Manchester United 1 - 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers

27th August 2003
Old Trafford, Manchester

Manchester United started the season with three straight wins for the first time in Sir Alex Ferguson's reign at the club. After beating Bolton emphatically, and outclassing Newcastle United, Wolverhampton Wanderers knew they were in for a tough game - particularly because they had yet to earn a point in the Premier League thus far.

But while many thought that the result had already been decided before the game started, Wolves proved harder to beat than expected. With Manchester United fielding a "weakened" side that included a midfield of Brazilian World Cup winner Kleberson, Portuguese starlet Ronaldo, and internationals Forlan and Djemba-Djemba (of Uruguay and Cameroon respectively), and Keane in defence, Wolves must have thought they had a chance to get a surprise result.

The game began with a few crunching tackles, but eventually calmed down as both teams began to play football. Wolves harassed the United players, not allowing them time on the ball, and preventing them from using their flair and skill to cause problems. Ronaldo struggled against the tough tackling of Ince, Makin and Butler.

United had the better of the attacking in the early minutes, pushing forwards at every opportunity, but rarely penetrating the Wolves defence.

Fortunately for United, one of their corners finally paid off. John O'Shea rose at the near post to head a Forlan corner into the net off the Wolves 'keeper in the tenth minute. O'Shea was later named Man of the Match though that may be more down to his defensive, rather than his attacking, abilities.

Instead of letting their heads drop, Wolves rose to the situation, and started putting worrying amounts of pressure in the United final third. They created several golden opportunities which were passed-up by their wasteful strikers. Camara had a chance to equalise when he had a one-on-one with Howard, but his shot whistled just past the post. Indeed, many of Camara's shots seemed to end up on the wrong side of the goal-posts.

Wolves managed to control much of the second half, with United's makeshift midfield lacking the bite and unity that is usually associated with Manchester United. Kleberson struggled to get to grips with the Premiership in his debut, but showed some promising signs that he'll be able to perform once he's found his feet. Djemba-Djemba didn't look half as effective as he did when he played alongside Keane, but still put in a good performance. Ronaldo was effective at times, but was too often taken out of the equation by close Wolves marking. Forlan impressed at times, but was being played out of position.

Eventually Ferguson thought the time was right to go searching for a second goal to secure the game, and he brought on Scholes and Giggs. Both immediately made an impression, helping to take some of the pressure off the make-shift United defence of Keane, O'Shea and the two Neville brothers.

Even with Giggs and Scholes on, van Nistelrooy's chances of scoring were not greatly increased. With incredibly close marking on United's super-striker often with two men watching his every move he didn't manage to have many shots at goal. Scoring in the Wolves game would have broken an old English League record for scoring in eleven consecutive league games. Van Nistelrooy didn't break the record this time, but his form and scoring record would suggest that there will be plenty of other times to break such records.

The last few minutes were played out by United, who kept possession to prevent Wolves troubling Howard. After a few last minute scares when the United fans were quiet with fear, the whistle blew, and Ferguson's team had secured another three points.

United found time to experiment with several players, and to give many their first place in the starting line-up. Though the team were far from convincing, United managed to rest many of their important players, gave experience to many of the new signings, and, most importantly, kept their title-defence well on track.

Man Utd (4-5-1): Howard; Gary Neville, O'Shea, Keane, Phil Neville; Solskjaer (Bellion 84), Kleberson (Scholes 67), Djemba-Djemba, Ronaldo (Giggs 67), Forlan; van Nistelrooy.

Wolves: Oakes, Irwin, Butler, Craddock, Naylor, Newton (Silas 75), Cameron, Ince, Rae, Blake, Camara.

Attendance: 67,648. Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).