|photo by spacepleb||via PhotoRee|
Staring the Europa League squarely in the face, and with Captain Nemanja Vidic lost for the rest of the season, Manchester United hosted Wolves yesterday at Old Trafford, seeking the succor of home cooking to get their season back on track. The campaign, which began so promisingly back in the glory days of August and September, has this week threatened to dissolve into a series of tough questions and pointed fingers, the result of the team's poor recent run of form. Herewith, our correspondent's report:
It's an open game right from the sound of the referee's whistle, with Wolves taking a shot within the game's first 30 seconds. Not to be outdone, Nani shows his guile in teeing up an opportunity at the other end of the pitch just three minutes later, sending a perfectly weighted through ball across the face of goal, but there's no one for United at the other end for the tap in.
The attacks continue as Michael Carrick misses a spectacular diving header, connecting on the end of a luscious Antonio Valencia cross, but sending the ball just over the bar. United are dominating the early going, taking advantage of Wolves' lack of pace on the wings.
Wayne Rooney in particular is operating in acres of space early in the contest, and today could be the perfect opportunity for the Englishman to get his season back on track. Wolves' 'keeper Wayne Hennessy bails his team out, likely not for the first time today, after Carrick intercepts the ball in an advanced position and slots the ball through to Rooney, but the Hennessy is up to the task to deny United's main man. His luck doesn't last for long, though, as it's only a minute later that Nani drags the ball along the top of the box before beating him and finally giving the home fans something to cheer about. It's 1-nil inside of 20 minutes, with Nani scoring for the first time since September.
Nani continues to terrorize Wolves a short while later, steaming into the box before pulling up short and finding Jones, who whiffs on the goal attempt. United pile on the pressure, looking to score more than one goal in a game, something they haven't managed to do in almost two months. Shortly thereafter, that statistic goes by the wayside, too, when Nani tees up Rooney, who makes no mistake this time, spurning the chip that he's seemingly fallen in love with to slot the ball past Hennessy for a 2-1 lead, and the Reds are off and rolling.
Wolves are playing a shapeless and ever-shifting 4-4-2, and United are seemingly having their way with the Midlands' side. Rooney is denied by Hennessy's fingertips as the Reds surge forward in the pelting rain. The much maligned Carrick is playing a blinder in central midfield today, tackling here, intercepting there, and repeatedly playing a perfectly weighted forward pass. The teams head into the break with the Reds two to the good and feeling firmly in control of the afternoon's proceedings.
Wolves turn the game on its head with a goal inside the first two minutes of the second half, though -- Matt Jarvis to Stephen Fletcher, the header cutting the deficit in half -- with United's defense still seemingly in the locker room. Chris Smalling deserves most of the blame, giving Jarvis too much space on the flank and inviting him to send the ball into the box. It's Wolves' first attempt on target on the afternoon, and they're 100% in their shots on goal as the scoreline reads 2-1.
Welbeck misses a virtual tap in at the other end, as United struggle to regain their first half composure. The wobble is brief, though, United quickly on the attack again as Nani restores the home side's two goal cushion, the Portuguese wideman extending his leg just a bit further than Danny Welbeck to claim credit for the goal.
Jonny Evans spurns two chances inside of 30 seconds to extend the lead even further as the Reds look to kill off the game, and the Old Trafford crowd comes to life for the first time all day. They don't have to wait long to cheer again, as Antonio Valencia crosses a bouncing ball to the feet of Rooney, who makes no mistake in putting the ball away for his second of the day. In truth, it's a classy finish for Roo, who torques his body sideways before dispatching the ball beyond the hapless Hennessy.
Valencia absolutely terrorizes Wolves in the second half, playing his best 45 minutes of the season in only his third start. With United in firm control of the game and comfortably ahead for the first time in months, Sir Alex opts for a defensive substitution: Zeki Fryers comes off the bench for his Premier League debut, causing the Captain's armband to pass from Patrice Evra to Rio Ferdinand.
Matt Jarvis continues to beat Smalling like a drum down the left flank, with the latter unable to deny the Wolves' wingman either the ball or sufficient room for a cross. Phil Jones makes a daring run at the other end, before finally holding onto the ball one step too many, causing Kiko Macheda to be just a bit late for his bid at the fifth goal. Rooney's blocked twice in succession by Christophe Berra, as he searches in vain for his hat trick, before the Reds gradually take their foot off the pedal and shut down the engines.
At the final whistle it's 4-1, as the Reds get back in the groove to move three points closer to the League leaders -- putting the pressure squarely on the blue side of the Manchester in advance of Monday's big contest at Stamford Bridge.
This is Farlieonfootie for December 11.
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