Sport – Football;United too strong for weakened Wolves
MANCHESTER: Sir Alex Ferguson’s 900th league game as Manchester United manager ended the same way as so many of those that had gone before, in Day in Pics: December 15
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victory, this one a routine 3-0 affair over Wolves.
But it was the selection policy of Wolves manager Mick McCarthy that will provide the lasting memory from Tuesday’s encounter at Old Trafford.
McCarthy changed all ten outfield players from his team which had won so impressively at Tottenham on Saturday, the prospect of Sunday’s league game against fellow relegation candidates Burnley clearly prompting him into resting all but American keeper Marcus Hahnemann.
First half goals from Wayne Rooney, his 13th of the season via a penalty, and United captain Nemanja Vidic, ensured that McCarthy was on the receiving end of a wholly predictable outcome as United drew level on points with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
Antonio Valencia’s well-struck third after the interval merely added to the misery of the visiting supporters, who saw their team drop into the bottom three on the back of this result.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not the League decides to take punitive action for Wolves’ patent failure to field their strongest line-up at Old Trafford.
Premier League regulations state, in Section E, paragraph 20: “In every League match, each participating club shall field a full strength team.”
The visiting fans also added their collective voice to the debate early in the second half chanting “We want our money back” and “Where is our first team?” as their side faced a period of damage limitation.
Naturally, squad rotation has become the norm among the league’s elite in recent seasons and Ferguson himself was widely criticised at the end of last term for selecting a number of reserve players at Hull when the Yorkshire club was embroiled in a relegation contest.
However, given the relative merits of the players in question, the League may feel compelled to act in this instance.
In the circumstances, Wolves needed a strong start to try and unnerve a United side shaken by the home weekend defeat by Aston Villa.
Instead, United charged at them menacingly when, after just three minutes, Rooney was clean though after a Darron Gibson shot was deflected into his path only for lone survivor Hahnemann to race out and block.
Soon after, a Gibson cross flew off Stefan Maierhofer, who knew little about it as the ball flew over his head and behind for corner.
That set-piece resulted in a cross from Patrice Evra and Rooney stabbing at a shot, from only six yards, which the American keeper did well to block.
The opening goal was coming, and duly arrived, with Rooney’s 30th minute penalty settling any lingering United nerves.
It came from as Gibson corner and a needless handball from Ronald Zubar who flailed at the ball in a crowd of players. That hardly mattered to Rooney who calmly strode up and blasted home.
The contest was over before the interval when Gibson’s 43rd minute right-wing corner was placed neatly onto the head of Vidic, who powered the ball past a woeful attempted save by Hahneman.
Gabriel Obertan came close either side of the interval and United’s target practice produced another goal after 65 minutes.
Paul Scholes chipped a well-weighted ball into the Wolves penalty area for the fast-arriving Valencia who struck an unstoppable shot past the stationary Hahnemann. Even had the American decided to move, it is doubtful he could have done anything about the attempt.
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