Manchester United 2-1 Wolves: Daily Mirror match report
Published 22:20 07/11/10 By David McDonnell
Squaky bum time arrived earlier than expected for Manchester United this season.
The phrase, coined by Sir Alex Ferguson to describe the intense pressure of the title race run-in, was never more apt than at Old Trafford on Saturday.
A bout of diarrhoea having decimated his squad and left him largely reliant on rookies, United looked to have fallen further behind in their pursuit of leaders Chelsea until Ji-Sung Park’s 93rd-minute winner.
And the dramatic late strike was a timely warning to Manchester City, United’s next opponents in Wednesday’s potentially epic derby showdown, of the enduring fighting spirit of their local rivals
Not that City need reminding of United’s capacity to plunder late strikes, with Fergie’s men having won the last two league clashes with last-minute winners, and having produced another last-gasp strike to settle a two-leg Carling Cup tie.
On this occasion, the outcome was a sickener for Wolves, who deserved a point for their spirit and endeavour against a United side that played wretchedly but somehow managed to conjure a victory.
It is a cliche, but a truism nonethless, that the mark of a great side is the ability to win when playing poorly. And on his 24th anniversary in charge of United, Fergie’s players showed they remain the masters of that maxim.
United are now unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions, stretching back to April 3, and stayed in the title hunt despite the absence of star names like Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Nani and Ryan Giggs.
“We’ve done this so many times,” said Fergie. “It’s a measure of our perseverance. It’s that never-say-die spirit.
“It was a long shot because we made so many changes with so many players playing with a touch of the flu, diarrhoea and things like that, so we did really well to get a result.
“In the morning we had to do checks on Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic. They all felt under the weather and I took a gamble with Owen Hargreaves.
“He’s been training really well and we thought by picking him we would have a compact midfield with experience, but he only lasted a few minutes. It was a disaster - unbelievable.”
Hargreaves, making his first start since September 2008 following surgery on both kness, pulled up inside five minutes with a hamstring strain and was to play no further part.
His inclusion in the United starting line-up was nothing short of astonishing, given a week earlier Fergie had said he was not optimistic at the midfielder’s prognosis following another injury setback.
With no match practice in the reserves, Hargreaves starting was an unnecessary gamble that backfired in cruel fashion, his replacement Bebe providing more incredulity with a performance nothing short of comical.
An unknown plucked from the obscurity of the Portuguese league, Fergie broke the habit of a lifetime by signing Bebe - for around £7million - without having first seen the player in action, reliant on the word of his European scouts.
When you consider Tottenham snapped up Rafael van der Vaart for £8m from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day, the deal to bring Bebe to United looks increasingly like a ludicrously bad piece of business.
“Bebe is still learning,” said Fergie. “He’s got potential but he’s still learning. We maybe just lacked the quality of Berbatov, Nani or Giggs to open Wolves up.
“We were playing without a lot of decent players and they can make the difference at that late stage of the game.”
Quite why it took Fergie until the 75th minute to replace Bebe, after a succession of misplaced passes, crosses and wayward shots hoofed into the stands, only the United boss knows.
But the 21-year-old, whose raw talent will need nurturing and developing before he can play consistently at this level, was eventually put out of his misery and United stepped up a gear in the finale.
Park had put United ahead right on half-time, steering the ball in from a Darren Fletcher pass, only for former Old Trafford striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to draw Wolves level in the 66th minute.
But the introduction of Scholes with 15 minutes left gave greater urgency to United’s play, the former England midfielder stretching Mick McCarthy’s side with his unique vision and long-range distribution.
With 93 minutes on the clock and Old Trafford emptying, Park collected the ball on the right before cutting inside and wrong-footing Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann by drilling the ball inside his near post.
“You can’t compare this feeling to anything else,” said Park. “The feeling of scoring the winning goal in the last minute with the crowd all jumping up and shouting. It’s an unbelievable experience.”
The winner was the perfect boost for United ahead of the derby showdown with at Eastlands, where the “noisy neighbours” as Fergie dubbed them, will be living in fear of another late, late show from their local enemies.