Paul Scholes reached a century of Premier League goals and fired United to the top of the table as the Reds battled to a 1-0 victory over Wolves at Molineux.
Shorn of the services of the injured Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex’s men struggled to hit top gear against a Wolves side fighting for their top flight status. But United have a fourth consecutive title to play for and the Reds knew a victory was a must and Scholes ensured United left with exactly that when he slotted home with 18 minutes remaining on the clock.
United paid the price for Rooney’s midweek exertions for England as the striker was forced to sit out the visit to Molineux and rest his injured knee. The Reds were, however, boosted by the return from suspension of Nani and from injury of Rio Ferdinand who partnered Nemanja Vidic for the first time since October. Dimitar Berbatov took up the lone-striking role with Nani and Antonio Valencia on hand to offer support down the wings. Wolves, meanwhile, who were fined £25,000 for fielding a weakened side at Old Trafford in December, kept an unchanged side for the fourth straight match.
The game got off to a scrappy start with Wolves focused on keeping things tight and United taking time to adjust to life without their main front man. Seven minutes after Valencia had fired a powerful drive just wide of the near post, the Reds had a decent shout for a spot-kick on 15 minutes, but referee Peter Walton saw nothing wrong with Karl Henry holding back Darron Gibson as he attempted to make the most of Nani’s blocked free-kick which had dropped into his path. In the end, the Irish midfielder prodded the ball wide under pressure from Henry.
Gibson had another sight of goal soon after being picked out by Berbatov’s right-wing cross following a good break forward. But his volleyed effort was into the ground which took the sting out of it and allowed Marcus Hahnemann to claim easily.
Rooney’s energy and endeavour were conspicuous by their absence as United struggled to find their rhythm throughout the opening period. There were, however, spurts of good play and Sir Alex’s men did find themselves in decent positions at times, but the final ball was always lacking. Not long after Michael Carrick had fired a weak shot at Hahnemann from the edge of the area after being well found by Patrice Evra, Valencia’s low driven cross was just too far ahead of Nani, while Gibson was unable to do anything with it at the far post.
Having worked hard to made things difficult for United, Wolves went close to taking the lead in quick succession thanks to some impressive wing play from Matt Jarvis. On 32 minutes he found former Red David Jones just inside the box. He took aim at van der Sar, but Carrick’s brilliant last-ditch tackle took the power out of the shot ensuring an easy catch for the Dutchman. Four minutes later the veteran goalkeeper breathed a huge sigh of relief when the unmarked Stephen Ward rose to meet Jarvis’ left-wing cross, but he headed straight at van der Sar from six yards out as the goal lay gaping.
After a somewhat lacklustre first period, the Reds, who introduced Gary Neville for the injured Wes Brown, set about the task in hand with renewed vigour and quality after the restart. Just two minutes in, Berbatov turned and played an inch-perfect pass into Valencia who returned the favour as the Bulgarian arrived in the area, but his shot was well blocked. Five minutes later United attacked from the other wing with Gibson cleverly finding Evra as he burst into the box, but Kevin Foley got back to deflect the ball out for a corner.
Proceedings began to hot up midway through the second half with Peter Walton dishing out three yellow cards – one for United and two for Wolves – in the space of five minutes. During the same period, Mame Biram Diuof entered the fray in place of Gibson as Sir Alex looked to add some much-needed energy to United’s attack.
And it wasn’t long before United were reaping the benefits of having an extra outlet in attack, but rather than the new kid on the new block it was United’s wily old master, Paul Scholes, who made the vital breakthrough on 72 minutes.
Valencia slipped a pass into Nani who had temporarily swapped sides and his low cross was only half-cleared by Jody Craddock allowing Scholes to pick up possession inside the area. He took one touch before firing a low drive past Hahnemann for his 100th Premier League goal. It was Scholes at his very best – bursting into the box and keeping his cool to find the finish.
Diouf had the chance to put the game beyond the home side six minutes later, but he misjudged Neville’s lovely curling cross despite being unmarked and within six yards of goal and headed well over. He had another chance to make his mark on 83 minutes when Valencia’s cross landed at his feet, but having expected the defender in front of him to clear his lines Diouf was unable to make the most of the opportunity.
As the game entered four minutes of injury-time, Wolves piled forward and were hugely unlucky not to snatch a point - only Sam Vokes will know how he failed to hit target after Ronald Zubar’s shot had bobbled into his path right in front of goal and under no pressure.
United fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh relief as the Reds held out for what could turn out to be a vital victory.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Posted by zephyr at 2:49 PM
Wolverhampton W. [0 - 1] Manchester United
73' [0 - 1] P. Scholes
73' [0 - 1] P. Scholes