Wolves ambush gives Ferguson food for thought
Man United 1
Published 07/02/2011 | 05:00
It is in the nature of things that we look for trends in unusual outcomes.
What does it mean? Some will see Manchester United's surrender of their unbeaten record as evidence of underlying weakness; this was a result that had been coming. United have been faking it at the top, benefiting from the flaws in teams around them, evidenced by Arsenal's cartoon collapse in the second half at Newcastle.
For Wolves, optimists imagine this riotous victory presages a run that will take them clear of the dead zone into Premier League nirvana.
There was something of this idea in the comfort blanket for which Alex Ferguson reached: "I said before the game, I do think Wolves are in a false position."
There is another way to view this match and that is to eulogise it for what it was: a classic tear-up that bore the timeless hallmarks associated with a top versus bottom clash deep in the English winter. Crash, bang, wallop.
No need to look beyond that for meaning.
United descended on Molineux with the hauteur of invading Romans seeking to crush and collect.
They ran into hostile hosts ready to fight. The result was an ambush.
The early goal from Nani meant nothing. Wolves smashed the conceit out of United. The crowd blew the lid off the stands when first George Elokobi and then Kevin Doyle set the night on fire with their set-piece plunder.
Circumstances conspired against United. Rio Ferdinand fell off the fitness tightrope he constantly walks, injuring his calf in the warm-up.
The pitch evoked the days when Billy Wright ran out with a laced ball under his arm.
It was a dog's dinner, which combined with a brutish wind to take the pace off the ball and negate any advantage United may have had in movement and technique.
Then there was Wayne Rooney playing a simultaneous fixture, him against the world.
Ferguson was right to bring on Javier Hernandez but perhaps wrong to take off Dimitar Berbatov. This was a night when Rooney would have picked a fight with his shadow.
Devastating when his head is on the right way, Rooney self-destructs when the rage is upon him.
To his credit, Rooney was the last off the pitch for United, having sought the hand of every Wolves player, the management team and the match officials.
To a man, United took defeat on the chin. Fergie offered his hand and a smile to Mick McCarthy. You cannot win them all.
"I went in to see him, had a glass with him," McCarthy said. "He said I was a lucky so and so. I waited years to be called a lucky so and so by Alex. He said it tongue in cheek, with a smile on his face.
"His reaction was brilliant. He is the best manager I have seen in my lifetime. It is great to pit my wits against him, even nicer to take points off his team and lovely when he can appreciate what it means.
"It shows good grace. He's a terrific fella."
The result validates the competition. If winning the Premier League were easy, the title would not be worth having. It is precisely days like these that validate English football, a battle ground of tumult and tears, where elites come a cropper and yeomen have their day.
Wolves predated United as the big dogs of English football.
The statue of England icon Wright at the gates of this fine, old ground is a tribute to a time when the Wolves shirt set the gold standard. Bronze Billy looked an inch taller on Saturday night.
Ferguson must regroup during international week then go again on what promises to be another seismic Saturday against Manchester City.
The arrival of the world's wealthiest club to Old Trafford has a way of releasing the Govan in Ferguson.
"It is a massive game," he said. "Unfortunately, we have internationals in midweek. That is crazy but we have to get on with it.
"We have plenty of players who are not involved in international games and they will all play next week. We have to give consideration to the ones who are travelling, have to play and come back for the City game."
United were not far short here. Had the pitch been flat and the ball allowed to kiss the surface as it does at Old Trafford, Wolves would have been in a different game but they go to Arsenal next weekend full value for the win.
United head into derby week reminded that this championship is to be won not assumed. (©Daily Telegraph, London)