United lap up early Christmas present

Manchester United 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

For any team facing Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first game following a rare home defeat there is always the chance that English football's mightiest club will take a brutal revenge. For the fringe players and reserve team stalwarts in Wolves' B team last night the occasion must have been even more unnerving.

Mick McCarthy sent out a second string to face United – Wolves sent like lambs to the slaughter – and in doing so effectively conceded that this was a game he could not win and therefore would not even bother. Beaten by Aston Villa on Saturday, it was a welcome gimme for United. For the disgruntled Wolves fans who had travelled up north on a freezing evening, it was a capitulation before a ball had been kicked.

"Forty quid to watch the reserves" sang the Wolves fans as the replacements for the likes of Kevin Doyle and Jody Craddock laboured in embarrassing fashion to make an impression against the Premier League champions. McCarthy had his reasons for resting ten players from the team that beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, but by the end of the night even he looked like he was having second thoughts.

McCarthy is a likeable soul and his teams have always been noted for their effort and competitiveness which is why this was such a bizarre decision by an experienced old manager. His reason was that having beaten Spurs on Saturday he wanted to give his first team time to recover for Sunday's game against fellow relegation candidates Burnley. Unfortunately there is sometimes more than just fresh legs to consider.

The feelgood factor earned by Wolves' victory at White Hart Lane and the momentum that gave McCarthy's team has been lost. The supporters who made the trip home last night from one of the biggest games of the season returned home severely disgruntled. That is even before the more serious implications for the competitive ethic of the Premier League are examined.

In defence of his decision, McCarthy quoted a report from Milan that estimated their players' chances of injury increased dramatically if they played two games in quick succession. Unfortunately for McCarthy, Milan traditionally have rather better second string players in their squad than the likes of George Friend and Stefan Maierhofer, both making their Wolves league debuts last night.

For United it did not matter this time that they had to play Michael Carrick at centre-back again and give Ritchie De Laet his first league start at right-back. When the small matter of beating Wolves had been attended to, the more pressing concern was Nemanja Vidic's calf injury which is another major blow for a team who are woefully short of fit defenders ahead of Saturday's game away at Fulham.

Vidic scored United's second after Wayne Rooney had scored from the penalty spot, his 12th in the league this season. Antonio Valencia scored the best of the lot with a volley in the second half but given the standard of the opposition it was still hard work. United are level on points with leaders Chelsea, who play Portsmouth at home tonight, but second on goal difference. They could have done with a few more goals last night.

The breakthrough arrived for United when Ronald Zubar, a summer signing from Marseilles, jumped to challenge for Darron Gibson's corner and ended up slapping the ball away. Rooney hit the penalty hard to Marcus Hahnemann's right and United never looked back.

The second goal was ironically the fault of the only Wolves player on the pitch who had started the game against Tottenham on Saturday. Vidic met Gibson's corner powerfully but his header was close enough to Hahnemann for the goalkeeper to stop it. Instead the American got only a weak hand to it and the ball rolled in.

Valencia scored United's third on 65 minutes: a flick from Paul Scholes found Dimitar Berbatov on the right and he hooked the ball across into the path of Valencia to volley past Hahnemann. It had become such a stroll for United that Ferguson started resting players too, bringing off Rooney and Vidic.

By the end of the match, even more fans had left Old Trafford than usually do by the final whistle. The game had been rendered a non-event long before then by McCarthy's decision to play a bunch of unknowns in one of his club's marquee fixtures. Interest was waning fast and if this practice of tossing away games continues, the Premier League can expect a lot more empty seats.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; De Laet, Vidic (Fletcher, 60), Carrick, Evra; Valencia, Gibson, Scholes, Obertan (Welbeck, 69); Rooney (Owen, 75), Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Anderson Park, F Da Silva.

Wolverhampton Wanderers Hahnemann; Zubar, Mancienne, Elokobi, Hill; Foley; Halford (Jones, 75), Surman, Castillo, Friend (Jarvis, 60); Maierhofer (Iwelumo, 54). Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Henry, Ebanks-Blake, Berra.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears