goal helping to settle the nerves. This time it's Nani, not Rooney, putting the ball in the back of the net to give the visitors a quick 1-nil lead, as George Elokobi gives Nani more than the inch of space he needs, and the Portuguese hit man beats Wolves 'keeper Wayne Hennessy on the near side.
In fact, in the early going Wolves' defensive plan today seems to involve giving United as much space as they desire, with both Rooney and Nani testing the keeper with stinging efforts before the ten minute mark.
Elokobi eventually makes up for his error at the other end, though, as on ten minutes the game is back to square, with United switching off yet again on a set play. Elokobi steers Jarvis' corner into the back of Vandy's net, and it's game on.
Despite the score, at this early point in the contest United still look the more fluid of the two sides, but the home crowd is in full throat urging Wolves to fight for the win. The game quickly gains the feeling of a cup tie, as both sides give their all in a back and forth contest. When United pin Wolves in and ratchet up the pressure, however, it's immediately apparent that Wolves prefer to play rubgy to football this afternoon. Michael Oliver, today's EPL joke of a referee, appears to be the only person in the stadium who remains blissfully unaware of the mauling and shirt pulling that's going on inside the Wolves' 18 yard box.
By the 25 minute mark, Wolves have begun to work their gameplan to perfection, dragging United down to their level, and a fluid game has turned scrappy; the free flowing football we saw earlier is now nowhere to be seen. Wolves are more than content to play the entire game this way, but to see United slap it around so fitfully is slightly worrying and fairly depressing.
When Rafael gives away a soft penalty on the edge of the box, the alarm bells begin to ring. The resulting free kick, though, deflects off the wall steering just wide, with Van der Sar rooted to the spot and able only to hope it misses. The Reds are not so fortunate a short minute later, though, as another free kick by Miljas is slapped into the net by Doyle. One can only doff the cap and say that the Wolves' 2-1 lead at this point is well deserved.
By the end of the half it's Wolves who look top of the table, and United appearing clueless, as if they're the side fighting relegation. Sir Alex is vexed on the sideline as his boys are being bossed by a lower half side, and Rio Ferdinand simmers sharply in his suit and tie. The Reds clearly miss their former Captain, ruled out at game time due to an injury picked up pre-game, as the defense is once again a bit wobbly with Ferdinand out.
As the second half begins, Paul Scholes replaces Michael Carrick, and United show their reliance on their veterans to pull out another result. The yellow cards begin to make an appearance as Wolves cynically attempt to stop United on the counter. United begin to control possession and hope that will translate into attacking opportunities, as Wolves appear mainly content to sit back and defend.
Referee Oliver, the EPL's youngest official, stamps his non- authority on the game as he misses a clear second yellow on O'Hara at one end, and a minute later manages to miss an easy penalty against Giggs at the other. Wolves coach Mick McCarthy is not as blind as the referee, though, and immediately substitutes O'Hara to mitigate the potential for damage.
Chris Smalling replaces Jonny Evans, and Chicharito comes on for Dimitar Berbatov at the 65 minute mark, as Sir Alex plays his final roll of the dice with 25 minutes left. Although Evans has been given fits by Kevin Doyle all day, the latter substitution is a bit puzzling -- not that Hernandez came on, but that it was the Bulgarian who was replaced rather than Rooney.
United are lacking in quality time and again tonight, consistently missing the final touch or pass. The Reds' offense appears all too narrow, and Wolves are stacking the box to repeatedly frustrate and snuff out any real opportunities which result.
As the game ticks down toward its depressing conclusion United are unable to come up with much in the way of a real threat. They throw body after body in the box but are unable to pull the final trigger. It's incredibly frustrating stuff from the Reds as the unbeaten streak is finally blemished, crashign to a halt at Milineux, and Wolves are deserved winners on the evening.
At full time its Wolves 2- Reds 1. The streak is over and it's now important to make sure that the loss doesn't carry over into preparation for the Manchester Derby next weekend. United toss away an opportunity to go seven points clear of Arsenal, and the race for the top spot is tossed wide open once again.
It's an aggravated and pained farlieonfootie signing off for February 6.
Game Day Beer Review: Anderson Valley Brewing Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale . Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale pours a clear reddish/amber color, with a thin off-white head that lingers but a moment. The beer has a hoppy head, but offers only the slightest whiff of dark fruits and spices. The mouthfeel is highly carbonated, and the beer tastes mainly of mild, indistinguishable spices, with only cinnamon standing out in my mind. The bottle notes that they call this the Legendary Booneville Beer, but after drinking it, I'm about as sure of the legend as I am pleased with United's effort tonight: B.
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