Sport Soccer

Monday 19 February 2018

Park double ensures off-colour United keep Wolves from door

Man Utd 2 Wolves 1

Manchester United's Ji-Sung Park squeezes the ball through a packed defence for a dramatic injury time winner that denied Wolves a share of the spoils at Old Trafford
Manchester United's Ji-Sung Park squeezes the ball through a packed defence for a dramatic injury time winner that denied Wolves a share of the spoils at Old Trafford

There is something about Old Trafford, something about the man who sits, ominously chewing, in that red-brick dug-out, which freights stoppage time with menace.

Park Ji-Sung had already scored just before half-time against a superior Wolves team when, over two minutes after the 90, he cut in from the right and slipped a left-footed shot in at the near post. It is hard to be surprised, so often do Ferguson's teams contrive these late victories.

The statistics are imposing. This was United's sixth straight win, they are unbeaten this season and they have not lost in the league since being beaten by Everton in February. Yet Ferguson will be under no illusions about the quality of his team's performance yesterday -- this was as poor as United have played at Old Trafford for some time and the victory was down to grim persistence. Ferguson will be seeking fairly substantial improvement in the Manchester derby on Wednesday.

It is normally Mick McCarthy who fields weakened teams at Old Trafford, but this time it was Ferguson sending out only half a team. With Wayne Rooney in Oregon isolation working on his ankle, Ryan Giggs and Nani not quite fit and Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick succumbing to the virus that has swept Carrington this week, Darren Fletcher was the only member of the front six who would normally start in Ferguson's strongest XI.

"Some players played with touches of flu, others with diarrhoea, things like that," said Ferguson, himself suffering with the bug. "Trying to get continuity of performance was very difficult. This morning we had to do checks on Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic -- they were all feeling under the weather."

The big surprise was the inclusion of Owen Hargreaves for his first start since Sept 2008. He lasted just short of five minutes before damaging his left hamstring. "I took a gamble because he's been training really well and I thought he could help give us a compact midfield," Ferguson said. "It only lasted a couple of minutes. It was a disaster."

United could not generate any rhythm and it was Wolves who looked coherent and composed. Nenad Milijas had a shot deflected behind by Vidic while Stephen Hunt was very close to turning in Matt Jarvis's in-swinging cross.

Then, with Wolves growing in confidence, Park struck. Fletcher passed inside from the left and Karl Henry had not tracked Park's run to the edge of the box -- to compound his error he deflected the Korean's shot into the net.

That goal sucked the energy out of Wolves for the second half and, with the game drifting, McCarthy seized the opportunity to be bold. He withdrew Hunt and David Edwards and sent on two strikers, Steven Fletcher and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Within a couple of minutes Wolves were level.

Milijas was at the heart of it. He spread the ball out right to Kevin Doyle, then moved the return pass out to the left for Jarvis. The Wolves winger pushed it back inside for Milijas, whose mishit shot went straight to the feet of Ebanks-Blake, who teed himself up and shot between Edwin van der Sar's legs.

Fletcher had a terrific chance to put Wolves ahead, swiping wildly at Michael Mancienne's knockdown when he had more time and space than he realised. From then on, Wolves dropped deeper and deeper as they sought to hold on to the point.

Two and a half minutes into stoppage time, Park struck the winner. It was brutal on Wolves. The visiting defenders stood off him as he cut into the box from the right and Marcus Hahnemann was partially unsighted as the left-foot shot beat him at the near post. "We gave it away," said McCarthy, barely suppressing his anger. "I'm not going to wax lyrical about what was a very good performance because we have go nothing to show for it."


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