Football: Giggs breaks free to tip the balance: Jon Culley reports from Molineux on a Wolves side who gained some credit despite a 2-1 defeat

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The Independent Online
THE drawing power of Manchester United was reconfirmed last night when the Double winners eased into their superior stride before a sell-out crowd of 28,000 packed into the Molineux Stadium.

The capacity attendance attracted to United's third pre-season work-out is worth pounds 225,000 in gate receipts to Wolves, overtaking the record of pounds 209,000 set by last season's fifth round FA Cup tie against Ipswich. The sum falls only pounds 25,000 short of the initial payment made by Wolves when Darren Ferguson joined them from United last winter. Last night's match was set up as part of the transfer package.

United honoured their side of the deal by fielding a strong starting line-up they could muster, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland duo, Denis Irwin and Roy Keane, who have been given an extended holiday to recover from their World Cup exertions.

Their manager, Alex Ferguson, said last night that both will miss the start of United's title defence, possibly sitting out three matches unless injuries necessitate their recall. He also said that Paul Parker and Andre Kanchelskis, missing last night through injury, were likely absentees from the tournament in Glasgow this weekend.

Ferguson was pleased with his side's performance in their first game back on English soil following a two-match trip to Ireland, singling out Keith Gillespie for particular praise following his display in the Kanchelskis slot on the right flank. 'I thought Gillespie did very well indeed and I was satisfied with a good work-out,' he said.

United, a little sluggish to begin with, looked fluent once they had adjusted to the pace set by the home side and their five-man midfield created more opportunities than they took. But for three saves in the closing minutes by Paul Jones, the substitute goalkeeper, the scoreline would have looked more emphatic.

As it was, two goals inside the first 17 minutes of the second half settled it. Ryan Giggs, effectively marked by 19-year-old YTS player James Smith in the first half, had a part in both the goals, delivering the corner from which Paul Ince headed the equaliser, then the swerving shot which Mike Stowell blocked only to see the ball rebound past him off the legs of his defender Paul Blades.

Steve Bull, as ever the aggressive predator, had shown his sharpness when he gave Wolves a ninth-minute lead.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell (Jones, 73); Smith (Venus, 73), Blades, Shirtliff, Thompson; Keen, Ferguson (Cook, 73), Thomas (Simkin, 73), Froggatt; Bull, Mills (Kelly, h/t).

Manchester United (4-5-1): Schmeichel; May, Bruce (Davies, 65), Pallister, Sharpe (Casper, h/t); Gillespie (Butt, 65), Cantona, McClair, Ince, Giggs; Hughes (Dublin, 77).

Referee: T Holbrook (Wolverhampton).