United fail to keep Wolves from door

United fail to keep Wolves from door
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Diogo Jota (right) scores his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton. Credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

It is part of Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s much-vaunted “DNA” for the club to do everything with a healthy pinch of drama and, based on the way his 10 men toiled in defeat at Molineux last night, the chase for the Champions League this season will be no different.

Scott McTominay’s first goal for the club had been cancelled out by Diogo Jota only for United to be forced to play the last half-hour shorthanded following Ashley Young’s dismissal.

Booked for a foul on Diogo Jota five minutes earlier, Young saw a second yellow for an even worse challenge on the same Wolves player and United were about to suffer a worse fate.

After 77 minutes, Joao Moutinho’s cross was helped on by Raul Jimenez before Chris Smalling and David de Gea became hopelessly tangled and the ball trickled over the line via the United defender.

But the size of the task facing Solskjaer this season, let alone going forward as he tries to return United to title-chasing status had been neatly summed up in the opening half-hour.

United fail to keep Wolves from door

Irresistible for 25 minutes, United might have been three-up, had to settle for one, and then threatened to fold under the first bit of serious pressure they were placed under in the entire game.

Solskjaer had opted to start with three at the back for the first time in his United reign, although it is a tactic he has employed during a number of games. But the decision was exposed from Wolves’ first serious attack after 24 minutes when Ruben Vinagre cut in from the left, the ball ricocheted off Diogo Dalot’s attempted tackle and Willy Boly slipped the ball through for Jimenez to flash an attempt wide.

It was a poor miss but United were about to out-do Wolves in the carelessness category just seconds later when de Gea’s poor kick played Fred into trouble and the midfielder produced an even worse touch to be dispossessed by Moutinho.

That freed Jimenez who swiftly played in Jota who, just as efficiently, buried his finish past the embarrassed de Gea for an emphatic equaliser.

There had been little sign of concern for United until that point, their impressive fast-out-the-traps mentality summed up when Jesse Lingard surged forward from kick-off and had the game’s first on-target shot saved by Rui Patricio with five seconds on the clock.

After the lifeless display in the weekend win over Watford, it was just the response for which Solskjaer had been looking in just his second official game as manager.

The Norwegian had spoken of a target of 15 points from United’s seven remaining league games as being enough to guarantee a top-four finish - a possibly optimistic calculation given the form currently displayed, certainly, by Chelsea and Arsenal.

After Lingard’s opening salvo, a slick move saw Fred pick out Dalot on the right-wing and the Portuguese youngster’s superb, hanging cross was met by Romelu Lukaku who should have done better than guide his header straight into the body of keeper Rui Patricio.

There was no mistake from United’s next meaningful attack, on 13 minutes, however when a patient left-wing build-up ended with Lingard passing the ball into the middle of the park to Fred who quickly shoved the ball on to McTominay.

The Scottish midfielder did not hesitate, unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard shot that flew beyond the dive of Rui Patricio before nestling in the foot of the Wolves goal.

It was all United - pace, directness, closing down and hunting the ball in packs, and it should have got better after 16 minutes when Lukaku chipped a delightful ball into the Wolves area for Lingard, who had made a well-timed run but could only guide his header straight at the keeper.

It was Luke Shaw, however, who made another potentially costly error, misdirecting a header to Matt Doherty who pulled the ball back for Leo Dendoncker to clear the bar from six yards.

United’s recovery continued after the restart, with a Lukaku cross flicked on by Paul Pogba for McTominay who stooped low and saw his diving header well saved by the outstretched hand of Rui Patricio. De Gea had to make a good save, as Smalling threatened to score his second own goal of the night, and a late run by Ivan Cavaleiro ended with the Wolves substitute striking the bar.

WOLVES (3-5-2):

Rui Patricio 7; Bennett 7, Cody 7, Boly 6; Doherty 6, Dendoncker 6, Neves 6 (Saiss 83), Moutinho 7, Vinagre 7 (Jonny 75, 6); Jimenez 8, Jota 9 (Cavaleiro 72, 6).

MAN UNITED (5-3-1-1):

De Gea 5; Dalot 7 (Pereira 83), Young 4, Smalling 6, Lindelof 6, Shaw 6; McTominay 8, Fred 5 (Jones 65, 6), Pogba 6; Lingard 7; Lukaku 7 (Martial 72, 6).

Referee: M Dean 6

-PA

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