Ferguson keen to show the cracks are not so deep

Manchester United 4 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson says that December holds the key to Manchester United's season but you suspect it will be mid-February before a proper assessment can be made of where they stand amid the debris of their European aspirations.

By then the transfer window will have opened and closed and United will have played Arsenal and Chelsea away and Liverpool at home in the space of four matches in the Premier League.

By then, they might be advancing with purpose in the FA Cup too, having enjoyed a taste of revenge against neighbours City.

December, on the other hand, has the capacity to mislead. Too good for Wolves on Saturday, United face Queen's Park Rangers and Fulham away, then Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton at home – all currently in the bottom eight – before they travel to the Emirates on 22 January. Their only other opponents in the interim are Newcastle, who may have left Old Trafford with a point two weeks ago but, beset by injuries, have since suffered two heavy defeats.

It is a run that may reveal cracks deeper than imagined in the fabric of Ferguson's team but you suspect it will not. Mick McCarthy, the manager of Wolves, claims he saw none.

"I guess I thought there might be an opportunity for us," he said. "Instead of sitting back and defending deep I've come and played 4-4-2 and decided if there are any chinks in their armour, I'd take advantage. There weren't any."

It is possible, in fact, that United might emerge from the run with 15 or 16, perhaps even 18 more points, plenty enough to satisfy Ferguson's requirement that they be "still in the frame". Enough to make it important that Manchester City, who travel to Chelsea tomorrow night before taking on Arsenal at home next Sunday, do not make any slip-ups.

Little wonder, then, that there has been an immediate return to buoyancy in the United camp, not only in Ferguson's tone as he declared his team to be moving on "in good fettle" from the flatness of their exit from the Champions League, but in a mood among the players that the Portuguese winger Nani, scorer of two United goals, was able to describe.

"At some time in every season you have a bad moment and the last game was one of the worst we've had but we've responded very well," he said.

"It is hard when you know that you normally go to the finals of the Champions League and pass through the groups easily so we wanted to win this game and show that this is how we play, this is who we are."

Nani's two goals were his first in the Premier League since September, as were Wayne Rooney's. The assumption was that the reduction in his Euro 2012 suspension had somehow released some tension in the England striker but Phil Jones, who continued in United's midfield despite the loss of Nemanja Vidic in defence, believes the goals were coming anyway.

"Wayne was brilliant again but just because he's not scoring, it doesn't mean to say that he's not influencing games," Jones said. "People sometimes just look at his goal tally and say he's not playing well but he's been playing terrifically well for us."

The scoreline probably flattered United. Wolves, for whom Steven Fletcher's sixth goal from eight starts created momentary optimism at the start of the second half, did not defend particularly well, especially against Nani and Antonio Valencia on the flanks.

Then again, teams in their position are not usually known for keeping things tight at the back and, ominously for United's rivals, Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton have all conceded more goals than Wolves.

Scorers: Manchester United Nani 17, 56, Rooney 27, 62. Wolves Fletcher 47. Substitutes: Manchester United Fryers 6 (Evra 67), Young 6 (Nani 77), Macheda 6 (Welbeck 74). Wolves Milijas 5 (Edwards 31), Hunt 6 (O'Hara, 70), Ebanks-Blake (Fletcher 76). Booked: Man Utd Ferdinand. Man of the match Nani. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Man Utd 60% Wolves 40%.

Attempts on target: Man Utd 18 Wolves 3.

Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).

Attendance 75,627.

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