Instead of going like Wolves to the slaughter, the team that finished fifth in the First Division last May left Old Trafford last night with their pride restored. The points went to Manchester United, courtesy of John O'Shea's early header, but the promoted Midlanders could, perhaps even should, have gained least a draw.
While United made it three wins out of three - the first time they have made such a start during Sir Alex Ferguson's 17 years as manager - the second goal that would have given them a share of the leadership with Arsenal proved elusive.
Wolves, who have a 100 per cent record of the losing, had the satisfaction of stopping Ruud van Nistelrooy's scoring run at 10 consecutive matches. The Dutchman was thus left three games short of the all-time record set by Ted Phillipson, for Wolves, in 1926-27.
Dave Jones, the Wolves manager, was more concerned with the chances his own team spurned, with the Senegalese newcomer Henri Camara especially culpable. True, United were under-strength, but that was by choice. Wolves were without the spine of last season's play-off final side, Matt Murray, Joleon Lescott and Kenny Miller all being injured.
After seeing the match end with Wolves pressing for an equaliser, Ferguson admitted: "It was a long, hard night for us. We expected them to pack midfield and, all credit to them, they did it well."
Jones said: "Even though we got nothing, we can leave with our heads held high."
The bookies for once got it wrong. They had rated it the biggest mis-match in Premiership history, one chain offering the same odds for a 7-0 win by United as for a 1-0 victory for Wolves. Jones's men were 22-1 to win, odds unheard of in a contest between sides from the same division.
Ferguson - though he would never have offered a hostage to fortune by publicly conceding as much - clearly deemed it an eminently winnable fixture, too. He rested Mikael Silvestre, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with only the latter duo on the bench.
It was not as if the United manager had to summon any unknown reserves to replace them. In came Kleberson, a World Cup winner with Brazil last season, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese prodigy, for their first starting appearances. Both struggled to live up to their billing.
At first, though, it looked as if the understudies intended to seize their opportunity to impress Ferguson and Wolves were resigned to a heavy beating to follow their thrashings by Blackburn and Charlton.
Wolves, who gave Camara his first start, signalled their intention to try for damage-limitation and attacking on the break by deploying Nathan Blake as a lone frontrunner. The Welshman had hardly seen the ball before United took the lead.
Diego Forlan had twice set up Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the opening minutes, his first shot being parried by Michael Oakes as Van Nistelrooy lunged in vain for the loose ball while the second went straight at the relieved goalkeeper.
Forlan's promptings soon produced their reward, however. From his 10th-minute corner, O'Shea headed his first goal in United's colours and only the second of his club career.
Roy Keane's defensive role deprived a 67,600 crowd - the biggest League gathering to watch Wolves since 1955 - the opportunity to see him tangle with Ince. The former United captain was often booed, in contrast with the affectionate reception given to Denis Irwin, though the antipathy may have had much to do with his growing influence.
Wolves should have drawn level after 36 minutes after Camara took Blake's pass and ran at Tim Howard. The newcomer tried to angle the ball into the far corner of the net but pulled his shot inches wide.
In first-half stoppage time Kleberson all but gifted Wolves a goal by conceding possession. Blake found Camara, who this time stabbed his shot wide.
Wolves were gaining in confidence, and an Alex Rae drive that flashed past Howard's right-hand upright five minutes after the restart signalled their intention not to go quietly. Camara repeated the feat minutes later, forcing Howard to scramble across his goal, while Blake sent an overhead kick narrowly too high.
Camara was commendably unperturbed by his misses. From a rare Wolves corner kick, Blake headed down into the six-yard area, where he attempted a back-heeled strike. Howard was perfectly positioned to save, yet United, even with Giggs and Scholes joining the fray, lived dangerously to the end.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard 6; G Neville 6, Keane 7, O'Shea 7, P Neville 5; Solskjaer 6 (Bellion, 84), Kleberson 4 (Giggs 5, 67), Djemba-Djemba 7, Ronaldo 4 (Scholes 5, 67); Forlan 7, Van Nistelrooy 6. Substitutes not used: Fletcher, Carroll (gk).
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-5-1): Oakes 7; Irwin 6, Butler 5, Craddock 6, Naylor 7; Newton 7 (Silas 5, 74), Rae 6, Ince 7, Cameron 6, Camara 6; Blake 6. Substitutes not used: Iversen, Okoronkwo, Clingan, Murray (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Tring) 7.
* Paul Scholes will require a hernia operation "at some point", according to Sir Alex Ferguson, in a thinly-veiled attack at the England set-upReuse content