Fittingly, a goal in second-half stoppage-time gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton on Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24th anniversary as manager.
Ji-Sung Park scored both of his goals in stoppage-time in each halves, which gave a virus-struck United team all three points against a very well-disciplined Wolverhampton team in the Barclays Premier League.
Liverpool fan, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, looked to have come back to haunt his old club with an equalizer in the second-half only for the heroics of Park to spoil it.
A virus swept through the United squad, and really depleted Ferguson’s options ahead of the match, so the Gaffer was forced to make some additions to his starting XI that he normally would not make.
One of the rarest sightings – Owen Hargreaves starting for United – has happened for the first time since September 21, 2008 against Chelsea, and it comes as a pleasant and welcomed surprise for the supporters.
With a fine performance, and a goal to his name against Bursaspor in the UEFA Champions League, Ferguson handed Gabriel Obertan his first Premier League start of the season and was partnered with Chicharito.
On the other hand, Mick McCarthy made no changes to his team, which did United a favor and defeated a slumping Manchester City 2-1 in their last match.
United lined-up in a traditional 4-4-2 against a very negative 4-5-1 for Wolverhampton, but first chance when a weak clearance fell to Karl Henry and the midfielder had a pop at an unguarded net, but the ‘keeper got back in time to make the save.
Hargreaves first taste of action came to a premature end as he pulled up with a hamstring injury, which forced Ferguson to go to his bench just five minutes into the match.
To add some comedy to a very depressing situation, young Fabio had to translate the instructions from the coaching staff to Hargreaves’ replacement, Bébé.
The substitution almost paid immediate dividends for United as Bébé stole the ball off of Stephen Ward’s foot after an arrant pass from Ji-Sung Park, but the young Portuguese’s shot was blocked well and eventually claimed by Marcus Hahnemann.
The match became very flat, and both teams lacked the imagination to create any real chances for the first 23 minutes in the match, but a mistake by Ward allowed United to break, but Obertan’s adventurous effort well harmlessly wide of the the Wolves’ far post.
Then it was heart-in-mouth defending from United and Wolves had two decent chances to break the deadlock.
First, Wes Brown chopped down Kevin Doyle, and Matt Jarvis’ free-kick was initially cleared by Nemanja Vidic, but it fell Henry who chipped the ball into Nenad Milijas, but his audacious flick went well wide of the goal
Then, Vidic stuck a leg out to block Milijas’ drive, and with van der Sar already committed diving to his left, the ball ricocheted inches wide of the opposite post and out for a Wolverhampton corner.
United finally got forward, and it took a very good block by Hahnemann to deny Park’s cross-shot from getting into a very dangerous area.
The depletion of United’s options was clearly evident when Patrice was forced to provide the service and take a free-kick that Bébé did well to earn in a very advanced position.
The game started opening up a bit, but it was the visitors who had the best chances to get in front.
With England boss, Fabio Capello, watching Jarvis, who could be on the verge of an international call-up, supplied a deep and very dangerous cross, which could have very easily led to the first goal had Stephen Hunt made an attempt to latch onto it.
Football continued to prove that is a very cruel game if a team does not make the most of their chances, because United, undeservedly, took the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Throughout the first-half, the passing was awful to say the least, but Darren Fletcher’s defense-splitting, precise pass found an unmarked Park, and the South Korean made the most of the chance as he slotted the ball underneath an onrushing Hahnemann.
As the second-half got underway, neither manager decided to make any changes to their teams, however, Ferguson made an adjustment by mimicking Wolves’ 4-5-1 formation shifting Obertan to play down the left wing.
The moved also allowed Park to operate into his favored, centralized role in behind Hernandez, and his creativity sprung the first chance of the second-half, but Bébé’s poor cross safely go over the Wolverhampton bar.
Chicharito did well to evade his marker, but from a good position, and with Fletcher making a run through the middle, the young Mexican decided to have a pop at goal, but his effort ended up closer to the corner flag than the goal.
Evra got into another advanced position and then patiently picked out Bébé, and the youngster’s shot went straight at Hahnemann, however, the American goalkeeper spilled it into a very dangerous area, but he eventually collected with John O’Shea lurking.
With just under a half-hour to play, McCarthy decide to make two positive changes bringing on both Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Steven Fletcher for Hunt and David Edwards, respectively, and those changes made the Wolves manager look like a genius as United were cut wide open on a counter attack.
Milijas collected a ball from Jarvis and drove in a low, left-footed shot directly at Ebanks-Blake, and the Wolves sub created some space against Vidic and scored from close-range against his former club.
The goal definitely opened up the game and both teams created chances, but the best one fell to United.
Their chance when Obertan picked Hernandez, but his goal-bound effort was pushed away by the Wolverhampton goalkeeper.
Like McCarthy, Ferguson made two changes of his own in hopes of changing the bringing on both Paul Scholes for John O’Shea, and Federico Macheda for first-half substitute, Bébé.
The United changes combined well as Scholes helped on United corner, but Kiko could not get the telling touch that was needed, and Hahnemann collected.
McCarthy made his final change bring on defender Michael Mancienne, who is on loan from Chelsea, for Milijas to try to see out the draw.
Despite the negative change, it was Wolves who had the best chance to break the tie, but an unmarked Steven Fletcher blasted over the bar from inside of the United area.
The first booking of the match came after Scholes sent a long, searching ball to Chicharito and the young forward was cautioned for simulation as he tried to win United a penalty.
The yellow card was United’s first in 285 minutes – Darron Gibson’s caution in the 67th minute against Wolves in the Carling Cup was the last booking, which shows complete discipline for Ferguson’s players.
With no real surprise, McCarthy instructed his 11 players to get behind the ball, and force United to break them down, which never happened.
Deep into second-half stoppage-time, Park cut inside Kevin Foley and then smashed the ball into the near post with his left foot to erupt the stunned Old Trafford crowd.
Manchester United will see this as two points gained against Wolverhampton in their attempts to get the Barclays Premier League title back to Old Trafford.
With all of his teammates putting in very subdue performances, Park took the game on his shoulders and was deserving of both his goals, and they could very well have saved United’s season as well.
E. van der Sar – 5; W. Brown – 6, N. Vidic – 6, R. Ferdinand – 6, P. Evra – 7; J. S. Park – 8, J. O’Shea – 5 (P. Scholes – 6), D. Fletcher – 6, O. Hargreaves – X (Bébé – 5, F. Macheda – 5); G. Obertan – 5, J. Hernandez – 6
J. S. Park (45′), (90′)
Shots (On Target): 17 (5)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 7 (11)
Bookings: J. Hernandez