Manchester United scored an easy victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers last night but controversy surrounded Mick McCarthy’s decision to field a second-string side against the champions. With empty Old Trafford seats and a downbeat atmosphere, United ran out comfortable winners in what was little more than a training match.
Wolves manager McCarthy made no less than 10 changes from the side that had so impressively beaten Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. It was an approach, said McCarthy, born of necessity such was the effort deployed by the Midlands’ side in that victory.
On the pitch United rarely moved out of second gear, even though Sir Alex Ferguson had restored the striking partnership of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. With Wes Brown ruled out with a hamstring injury Ferguson handed full Premier League debuts to Ritchie de Laet and Gabriel Obertan.
Predictably United took the game to Wolves from the off with Rooney forcing ‘keeper Hannemann – the only visitor to survice McCarty’s cull – into two smart saves within the opening quarter hour. Wolves’ Stefan Maierhofer then almost turned Darron Gibson’s cross over his own line, before Rooney and then Vidic missed openings for the home side.
Even so the visitor’s inexperienced defence held out for half an hour before gifting United the opening goal. Almost inexplicably Ronald Zubar’s hand met Gibson’s cross from the right and Rooney lashed home the resulting penalty. It was the United number 10’s 13th strike of a productive season.
While complacency and a generally flat atmosphere were the biggest threat, United ruled the point moot shortly after the interval when Vidic met Gibson’s corner to head home his first of the season. Few teams find a route back from two down at Old Trafford let alone Wolves Reserves.
And United completed a low-key night’s work when Antonio Valencia met Berbatov’s superb over-head flick on the half volley to strike home the third. It was a wonderfully worked goal that deserved a more prominent night than this.
“I only decided to change the team after Saturday’s result,” McCarthy said after the match.
“All the player effort-ratings that our fitness coach works out were 9.5s or 10. We need to play at that level to get results against top teams and we can’t do it on a Saturday and then also on a Tuesday.
“What you saw tonight was the best team we had available. I’ve got 21 players to choose from, that was my first team.”
But the former Republic of Ireland manager’s decision made a mockery of the match and, indeed, the Premier League as a whole. Without competition, there’s little point. Not that Ferguson is one to complain about three easy points that have taken United level with Chelsea at the top of the table.
“Wolves made it very difficult for us. I wasn’t over-surprised at the changes they made; they’ve got a massive game against Burnley coming up [on Sunday],” the United manager said somewhat diplomatically.
“We’re lacking a bit of continuity with all the changes we are having to make. Wolves did well to stop us playing.”
Ferguson will be more concerned with an injury crisis that sees no sign of abating. In addition to Brown’s hamstring, Nemanja Vidic left the field with a calf strain on the hour. United faces a tough fixture away at Fulham on Saturday and once again the Scot will go into the match without four central defenders.