Thursday 21 September 2017

Doyle brings United's unbeaten run to an end

Wolves 2 Man utd 1

By common consent, Manchester United have not played particularly well all season, but not even their sternest critics expected their unbeaten record to end like this.

Nani got them off to a flyer, with a goal in the third minute, but then Wolves, the denizens from the bottom of the table, hit back with unquenchable spirit to transform a predictable defeat into a memorable victory, scoring twice before half-time.

United lost Rio Ferdinand with a calf injury sustained during the warm-up and his understudy, Johnny Evans, endured an appearance he will want to forget, but one player does not make a team and would-be champions should be able to rise above such things.

The result, well merited, is a huge lift for Wolves in their relegation fight. At the other end of the table, it provides encouragement for Arsenal, Chelsea and even Manchester City, with the derby coming up at Old Trafford next weekend.

Wolves needed all the encouragement they could get. An increasingly precarious position at the foot of the table was hardly helped when one of their rivals in the scrap for survival, Wigan, beat Blackburn 4-3 earlier in the afternoon.

Mick McCarthy and his team were soon in the mire when Darren Fletcher's long ball into the inside-right channel found Nani, whose sleight of foot bemused two defenders, creating the space that enabled him to fire in a shot which flew in past Wayne Hennessey at his near post. The Portuguese winger's eighth goal in 21 league appearances this season was a dreadful one from the defensive viewpoint, George Elokobi and Richard Stearman apparently frozen with fright by the incursion, and Hennessey beaten where no 'keeper should be.

To the delight of the old gold brigade, Elokobi was quick to make amends. The match was still only 10 minutes old when a corner taken short on the left saw Matt Jarvis deliver a well-directed cross which the left-back from Cameroon headed powerfully into Edwin van der Sar's left-hand corner from a central position eight yards out. It was the big defender's first goal of the season. United were nonplussed, Wolves and the home crowd lifted. The league leaders were still the better team, which was scarcely a surprise, but their less celebrated opponents were doing better than might have been expected by maintaining a high tempo, with Nenad Milijas and Jamie O'Hara impressive in midfield and Jarvis a threat on the right.

Nani was close to restoring United's lead after 28 minutes, with a free-kick from 20 yards which beat the wall, but also the crossbar by a matter of inches. Wolves, though, were no less menacing when Van der Sar was happy to block O'Hara's shot from near the byline on the right with an outstretched foot. Milijas, too, caused the veteran goalkeeper momentary concern with a free-kick which took a wild deflection off the defensive wall and ran past his left-hand post with the Dutchman going to his right.

In such circumstances, it was no more than Wolves deserved when they went in front after 39 minutes, Kevin Doyle heading home an inswinging free-kick from the right delivered left-footed by Milijas. The goal, scored from close range, pointed up the absence of Ferdinand, whose face was concern personified.

At half-time Elokobi claimed his had been the final touch for Wolves' second goal, but Doyle, as a striker, was not about to give up only his third in 20 Premier League games. What was beyond doubt was that Evans was having a poor game and that his partner, Vidic, was suffering as a result of the uncertainty alongside him. Ferdinand's replacement was himself replaced, by Chris Smalling, after 65 minutes.

Ferguson sent on Paul Scholes in place of Michael Carrick for the second half, hoping to invigorate a midfield that was being outfought and in need of a spark.

O'Hara, after an excellent first start on loan from Spurs, was withdrawn after an hour.

Increasingly concerned by the prospect of that unbeaten record slipping away, Ferguson introduced his "supersub", Javier Hernandez, in place of Dimitar Berbatov as United hit the gas pedal hard in search of a point, but not even five minutes of added time could provide the breakthrough.

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