United saved by Park's perseverance

Manchester United 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1: McCarthy left sick to the stomach as Ferguson's depleted side scramble an injury-time winner
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The Independent Football

Park Ji-Sung was hoisted shoulder high by his grateful team-mates after his dramatic intervention in injury time saved the day for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson is unlikely to have celebrated his 24th anniversary as manager with quite as much gusto, for this was a prettymiserable display by his depleted side. Fans had already started to stream out at Old Trafford as another dispiriting draw loomed large, substitute Sylvan Ebanks-Blake having cancelled out Park's opener, which was itself scored in first-half stoppage time.

Wolves might have edged it when Steven Fletcher, another of the manager Mick McCarthy's attacking late substitutions, miscued a shot after being put through on goal. Instead, Park later drifted in from the right flank on a mazy run that bewitched a clutch of defenders before slotting the ball past an unsighted Marcus Hahnemann. It was a peach of a goal, but one which was hard for Wolves to stomach.

"Everyone knows we deserved something from the game," said a crestfallen McCarthy. "But we didn'tget it, we got zilch. It's a hard-nosed, horrible profession but we gave that away. We could have defended both goals better."

It might not get a mention in the South Korean press, but the story of the day had earlier threatened to be the reappearance of Owen Hargreaves, starting a game for the first time since September 2008. Sadly for Hargreaves, who has had career-threatening injuries to both knees, he lasted a mere four minutes before limping off with what looked like hamstring trouble after crossing the ball from the right of midfield. He walked off down the tunnel shaking his head, apparently unaware of the standing ovation afforded him by the majority of the home crowd. "It was a gamble," conceded Ferguson. "But he only lasted five minutes and that's a disaster."

Already missing Wayne Rooney, holed up in Oregon, United were also without a number of victims of the virus that has swept through their Carrington training ground, the most notable being Dimitar Berbatov. Ryan Giggs was resting his hamstring and Paul Scholes was left on the bench until the final 15 minutes.

Ferguson had recovered in time for his landmark day but the fare on offer was hardly a tonic. Park's first goal came at the end of a desperately poor first half in which neither side had mustered anything but the odd half chance. Ferguson gave another start to Gabriel Obertan after his goalscoring contribution against Bursaspor in Turkey during the week but, occupying the area behind lone striker, Javier Hernandez, the Frenchman was unable to assert his influence against a dogged Wolves side.

Bebe, having replaced Hargreaves, had a shot blocked by Richard Stearman but Ferguson must have been appalled by the lack of invention shown against a team in the bottom three. What little spark there was came from the visitors, for whom Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt provided the energy to put an experimental United midfield through its paces. The pair combined three minutes from the interval and would have given Wolves the lead had the waspish Irishman got on the end of Jarvis's menacing cross. Two minutes later United were in front. Darren Fletcher cut in from the left and found Park beautifully for the Korean to beat Hahnemann from close range.

McCarthy has been credited for covering a greater distance inside his technical area than any other Premier League manager but it was his mental, rather than physical, alertness that helped bring about the equaliser. McCarthy shuffled his pack with an attacking substitution 20 minutes into the second half, introducing Ebanks-Blake and Fletcher to the fray. Within a minute Wolves were level, Ebanks-Blake catching the usually excellent Nemanja Vidic flat-footed as he received a miscued shot from Nenad Milijas and scored through Edwin van der Sar's legs.

Park, though, had the final say. "We have done this so many times you simply have to admire the perseverance," said Ferguson. There was little else to admire.

Attendance: 75,285

Referee: Phil Dowd

Man of the match: Park

Match rating: 6/10