Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Manchester United 0

Saturday 17th January 2004
Molineux Stadium, Birmingham

United, sitting on top of the Premier League, were supposed to run rings around a Wolves team that were firmly placed at the very bottom of the table before the game. The odds of United winning by 4 goals or more were as low as 6-1, and everyone expected goals galore.

Instead of goals, United fans were treated to a seasons worth of missed opportunities, useless shots, and all round poor finishing. The likes of Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy looked as though they didn't really know quite what to do when the ball was at their feet, and special acclamation should be given to Scholes and Silvestre, who both managed to send the ball a good 10 yards over the bar. Of United's 20 goal attempts, only 3 were on target.

United battled bravely in midfield, and controlled the game superbly they had 70% of possession but they failed to supply a good enough ball through for the attackers to apply the finishing touch. Fletcher and Ronaldo caused real bother down their respective wings, and, when O'Shea started to attack down the right alongside Fletcher, they were allowed so much space and time on the ball that you thought they had to be able to give Van Nistelrooy at least one good cross. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Fletcher did well to beat defenders, or control the ball, but his crossing was horrendous. It's times like these when Beckham is most sorely missed. "Golden balls" is famous for the accuracy of his crosses.

United had plenty of chances, but the Wolves defence were simply too stubborn to allow anyone to make the most of them. Wolves began the game by getting ten men behind the ball in their typical negative manner, and, though they relentlessly gave possession of the ball to United, they were just as relentless in closing United players down and stopping the ball by hook or by crook. United struggled to break down the Wolves defence, and, when they did manage to break through the shackles, the shots were not clinical enough to trouble the Wolves keeper.

For much of the first half, United enjoyed passing the ball around with coolness and precision, and could, or should, have been awarded two penalties after O'Shea and then Silvestre were fouled in the box. The referee gave nothing.

After half-time, Wolves actually attacked for a good three minutes, before reverting back to their original game plan of "Defend, defend, defend." After Ince, a former United legend, hit the post with a shot from 30 yards, United began to quicken the tempo in search of the goal they craved.

And just when they had all pushed up, disaster struck. As is typical of United over the past few weeks, it wasn't sublime skill or outstanding ability that earned the opponents a goal it was misfortune. A wayward throw-in that landed at the feet of Kenny Miller of Wolves was not a threat until Brown, on for the injured Ferdinand, fell onto his back-side and allowed the Scottish striker an open passage to goal. Miller didn't think twice as he darted towards goal and slotted the ball past a helpless Howard. United attacked again and again, and Sir Alex brought Forlan and Bellion on to try and get the equaliser, but still they couldn't find their way to the back of the net. When Bellion's goal was disallowed for off-side, you could tell it wasn't going to be United's day. In the end, United had 16 corners, which makes me wonder why they haven't got any set pieces to turn the corners into goals.

Wolves: Oakes, Irwin, Craddock, Butler, Naylor, Newton, Ince, Rae, Kennedy, Miller, Iversen (Ganea 84). Subs not used: Cameron, Clyde, Kachloul, Ikeme.

Man Utd: Howard; O'Shea, Ferdinand (Brown 50), Silvestre, Fortune; Fletcher (Forlan 67), Keane, Phil Neville (Bellion 73), Ronaldo, Scholes, van Nistelrooy. Subs not used: Butt, Carroll.

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex)