Premier League – United brush aside Wolves to go joint top
Chelsea, who play Portsmouth on Wednesday, remain top by virtue of their superior goal difference.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy decided to make 10 changes for the trip north, with goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann the only survivor from the weekend win at Tottenham. McCarthy clearly had one eye on the weekend’s fixture against Burnley – an eminently more winnable fixture than this one.
United were forced into fielding a weakened side themselves, Michael Carrick deputising at centre-back in the absence of the injured-again Wes Brown. Young full-back Ritchie De Laet was handed a rare start, but with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov leading the line against Wolves’ second string, the hosts started the match in confident mood.
Alex Ferguson’s side made all the early running and enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, although the visitors managed to hold firm for the best part of half an hour.
It was a moment of fortune that gifted United the chance to break the deadlock, referee Steve Bennett correctly pointing to the spot after Ronald Zubar‘s flailing arm inadvertently connected with a cross. Rooney stepped up and made no mistake with a thumping effort from 12 yards.
Rooney had earlier been frustrated in his efforts to open the scoring, and was denied an early chance by Marcus Hahnemann, the Wolves keeper saving with his legs at close range after just four minutes.
Rooney went close again on 25 minutes, controlling Patrice Evra‘s cross before turning and firing a shot that was deflected wide of the post, while Vidic had a golden opportunity to get on the scoresheet moments later. The Serbia international blazed over from Darron Gibson‘s neat lay-off – a typical defender’s finish.
Vidic was to make amends on 43 minutes as United took a 2-0 lead, his towering header proving too powerful for Hahnemann who got a big hand on it, just not big enough.
There was time for the lively Gabriel Obertan to bring Hahnemann into more action before the first-half was out, the Frenchman linking up well with compatriot Patrice Evra before firing on goal from a narrow angle.
But the opening period was not all United and there was the odd glimmer of hope for Wolves, most notably after 19 minutes when the ball fell kindly at George Friend’s feet. His finish will not have made his too many new mates in Wolverhampton though, and the ball sailed high over the bar.
United made short work of wrapping up all three points after the break, Valencia netting the goal of the game on 66 minutes with a fierce first-time strike into the roof of the net. It was a fine finish, but the goal was all about Berbatov’s artistry in setting up the chance, the Bulgarian hooking the ball over his shoulder to find the Ecuadorian’s run.
At 3-0 up the result was never in doubt – there may even be those who argue it never was, given McCarthy’s team selection – and the only question was how many United would score a the clock ran down.
A fourth nearly arrived in the 84th minute when Evra’s drive forced Hahnemann into another save, but United settled for three in the end and a result that made some inroads into Chelsea’s superior goal difference.
Mike Hytner / Eurosport