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Wolves warm up for Wembley in style by beating United again

Wolves 2 Manchester United 1.

This is getting ridiculous now. ‘Can we play you every week?’ boomed around Molineux long before the end.

This is Manchester United, for goodness sake. But Wolves, after a difficult start which saw them deservedly trail to Scott McTominay’s first goal for United on 13 minutes, came from behind to beat the Red Devils for the second time in 17 days.

Wolves were helped by the 57th-minute sending off of Ashley Young – and referee Mike Dean’s 100th red card – after the United captain received a second booking for lunging in on Diogo Jota.

But nonetheless it was the perfect riposte to a lacklustre performance that brought defeat at Burnley on Saturday and the ideal way to prepare for the FA Cup semi-final against Watford on Sunday.

Jota punished some sloppy defending to level with his eighth goal of the season in the 25th minute before Chris Smalling’s own goal 13 minutes from time sealed another memorable victory for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.

Wolves retained seventh spot a point ahead of Wembley opponents Watford, who thrashed Fulham 4-1 in a result which relegated the Cottagers to the Championship.

Victory for Wolves continued their superb home form of 2019, making it seven wins and a draw from eight matches at Molineux this year.

Nuno promised to pick his strongest team and he pretty much delivered; four changes from the line-up beaten 2-0 at Burnley. Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, returned after being rested at Turf Moor, while Ruben Vinagre was recalled and Ryan Bennett was back after suspension, with Romain Saiss, Jonny Castro Otto, Ivan Cavaleiro and Adama Traore on the bench.

Wolves were boosted by the absence of Marcus Rashford from the United line-up, with the striker ill. Their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer paid Wolves the ultimate compliment by matching their 3-5-2 formation, which included Ashley Young in the unfamiliar role of right-sided centre back.

United made a blistering start and they should have been ahead after six minutes only for goalkeeper Rui Patricio to produce superb reflexes to stop Romelu Lukaku’s header on the line from point-blank range.

Wolves were chasing shadows at times in the early stages and it was no surprise when United took the lead. McTominay was given fractionally too long on the ball 25 yards out and he drilled n angled, low drive into the far bottom corner of the net.

It could and perhaps should have been 2-0 in the 17th minute, but Jesse Lingard could only direct his header wide.

Nuno’s side had barely time to draw breath and it initially looked as if they could be in trouble, but this Wolves side matches its class with character these days and they turned the tables in spectacular fashion.

Jimenez got his angles wrong when firing off target when he might have done better, but the equaliser wasn’t long in coming.

Joao Moutinho, who was again a towering but calming presence in midfield, won the ball off Fred after goalkeeper David De Gea had rolled the ball out to him and fed Jimenez to superbly slot in Jota to beat the United number one.

The goal sparked Wolves into life and all of their confidence came flooding back.

Leander Dendoncker should have scored only to blaze over the bar from close range, before a half-volley from Ruben Neves was gathered by De Gea.

But if Jota’s latest goal – and his second in as many games against United – gave Wolves lift-off, then it also inspired the scorer, who produced another breathless performance dripping in danger and class.

United remained a threat, and although their danger was much less forthcoming than it had been in the first half, Patricio still had to make an excellent diving save to foil a McTominay header.

Jota was doing what he does best – running at defenders and drawing fouls – and Young could only bring him down to earn his first booking after the Portuguese produced yet another burst from halfway.

Young’s next intervention was even more agricultural as he caught Jota around the shin lunging in, and referee Dean had no hesitation in correctly issuing a second yellow card followed by a red.

That handed Wolves the initiative and they never looked back. At times it seemed they toyed with United, playing keep-ball to a chorus of Oles as Molineux lapped it up.

But they retained a clinical edge, although the winner needed a helping touch from United. Moutinho swung in a cross from the left, Jimenez nodded the ball into the danger area, and after the imperious Leander Dendoncker swung and missed, the ball trickled over the line off Chris Smalling.

Wolves were much the better team in the second half, in fact for everything but the first 25 minutes, and they could have made it 3-1 but for substitute Ivan Cavaleiro’s shot crashing off the bar just before the end.

 

Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady (c), Boly; Doherty, Neves (Saiss, 84), Dendoncker, Moutinho, Vinagre (Jonny, 75); Jimenez, Jota (Cavaleiro, 73)

Subs not used: Ruddy (gk), Gibbs-White, Traore, Costa.

Manchester United (3-5-2): De Gea; Young (c), Smalling, Lindelof; Dalot (Pereira, 84), Fred (Jones, 65), McTominay, Pogba, Shaw; Lingard, Lukaku (Martial, 73)

Subs not used: Romero (gk), Rojo, Matic, Mata.

Sent off: Young (57)

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).

Attendance: 31,302.