United's season may have been holed below the waterline in Basle, but at least for the moment it remains upright. The last time Sir Alex Ferguson's team failed to survive the group phase of the Champions' League, six years ago, they were unbeaten in their next 10 matches and, given that this was the first of a run of five meetings with teams in the bottom end of the Premier League, their manager will demand a comparable recovery.
Ferguson sent out a side showing four changes in the wake of the Swiss catastrophe – one enforced by the injury to Nemanja Vidic. He persevered with Phil Jones in central midfield, preferring to recall Jonny Evans to partner Rio Ferdinand in the middle of the defence. Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-sung and Ashley Young were left on the bench, with the most telling recall that of Antonio Valencia on the right wing.
He and Nani, on the opposite flank, were the key to victory, combined with the return to goalscoring form of Wayne Rooney, who matched Nani by scoring twice to end a run of eight League matches without a goal. A ninth blank would have made it his longest barren sequence since he moved to Old Trafford.
The other run broken was the team's stretch of seven consecutive League games with no more than one goal, the regret for Ferguson being that the upturn in their efficiency near goal had not come three days sooner. "On Wednesday we worked our socks off and didn't get the breaks, today we worked our socks off and did get the breaks," he said. "The second goal relaxed everyone and some of the football we played was fantastic.
"There is no question they were very disappointed after Wednesday and to come back like that is a good thing for them. You hope now that Rooney and Nani, who both scored a lot of goals in the early part of the season, can go on a spurt again."
In truth, it was not much of a test for United, not that they particularlyneeded one. If Ferguson could have chosen an opponent against whom to launch a fightback, it would have been one fitting Wolves' description: poor travellers with fragile confidence. They arrived on a run of five straight away defeats and no win at Old Trafford since 1980.
United may have tended to squander chances lately but Wolves offered them plenty, even though the first attempt on goal came from Steven Fletcher, their own man, in the opening minute. Stretched from the outset as United attacked the full-backs, the visitors left too much space in the middle, and after Michael Carrick had headed narrowly over and Wayne Hennessey was required to make two saves from Rooney within the first 15 minutes, it seemed the opening goal would not be long coming.
It arrived after 17 minutes as Nani, picking up the ball wide on the left from a corner hit deep, skipped along the edge of the Wolves box, passing three defenders before aiming for the left-hand corner of goal with a right-foot shot you could only assume Hennessey did not see until late.
The second arrived 10 minutes later. Again, Wolves did not close down effectively, allowing Rooney to receive Nani's pass and release an angled shot which carried no particular pace but was placed well enough again to get past Hennessey.
United had been so comfortable it was a surprise that the second half began with a goal for Wolves from the head of Fletcher, who now boasts a run of 11 in 15 matches, which is at least encouragement to Mick McCarthy to believe he has enough resources to stay up. Rising to meet Matt Jarvis's cross from the left, Fletcher outjumped Patrice Evra and, with David de Gea rooted to the ground, looped a header over Evans and Ferdinand into the net.
You wondered if there might be some vulnerability of temperament that Wolves might expose, but such thoughts were not allowed to developfor long. Before the hour mark had been reached, Nani had restored United's two-goal lead. Jones released Valencia along the right and his low cross was swept home by the Portuguese from close range.
Four minutes later, Valencia produced another telling raid along the right that Wolves were powerless to repel. His cross found Rooney at the far post and the United striker accepted the opportunity, screwing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
By now, United were strolling, and Ferguson was at liberty to relieve a few tired legs, with a hint of defiance, you suspected, in his first substitutionas Evra gave way for the last 23 minutes to allow a first taste of the Premier League for another of his young pretenders, the 19-year-old Ezekiel Fryers.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra (Fryers, 67); Valencia, Carrick, Jones, Nani (Young, 77); Rooney, Welbeck (Macheda, 74).
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Zubar, Johnson, Berra, Ward; Edwards (Milijas, 32), O'Hara (Hunt, 71), Henry, Jarvis; Fletcher (Ebanks-Blake, 77), Doyle.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the match: Nani (Manchester Utd)
- More about:
- Antonio Valencia
- Ashley Young
- David Jones (Footballer)
- Manchester United
- Park Ji-Sung
- Sir Alex Ferguson