The League Cup has had its moments for Michael Owen, a scorer in Liverpool's 2-0 final win over Manchester United seven seasons ago, and here he could have used another – even if none of Fabio Capello's staff had deemed his first Old Trafford start worth travelling to see.
"I told you right from the start that he would be a winner," Sir Alex Ferguson said of Owen in his programme notes, in a reminder that United had "battered" their neighbours on Sunday, and things certainly looked auspicious as Nani rapidly reduced left-back George Elokobi to pulp.
But there were mountains to overcome, too. One of them took the form of 6ft 3in Christophe Berra, towering over Owen in central defence; another was the defensive change forced when Fabio da Silva was justifiably sent off for falling into the path of Michael Kightly to stop his advance on goal after half an hour. Federico Macheda was taken off in the ensuing reorganisation and Owen was left up alone.
Ferguson was preparing to call him in when Owen bore out the manager's paean to him, providing the exquisite touch that allowed Danny Welbeck to run off his defender on 66 minutes and finish an exquisite five-touch piece of interplay with his fourth goal for United. Ironically, the beneficiary of Owen's work is the striker, 19 next month, whom Ferguson has told Capello just might fit the bill for South Africa, though Welbeck later brushed that off.
A salutary lesson here for Da Silva, who is yet to prove his reputation as the marginally better of United's Brazilian twins. "He slipped first and as he tried to recover, he brought the player down. You can't argue," Ferguson said. Tomas Kuszczak, meanwhile, might feel his fine right-handed stop from the David Jones free-kick that followed the sending-off might aid his chances of beating Ben Foster to the goalkeeper's jersey at Stoke City on Saturday.
But the real jewel was the United player yet to burst through: Darron Gibson, strong and incisive in midfield on a night when Wolves – and Kightly, in particular – showed ambition. Ferguson wants his son's side in Saturday's draw. "Peterborough at home. All the family will be happy with that," he said. Owen will take anything if he can just prove himself.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville, Brown, Evans, Fabio Da Silva; Nani, Carrick, Gibson, Welbeck (King, 81); Owen (Valencia, 69), Macheda (De Laet, 31). Substitutes not used: Amos, Ferdinand, Tosic, Eikrem.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Foley, Craddock, Berra, Elokobi; Kightly (Keogh, 77), Henry, Castillo (Milijas, h-t), Jones; Maierhofer, Ebanks-Blake (Doyle, 66). Substitutes not used: Ikeme, Halford, Milijas, Zubar, Hill.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).