Alex Ferguson’s players unleashed their frustration on Wolves the last time they were embarrassed in Europe.
And they were at it again yesterday, as they produced the perfect response after their battering in Bilbao to send a chilling message to Roberto Mancini.
Three days after United went out of the Champions League by losing in Basel last December, they took their anger out on Wolves by beating them 4-1 at Old Trafford and this was an even more savage return to winning ways against a team seemingly doomed for relegation.
This comprehensive rout increased their lead over their Manchester rivals to four points, crucially reducing City’s goal difference, but it was still not enough to completely appease Ferguson. Twenty-five points from a possible 27 tells you everything about the inner determination in the United dressing room to silence their noisy neighbours.
Javier Hernandez struck twice while Jonny Evans, Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck also scored in a routine romp that only served to pile on the problems for Terry Connor, the interim Wolves manager charged with the arduous task of saving the club from the drop.
On another nightmare afternoon for Wolves, Ronald Zubar was dismissed late in the first half for two bookable offences and Connor has now lost his last three games, with 12 goals conceded. Steve Morgan, the Wolves chairman, may yet review Connor’s position before this weekend’s trip to Norwich.
But United are on course for another title after this vital victory, even if Ferguson was not totally satisfied. “It was okay, I didn’t think it was anything special,” he said.
“The performance wasn’t great and the scoreline makes it looks like it was comprehensive but our finishing was good.
“The number of goals was very important and it could be significant by the end of season. We’ve got the goal difference deficit with Manchester City down by five to three and we hope we can catch them up.
“There are 10 games left now and it’s just a matter of cutting off the games one by one until we end up with no games left and hopefully we achieve what we want to achieve.
“We expect it to go the wire, put it that way. We always hope for the best and fear for the worst.”
Wolves had gone eight home games without a victory before the visit of United and that dreadful statistic will only be extended if they continue to display the poor defending that resulted in such an abysmal afternoon.
The visitors could have been ahead long before they finally inched ahead in the 21st minute, through one of the simplest goals of the season. Wayne Rooney’s corner was sent back into the penalty area by Michael Carrick and Evans was presented with the easiest of tasks from close range.
It got even worse for Wolves when Zubar was dismissed six minutes before half-time for a second bookable offence, a cynical lunge on Welbeck. And United increased their lead shortly after through Valencia’s devastating finish.
Valencia had missed the last seven games with a hamstring injury but utilised his pace to race onto Rooney’s sublime pass from the halfway line and beat Wayne Hennessey with ease.
Welbeck added a third in added time as Wolves’ defence again went AWOL, with the England international slotting in Valencia’s pull-back.
Goal difference was clearly discussed at half-time and it was just going to be a case of how many more United would score.
It took them 11 minutes of the second period to again exploit the holes in Wolves’ defence, with Hernandez unmarked to head Rafael’s cross past a stranded Hennessey.
The Mexico international duly grabbed a second five minutes later, rounding off a sublime move involving Welbeck and Valencia with a ruthless finish.
Wolves, to their credit, briefly responded with substitute Michael Kightly and Stephen Fletcher testing David de Gea but they appear set to be playing in the division below United next season.
“Everybody will be writing us off after this but my message to the players is to keep believing,” Connor said.
“We’ve got Norwich and Bolton next and we’re still on the same number of points as QPR and Wigan so we’re still in there fighting.
“We’ve just got to make sure we eke out enough points to make sure we’re above that dotted line by the end of the season.”
WOLVES (4-5-1): W Hennessey 5; R Zubar 3, R Stearman 4, S Bassong 4, S Ward 4; K Foley 4, D Edwards 5, K Doyle 5 (M Kightly 57 6), D Davis 4 (E Jonsson 42, 5), M Jarvis 6; S Fletcher 6 (S Ebanks-Blake 80).
MAN UTD (4-4-2): D de Gea 7; R da Silva 7, R Ferdinand 7, J Evans 8 (C Smalling 75), P Evra 8 (F Da Silva 63, 7); A Valencia 9, M Carrick 8 (P Pogba 57, 7), P Scholes 8, D Welbeck 8; H Hernandez 8, W Rooney 8.
Ref: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).
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