By Robert Morris
Having lifted the Carling Cup last season, Manchester United continued their defence of the trophy with a fourth round home tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers. As expected, Sir Alex Ferguson named an entirely different starting eleven to the team that snatched a late win against Stoke on Sunday. Portuguese striker Tiago Bebe was handed his first start for United, whilst Chris Smalling, Fabio, Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan and Federico Macheda were also included. Similarly, expecting a tough test at Old Trafford, Mick McCarthy rested a large portion of his Wolves team that are currently struggling, joint bottom of the Premier League. An upset seemed rather unlikely, considering Wolves had not grabbed a win at Old Trafford for over 30 years.
The Theatre of Dreams was sparsely populated with numerous empty seats this evening and the first-half performance from both sides did little to excite a half-empty stadium. A stop-start affair meant neither United nor Wolves truly created any goal scoring opportunities .The grim prospect of extra-time and penalties were on the agenda at half-time. Without doubt both managers would have expressed their disappointment with their teams’ performance.
The second-half started with a higher tempo and the first chance of the match soon fell to United. Michael Carrick feinted a shot inside the box before slotting in Ji Sung Park, however, the Korean could only fire his shot straight at the on-rushing keeper. Minutes later, the Red Devils took the lead in controversial fashion. Bebe cut in from the right flank, unleashing a shot which took a wicked deflection of Michael Mancienne that looped up and under the bar. Despite Kevin Foley heading the effort clear, the flagging linesman insisted the ball had crossed the line, giving United a 1-0 lead.
If there was any debate in the decision justice was served shortly afterwards, as on 58th minute George Elokobi netted an equaliser. A corner ball found the defender unmarked inside the box and the Cameroonian leapt into the air to power a header past Ben Amos in the United goal.
The equaliser gave Wolves the confidence to seek a second and they had two great chances, both of which fell to Stephen Hunt who failed to capitalise. Minutes later, against the run of play, the Reds gained the lead. Macheda slid in Park from the right to comfortably slot home and go 2-1 up.
On the 75th minute, the pendulum swung once more. A clever backheel from Steven Fletcher found Foley, who span a flat footed Johnny Evans and slotted home a low finish past Ben Amos. The Irish centre-half has really struggled for form this season.
The game was on a knife-edge and with ten minutes remaining, Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to win the match by sending on the man of the hour Javier Hernandez. In the 90th minute the substitution proved dividends, when the baby-faced assassin sprinted through the centre of the pitch, before jinking to his left and firing in another late, late winner.
In what was a truly awful first-half, the game came alive in the second. A terrific result for United, who move onto the quarter-finals in the Carling Cup.